National Law Schools and Legal Education in India

In India, legal education refers to the education to a legal professional before they enrol as advocate or before they commence their legal practice. In India, legal education is offered at various levels by specialised national law schools (national law universities) or through traditional universities or through private universities.

In traditional universities legal education is offered at two different courses. These courses are generally called 3 year LL.B or 5 year integrated LL.B. Anyone who has completed the 12th standard with minimum 50% marks and who has not completed the age of 20 can join for 5 year integrated LL.B courses.

Some of the traditional universities offer this as a twin degree course where the student gets a basic degree after the third year (which is equivalent to that of any other graduation) and LL.B degree after the fifth year. However, there are other universities which offer a honours degree at the end of fifth year. For example; B.A, LL.B (Hons.), BBA, LL.B (Hons.), B.Com, LL.B (Hons.) etc. Simultaneously, those who have completed any graduation with a minimum of 50% marks can enrol for 3 year LL.B course.

In the late 1980’s the concept of specialised universities for imparting legal education was evolved and national law schools are established exclusively for imparting legal education in India. India’s first national law school was established in Bangalore under the provisions of National Law School of India Act, 1986 and the first batch was admitted to five year integrated LL.B course.

At present there are 18 national law schools in India. Till 2008, admissions to these national law schools are through separate entrance examination conducted by each national law schools. However, since 2008 all the national law schools (except National Law University, Delhi) jointly conducting a common entrance examination called Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) for admitting students to LL.B as well as LL.M courses.

Now the admissions to national law schools (except National Law University, Delhi) are through CLAT and a centralised allotment system is adopted for seat allotment. However, except National Law University, Delhi conducts a separate entrance test through which they screen the candidates before admitting to the LL.B or LL.M course.

At present, in India, there are around 900 law colleges in India for imparting legal education. However, it is necessary to note that, in order to consider a law degree as a valid degree and to get enrolled as an advocate, the course has to be approved by the Bar Council of India (BCI) and University Grants Commission (UGC). Further, even the college or the institute which offering the law degree shall have the Bar Council accreditation and UGC approval.

All those who have completed LL.B on or after 2010 shall now undergo an all India examination called All India Bar Examination (AIBE) in order to get enrolled as advocate in the roll of Bar Council. Only then he can practice as an advocate and file vakalatnama in his name.

Bar Council of India (BCI) not bound to grant license to practice law

A bench of justices M Y Eqbal and Abhay Manohar Sapre of Supreme Court held that, “Pursuing law and practicing it are two different things”. Supreme Court has said and made it clear that the Bar Council of India (BCI) is not bound to grant advocacy license unless an applicant fulfills the criteria laid down by it.

Further, the Court opined that, “Pursuing law and practicing law are two different things. One can pursue law but for the purpose of obtaining license to practice, he or she must fulfill all the requirements and conditions prescribed by the Bar Council of India. We do not find any reason to differ with the view taken by the High Court. In the facts of the case, we do not find any merit in the appeal, which is accordingly dismissed.

It was a case where BCI had denied the license to Archana Girish Sabnis, a Law graduate from Mumbai University, to practice law on the ground that her degree of Licentiate of the Court of Examiners in Homeopathy Medicines (LCEH), awarded by Maharashtra Council of Homeopathy, was not equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree.

She had contended that the Mumbai University had allowed her admission in the LL.B course after considering LCEH degree equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree. However court was of the opinion that, “We … After giving our anxious consideration in the matter are of the definite opinion that the BCI is not bound to grant a license as claimed by the appellant”.

The apex court upheld the Bombay High Court order saying that “the Bar Council has the independent power to recognise any equivalent qualification to a graduate degree for the purpose of admission in the course of graduate degree in law“.

It also allowed the plea of BCI that Mumbai University, while granting admission to Archana in LL.B course, was bound to consult the lawyers’ body instead of Homeopathy Council.

It said the law “specifically empowers the Bar Council of India to make rules prescribing a minimum qualification required for admission for the course of degree in law from any recognised university“.

BCI has reiterated that the professional course LCEH is not considered equivalent to degree course, the court said.

The Certificate of Practice and Renewal Rules, 2014

Prachi Kumari

The Bar Council of India at a meeting held on October 30, 2014 approved the Certificate of Practice and Renewal Rules, 2014 by its Resolution No. 169/2014 dated 29/10/2014. The Certificate of Practice and Renewal Rules, 2014 aims to give due weight age and credence to experience for practicing in higher courts and also ‘weed out’ advocates who have left practice.

As per these rules, a lawyer must practice for two years in a trial court and for three years in a high court before being allowed to practice before the apex court. Besides this, the new Rule also mandates the renewal of licenses every five years. All practicing advocates will hence have to file an application for renewal of their license, in advance of six months before the validity period of ‘certificate of practice’ of its renewal, expires and the same will be vetted by the Bar council.

Actually, State Bar Councils and The Bar Council of India are concerned about the trend of advocates switching over to other professions or services or business without any information to the Bar Council. This trend has reached at alarming stage.

Therefore, the BCI has brought about these two changes. Effects of these changes are:

  • The 5-year experience requirement, which is in “Rule 7 of Chapter III shall come into force on such date as the Bar Council of India may, by notification in the Gazette of India, appoint in this behalf”.

The rules provide that from now the certificate of practice needs to be renewed every five years by filing an application with the relevant state bar council six months in advance from the date of the certificate’s expiry.

  • Within six months of 29 October 2014 (the date of the notification), under Rule 8 all advocates who graduated before 2010 must get a certificate of practice from the BCI, which will cost Rs 500 (Rs 400 to the respective state bar council and Rs 100 to the BCI).

I agree with the view of the BCI that “before an advocate could practice law in higher courts, there is a need that she/he is exposed to real court experience in lower courts/trial courts. This will help in integrating the whole judicial system from the perspective of the bar.”

The SC is the highest court of justice in India (except some situations where an appeal can be made to the President) and BCI is concerned about maintaining dignity and standard of the apex court. Therefore, it takes such decisions from time-to-time. Example of one of such steps is banning interns on miscellaneous days i.e. Monday and Friday in the SC.

I think experience count at every walk of life. If an advocate joins the apex court of the land with five year experience, then there is no harm in it.