Published: 28th July 2020
The future of law in India: Why 94% believe research and analytics is the top skill a lawyer needs
The University has conducted a survey to ‘decode’ the next generation of legal professionals and the impact increasing digitisation will have on law practice in India
In a recent survey, it was found that 42 percent of law practitioners anticipate that 20 percent of their day to day legal work could be taken over by technology such as AI in the next 3 to 5 years. BML Munjal University (BMU) School of Law recently conducted this one-of-its-kind survey to find out what the next generation of law professionals perspective on the evolution of the legal environment in the country. Done in collaboration with Vahura, a legal search and consulting firm, the survey provides aspiring lawyers with all the information they need on the future of legal practice. The survey also highlights the skills gap in legal education and serves as an industry reckoner to inform curriculum choices for law schools.
The survey shortlist, in order of importance, the qualities that young lawyers should currently possess to be relevant and in demand. Research and analytics (94 percent) tops the charts, followed by attention to detail and a sharp eye for accuracy (93 percent), ability to work hard (71 percent), an openness to learn (72 percent) and oral and communication skills (88 percent). The respondents in the survey as mentioned earlier say they believe technology could greatly impact, influence and also take over many aspects of their jobs. Taking this into consideration, the respondents listed the following skills that young lawyers need to develop immediately - the top skill required would be one of understanding and anticipating client needs (81 percent), followed by tech proficiency (74 percent), commercial awareness (71 percent) and time management (57 percent).
The survey also asked its takers what amendments law schools can make to ensure that their students have all that it takes to tackle the changes structures and functioning of law firms. In this regard, the respondents listed the following - 76 percent say that law schools should have an emphasis on and provide students hands-on practical training in contract drafting, pleadings, and procedure and on building the fundamentals of law. 72 percent respondents cite the need to build skills in drafting and negotiation while 61 percent say that law schools should train students in legal tech to make them future ready. The survey also found that 42 percent respondents felt that there are enough law schools to cater to the market demand for lawyers, 30 percent still believe that there is always a place for top-quality law schools in the future as well and over 60 percent respondents believe that law schools in India are not keeping up with the changing environment.
Prof Nigam Nuggehalli, the Dean of School of Law at BML Munjal University has played an integral part in this survey, so we decided to sit down with him to find out what his hopes and expectations are for the future of law in India, why BML University decided to do this survey and how technology is going to impact the profession.
What was the idea/thought behind the survey, what does BML Munjal University (BMU) stand to achieve with this initiative?
BMU Law School, as an institution invested in imparting knowledge and skills that are relevant to legal practice, is interested in understanding the current state of legal practice and the kind of skills that are required of young lawyers today. This was the reason why we partnered with Vahura, a leading legal recruitment and consultancy firm, to survey more than 200 lawyers in various roles. We believe that law schools must be responsive to the changing needs of legal practice and we would like surveys such as these to inform our curriculum and pedagogical practices.
How does BMU’s School of Law fit into the overall vision of the university?
The University aims to be a leading institution of higher learning that places a significant emphasis on hands on experiential learning and multidisciplinary approaches to knowledge acquisition and research (we have a management and an engineering school). The law school plays an integral role in realising the mission of the university. Right from the first year, students are taught the practical aspects of the law, with practitioners addressing our students on various aspects of the law. Further, the law subjects are integrated with subjects like economics, business management, political science and sociology such that students obtain a multi-disciplinary perspective in their research, writing and analysis. We also plan to partner with the engineering school and offer niche courses in cyber security for the law students.
While there is, like you've mentioned, increased inclusion of tech in law education, what do you think could be the solution for students who will go on to work in courts that still struggle without even a hint of digitisation?
We believe that our students, because of their familiarity with tech and their expertise in tech driven research and analysis, will serve as harbingers of change in the courts as well. We have seen this change happen gradually (courts and arbitration are moving online) and these changes will only accelerate over time.
What kind of law is most popular among graduates?
In law schools today, especially the private law schools, corporate and commercial law are the most popular subjects. We expect subjects such as environmental law, cyber laws, and banking laws to become popular in the future.
There's a lot of debate and discussion on the fairness of our courts today, how much importance is given to ethics, biases in education?
We place a great emphasis on empathy and fairness in our institution. These are values that are of particular importance to lawyers, as we expect our graduating students to be the guardians of the Indian constitution tomorrow. We have open courses at the university on ethics and citizenship that are available to students across the university. At the law school our courses in constitutional law, political science and jurisprudence focus on the ethical and moral aspects of citizenship and governance. Virtually every course at the law school ultimately discusses some question of ethics or the other as the law is, at its most fundamental level, about fair governance.
Law students in the past have complained of being overworked and the burdensome semester structure in place in some institutions, do you think that will see a change in the near future?
I don’t think the curriculum itself is particularly burdensome; I think the manner in which it is taught can become a chore. If the law is taught in an interesting manner that challenges the student to think deeply and apply legal concepts in real world situations, I don't think students are going to complain about overwork. Studying the law ought to be a pleasure; not something that has to be digested like a particularly nasty medicine.
How should law universities help students battling mental health issues or depression and stress from the workload?
This is a serious problem in the post-COVID world where education has moved online. I think law universities have to put in place structures and systems that intervene in situations where a student is feeling isolated. This is crucial; if reasonable and fair means of communication are opened up between students and counsellors/mentors, at least the students won’t feel isolated and helpless. Universities must strengthen their student feedback mechanisms, formal and informal, to capture, in a timely fashion, any student angst about their academic lives. We are planning to have student representatives on a course committee that we have set up for every course; this committee with monitor the online teaching for every course and will work on reducing the stress associated with isolation and online learning.