Let us discuss is Internationalization of the Legal Education Curriculum.

The questions are what, why and how?

Almost 3 decades back I studied law at an Indian university, the most prestigious law school in India and boastfully the one rated second in Asia at that time. Campus Law Centre, Delhi University. Law school education was no different from my B Com Hons studies nor much different from my schooling. I did not notice any change. Some bare acts, some case law, some discussions about these, that's it.

Now, let's talk of change. I became a very unconventional young lawyer representing 1% of that time's legal ecosystem in India, i.e., corporate lawyer. I was working with foreign law firms in assisting foreign clients queueing up to India for foreign investment. I was always fascinated with the speed, mindset and approach of foreign law firms and lawyers. That was the change I observed.

I somehow kept working and learning something or other new while interacting with international lawyers, accent, drafting style, phrases and what not. I had the privilege of working with some of the best law firms and lawyers of the world of that time, so I guess my learnings were no less.

I told you I was different, didn't I? Having studied at a Hindi medium school and a university where even law was taught with blackboard and chalk, I was preposterous enough to apply for a British Chevening scholarship – I didn't even have a passport made till that time. Then, by some fluke or chance or luck or whatever you may call it, I was selected among 16 brightest young Indian lawyers. Most of these lawyers are now HC Judges, General Counsel, partners in international law firms, what now. One useless fellow is in front of you.

While studying at College of Law at York and working in Ashurst Morris Crisp (as it was then, now Ashursts), what I learnt in few months was much more than what I had learnt in 20 odd years of learning in India. I tried to implement a lot of what I learnt in UK, that sort of became the differentiator for me. The ethics, best practices, entrepreneurial mindset – everything I adopted in my practice thereafter, I owe a lot of that foreign education exposure.

The world is a truly global village now. Almost no country can remain isolated from what's happening elsewhere. Foreign investments, Foreign Trade, Immigration Issues, Movement of people, goods and services, technology transfer, communication, travel are happening day in day out, at lightning speed.

Everything that we do, think, feel, pursue has to be in sync with what is happening around us. Right?

Even legal education cannot be immune to what's been happening around us. We need more and more exposure to global knowledge and practices when it comes to legal education. The foreign investments, Foreign Trade, Immigration Issues, Movement of people, goods and services, technology transfer, communication, travel that I spoke earlier have legal consequences. Our share in global trade is increasing and with Indian government's target of making it a 5 trillion dollar economy in next 3 years, it is bound to increase even further. As the frequency of these elements increases, the need for legal knowledge in these spheres increases proportionately.

Education has been kept at a very high pedestal in India since ever. The first residential university of the world started in Nalanda, few thousand years back with best of global scholars and students. We were assumed to be Vishwa Guru, be it science, technology, astronomy, architecture, even law. We can trace elements of legal education in Vedas and Upanishads. India's knowledge leadership was a given fact be it any field of study.

I have had the privilege of being a Guest Faculty with a lot of law schools and sometimes, I am a bit disappointed to note that our legal education system did not keep up the pace and now, is still to catch up with rest of the world. India, in fact, should have taken the lead in this sphere, if we were serious about our much touted title of Vishwa Guru.

Our legal education system is still primarily revolving around rote learning, bare Acts, case law, moot courts and that's it. Very less emphasis is laid on international aspects – only public and private international laws, I guess.

Now, why do we study law for as law students? I guess few aspects:

(i) What is the ecosystem around a subject

(ii) What are different stakeholders' respective rights, entitlements, benefits

(iii) What are different stakeholders' obligations, liabilities, risks, exposures

(iv) What are the means to enforce these rights and obligations

(v) What are redressal mechanism

(vi) How do we implement the law

Our legal education system is still primarily revolving around rote learning, bare Acts, case law, moot courts and that's it. Very less emphasis is laid on international aspects – only public and private international laws, I guess.

What about Contracts, Mergers & Acquisitions, Environment, Labour, Taxation and other aspects? When our people, our government, our businesses are operating in international ecosystem – shouldn't we all be aware of what systems, formalities, legalities, penalties, risks, exposure, liabilities, obligations are we being subjected to?

Studying law at law school and practicing are two different experiences for legal professionals, particularly those who aspire to be corporate lawyers and those engaging in international matters. There exists a huge gap between our curriculum and industry expectations.

We need to bridge this gap and try to bridge the gap from the word go. We need to include subjects of international interest and needs in our curriculum. With internationalisation catching up in other fields of education, why should legal education be left behind? Else, our students will keep learning only through trial and error.

Simple example, we had no good quality simple book by an Indian author to teach about contract drafting skills in our college days, I mean it. We all learnt drafting by old drafts, Shakespears' language drafting books which taught everything but drafting. I wrote this book encapsulating my experience of 25 years. Students and professionals of today don't have to spend 5 years in college and 25 years in practice to learn as good drafting as I do.

We should do something similar with our legal education curriculum. Subject of international implications, consequences, significance, exposure, interest should be introduced in our syllabus at the earliest so that our students do not feel at sea when they go abroad for further studies or work in foreign law firms, or even working in India with international clients and professionals. Our students should not be left to reinvent the wheel and learn international laws or international aspects of laws only when they need to – it should be inbuilt in the system for every law student.

We need to democratise our legal education system so that knowledge of international aspects does not remain the sole right of the ones who are studying or working abroad. This knowledge should be disseminated to as many students as possible. Employability of students is one of the biggest challenges for our law schools, internationalisation of curriculum could help our students having an edge over those missing it. We need to include it holistically, not only in syllabus for the sake of it – it should be there in studies, teaching methods, tasks, assessment process.

This will also help us in attracting foreign students who may want to study in India, without compromising on best global education standards.

Collaboration with foreign institutions will go a long way in achieving this goal – be it knowledge sharing, credit sharing, exchange programs and so on. We also have an ever-increasing list of Indian lawyers who have studied and worked abroad, they can certainly enhance the resource reservoir as well as bring international experience on board. We could also involve foreign lawyers with good experience in different practice domains to impart their knowledge to our students. Faculty members should also be given exposure to best international resources, trainings, internships and so on. Umbrellas and minds work only when they are opened. Let us stop living in cocoons, see and explore the world.

In today's and tomorrow's India, we need truly global teachers, global students and global professionals.

It may take time, the road may be long and tedious. However, biggest of journeys start with a small step and Rome wasn't built in a day. I for one have been a strong advocate of industry-academia collaboration and at your disposal for any helping hand that may be required – on my own and through my global network.

Best of luck.

These are excerpts from my Inaugural Address at Faculty Development Programme at Christ, Delhi NCR on 3rd January, 2023 on the captioned subject

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