Expand your horizon through an LLM programme

The programmes should bring about a conceptual, interdisciplinary and research focused study.

July 10, 2016 05:00 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:02 pm IST

Students of a law university perform a street play on social issues. Photo: K.R. Deepak

Students of a law university perform a street play on social issues. Photo: K.R. Deepak

Virtually every recent public controversy in India has showcased problems with some set of legal provisions or the other. Some public law issues that garnered front page news include debates on the freedom of speech in the Kanhaiya Kumar sedition case, the lowering of the age limit for the application of criminal law to juveniles in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya case and the responsibilities of organisations such as the Art of Living Foundation when conducting public events in areas vulnerable to environmental degradation. These issues have brought out the problems faced by lawyers today in articulating issues of public concern, conducting credible research to understand the complexity of legal disputes and in intervening effectively to resolve critical public policy issues through legal means. To a large extent, the failure of lawyers to engage successfully with India’s public policy issues is as much the failure of legal education in India.

There are three critical problems with legal education today and a rigorous postgraduate degree in law can go a long way in remedying them. First, law schools, despite their courses on jurisprudence and political theory, no longer appear to be the kinds of places where students can reflect critically on the moral role of the law and its relationship to equity and justice.

Second, law schools tend to impart a purely doctrinal or rule-based version of the law that provides the misleading impression that law is an autonomous discipline that consists of a set of rules derived from statutes and case law. However, this is not how law is interpreted and engaged by the real world. To understand law in its real world milieu, LLM programmes focus on clinical programmes in the law. Clinical programmes ask the students to develop a supervised systematic intervention in varied areas relating to human rights, governance and public policy. Once again, the undergraduate law curriculum at our law schools has paid scant attention to developing successful clinical programmes that are fully committed to enhancing students’ experiential understanding of the law.

Opportunities Finally, lawyers ought to be both effective researchers and persuasive writers. Writing thoughtfully, critically and convincingly about a complex issue of legal policy, for example, the problems with the introduction of a uniform civil code in India, requires a great deal of careful analysis and synthesis that can only come with practice and one-to-one supervision by someone who has worked through these kinds of issues. A postgraduate degree in law can provide opportunities for dissertations dedicated to developing this ability in students. LLM dissertations focus on legal writing as an integral part of the lawyers’ intervention in society.

While there are many specialised LLM courses offered abroad, LLM courses offered by the National Law Universities and by private universities such as Azim Premji University are gaining in popularity among lawyers and law students. Azim Premji University offers an LLM in Law and Development (starting July 2016) that intends to bring to postgraduate legal education a conceptual, interdisciplinary and research focused study.

LLM graduates, particularly in the human rights and development fields, can choose from a wide variety of careers in human rights, public policy decision-making and public administration. They can provide strategic advice to governments as well as consulting firms on complex issues of public policy.

LLM graduates can expect to be of interest to firms looking to manage the complicated corporate social responsibility programmes mandated under the law. The LLM programme also enables students to pursue an academic career in law. There is a dearth of good law teachers in the country and the supply-demand gap is going to increase exponentially in the coming years.

The writer teaches at the School of Policy and Governance, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru.

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