Ten questions to answer before embarking on a law career.
In just under three decades since the establishment of the first National Law University (NLU) in Bangalore in 1987, law has become the fastest growing sector. According to an estimate by the Bar Council of India, there are around 1.5 million registered advocates in the country today, in addition to around 950 law schools and five lakh law students. Every year, approximately 70,000 law graduates join the profession. "The number of law school applicants goes up by 25 per cent on an average," says Shashikala Gurpur, Dean and Principal, Symbiosis Law School, Pune.
Last year, more than 45,000 students sat for the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), which was conducted by Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Delhi. Traditionally, students could only take up litigation by specialising in either criminal or civil law. This, however, has changed with a rapid growth of the corporate legal sector and outsourcing of legal processes. Now, specialisations such as arbitration law, banking law, environmental law, intellectual property and international law are the fields that have opened up a number of career options for students.
WHICH COURSE TO CHOOSE?
Students interested in taking up law as a career can either pursue a threeyear LLB course after graduation in any discipline or a five-year BA LLB after class 12. "The introduction of the five-year-integrated programme had a profound impact on legal education as it allowed students to choose law as a career right out of high school," says Dabiru Sridhar Patnaik, Director, Centre for Post Graduate Legal Studies, Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat. Nowadays, the integrated course is more popular than the three-year programme as it covers practical training, which includes court attendance, hands-on-training at legal aid centres, research projects, specialisations, and internships.
"The number of courses a law student can take has increased. These are not only the core courses as mandated by the Bar Council of India, but other courses, which cover areas like public law, private, commercial law and even clinical practices," says Patnaik. In case of the LLB course, which is also offered by some universities in a part-time format for working professionals who want to pursue law as an added qualification, specialisations can be done by pursuing short-term diplomas or a higher degree at the masters, MPhil or PhD stage. These degrees can help candidates take up careers in the academic fields.
WHAT ARE THE POPULAR SPECIALISATIONS?
"Some of the popular specialisations include intellectual property rights, cyber law, biodiversity protection, banking law, international trade, arbitration, and labour disputes," says Aditya Tomar, Additional Director, Amity Law School, Noida. Lawyers specialising in information technology, air, space and maritime law, mergers and acquisitions, foreign investment laws, and media laws are also in high demand, according to Mukund Sarda, Dean, New Law College, Bhartiya Vidyapeeth University, Pune.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE ENTRANCE EXAM?
CLAT is the preferred way for aspiring law candidates to get into a school of their choice. CLAT scores are considered by all NLUs and some private universities as well. It tests a student's aptitude through different questions in five sections-English, General Knowledge, Legal Aptitude, Logical Reasoning and Mathematics. Some private universities, like Symbiosis Law School, Pune, and Amity Law School, Noida, also conduct their own entrance examinations on similar lines as CLAT.
Preparation for entrance exams can be done via the classroom, online coaching or through self-study. One can take a year-long coaching class or opt for a crash course that is about a month-and-half long. "The advantage with coaching is that it gives you precision in terms of what to learn and speeds up learning. In law exams, it is important to know what not to study and this is where coaching helps," says Vijay Karan Singh, a final year student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. Online coaching classes are also gaining ground as they give students the flexibility of getting expert guidance at a time convenient to them.
HOW MUCH DOES THE COURSE COST?
The fee differs for private and government institutions. For the five-year integrated programme, the fee is between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000 a year at centre and state-run colleges and universities. For NLUs, however, it is close to Rs 2 lakh per year (for two semesters). The annual fee at NLU, Bangalore, for the year 2016-17, was Rs 1.87 lakh. For private institutions, the fee can go as high as Rs 5 lakh per year. For postgraduate programmes, including the LLB degree, the overall fee is less. At National Law School of India University (NLSIU), the annual fee is less than Rs 1.5 lakh for the LLM course. Faculty of Law, Delhi University, on the other hand, charges around Rs 12,000 a year for their LLB course.
ARE SCHOLARSHIPS AND FUNDING AVAILABLE?
Both government and private schools offer scholarships to students based on merit. Some private institutions can waive 100 per cent of the tuition fee depending on the student's academic performance. Students can also avail scholarships offered by private establishments for undergraduate and postgraduate studies. While not many offer scholarships or funding exclusively for law students, foundations like the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Aga Khan Foundation, and Narottam Sekhsaria Foundation offer scholarships for higher studies, international education and grants for special projects.
