The Differences Between Indian and US Law Schools

Disclaimer: My experience at my law school in India represents only a single glimpse of the Indian law school experience and is not representative of the diversity of law school environments in India.

indianflagClass Participation: Incentives in Law School

The US law school system prides itself on the Socratic method. Even in discussion-oriented seminars, the style of questioning creeps in somehow. As a fear mechanism, the method successfully motivates students to read in case they get cold-called. In India, the lectures are largely lecture-style; the professor likes to “teach” the law, and people volunteer to participate by raising their hand to express their point. Cold-calling is rare in the Indian law school environment, except if the professor thinks you haven’t been participating at all! While in the US participation and speaking in class are more randomized, the Indian experience often has participation built in as a key incentive mechanism. In an approach dubbed CP, many Indian students love to speak in class, and professors reward them by making class participation count toward the final grade. In Indian law schools, while professors reserve the right to count participation toward your grade, this is largely absent from many of the 1L courses that have just a 100-point final at the end. Some courses, such as a professional responsibility one for LLMs, may factor in participation. Indian law school grading closely resembles the American undergraduate grading schemes, in which students are graded on the basis of papers, quizzes, and other forms of continuous assessment.

Pro Bono v. Legal Aid

The US law school experience is filled with opportunities to do pro bono work. Partly this is because of bar requirements, but even so there is a very strong focus on clinical work through various clinics throughout the academic year. The Indian law system has not mandated any pro bono service, but nevertheless, US-style legal clinics are gaining popularity in law schools across India. However, these are still seen as part of legal aid or even as part of social services or NGOs. It would be interesting to see what the standard of public interest work in India would be if the Bar Council in India mandated pro bono hours for lawyers. Could it be like the US—and would that be better or worse?

The Environment

Law in India is either a five-year degree straight out of high school or a post-college, three-year graduate degree. While the latter is almost a dying breed, the former is enjoying a boom in its popularity. As a result, the typical Indian law student is a lot younger than the average JD student. While American law students have a more definite sense of identity, many Indian students, who could be as young as 18 or 19, are still trying to find themselves throughout their law school experience. American students have already had a four-year undergraduate experience and possibly some work experience, too, but the five-year law student in India mostly lacks work experience in the real world. This dynamic has an impact on the Indian law school; while everyone at NYU Law (and its peers) is prepared for class by doing the readings, Indian law students may slack off a little till the end, then cram just before finals. However, this does make Indian students work very well under pressure. Not to say that one approach works better than the other, but the assumption here is that the older you are, the more organized and prepared for class you will be, which changes the dynamic of the classroom.

Teaching Pedagogy

usflagIndian law students must memorize many cases. Landmark case names tend to be important, which is why sometimes case lists are provided in the exam. The “Bare Act,” or statute, is what lawyers obsess over, and knowing the section numbers of a statute is seen as a sign of professional competency in Indian legal circles. In the US, arguments must be defended with the correct reasoning. Professors care less about the section numbers, the statute, or even the case name. If the Indian law school experience focuses on the Rule, the R, of the IRAC methodology for legal reasoning, the American law school experience is all about Analysis (the A of the IRAC) and analogizing old cases to new ones. Sometimes this can require Indian LLM students to shift their mindset a bit when they come to an American law school. It also begs the question as to why the American law school pedagogy has shied away from mentioning statutes. Perhaps it is because they feel anybody can do a plain reading of the law, and the job of professors is to help you become problem-solvers through analysis of cases. But is that the case always? 

These are, of course, only some of the distinctions between two very different ponds to swim in. The point isn’t so much about which is better than the other, but more about celebrating the differences. As someone who has been privileged to participate in both systems, I think it is helpful when students share best practices from each region so that, eventually, each law school environment can produce even higher-quality lawyers.