WHAT ARE THE JOB PROSPECTS?
According to Patnaik, students have more options to pursue today. "Whether you talk about dispute resolution mechanisms, international law, intellectual property, technology law, environmental law, energy law, or taxation, there are several options available to them. Of course, litigation and judiciary are always there, but whether you want to practice in the court of law or get into other fields, opportunities are manifold," he says. Teaching in universities, working for NGOs, and media houses are also attractive options. "In litigation, most people want to lead in the courtroom arguing cases, but you can't discount the role of lawyers at other positions, like filing lawyers, to ensure the drafting is stellar, to get the technicalities right and to ensure that court requirements are fulfilled. Sometimes people think that the only role to be played is at the top of the food chain. Those counsels are of course portrayed in films and literature.
While that is the most celebrated position, there are various other roles that are incredibly interesting-in court, but also in policy and boardrooms. One should choose a role based on temperament and personality," says Karuna Nundy, Advocate, Supreme Court. According to her, the corporate environment, in contrast to litigation, offers more reliable roles and certainty in terms of salary, and, while lawyers can choose to practice litigation at corporate firms, they will not learn as much about court-craft there.
HOW DOES ONE GET HIRED?
Candidates who complete a five-year-integrated course from a reputed law school get attractive job offers during campus placements. "Apart from good academics, we look for a well-rounded person who has the ability to think laterally and quickly. Good writing skills and clarity of thought are also important. Students must take part in moot courts or organise events for college that can help them hone their skills. They should make sure they are well-read and learn to articulate their thoughts clearly," says Pallavi Shroff, Regional Managing Partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co, Mumbai. Students can also opt to start their own practice, however, most of them prefer to train under senior lawyers before doing so. All law graduates who wish to practice in court have to register themselves with the Bar Council of India.
Practical training and contacts do matter. "A lot depends on networking. Initially, in litigation, one gets work on the basis of contacts they have. The best way to develop contacts and reputation is by practicing under a senior counsel," says Arun Pednekar, Advocate, Supreme Court.
HOW MUCH CAN LAWYERS EXPECT TO EARN?
The kind of money you earn depends on various factors, says Pednekar. "Where you have graduated from, which city you are practicing in and under whom you are practicing, all these factors have an impact on the kind of money a lawyer earns. If you start practicing at trial courts in your own city, it takes less time to establish yourself as compared to courts in other cities," he says.
"For a litigation lawyer, there is no set earning during the initial years. With experience, however, sky is the limit," says Mukund Sarda, Dean and Principal, New Law College, Bhartiya Vidyapeeth University, Pune. For a corporate lawyer, he says, the starting package can be between Rs 2.5 and Rs 4 lakh per annum. "The pay scale varies for corporate lawyers. In a firm in Mumbai or Delhi, a fresher can earn anywhere from Rs 12 lakh to Rs 16 lakh per annum. In other cities, they can expect to earn somewhere between Rs 7 lakh and Rs 9 lakh a year," says Shroff.
WHAT ARE THE HIGHEST-PAYING FIELDS?
"In initial years, corporate law practice remains as the highest paying field. However, in the long run, litigation is equally lucrative, provided one takes the time and has the patience to develop one's own practice," says Arjya B Majumdar, Executive Director, Michigan-Jindal Centre for Global Corporate and Financial Law and Policy, Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat. According to Sarda, civil and criminal practice at courts are the highest paying fields in law in the long run. "However, in terms of salary package, multinational firms providing services in corporate law, mergers and acquisition, foreign investment, air, space, and maritime law, international arbitration, and competition law, are the highest payers," he says.
WHAT SKILLS DO LAWYERS NEED TO SUCCEED?
According to Shroff, communication and good writing skills, the ability to research and remain up-to-date, along with the capacity to observe and follow are some of the most important skills that a good lawyer must possess. "I think legal ability is the most important, along with a responsible and diligent personality. The ability to read a bench, pivot fast, intellectually, and deal effectively with the personalities of others is also vital in court. Personally, I also think the person should have the capability to get excited about their work," says Nundy.