Autonomous law schools in India
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In India, autonomous law schools are the law schools founded pursuant to the second-generation reforms for legal education sought to be implemented by the Bar Council of India. The first such autonomous law school was the National Law School, Bangalore which admitted its first batch in 1987. Since then a number of other national law schools have been established all over India and various other States are also considering options to establish such schools.
Traditionally legal education in India was conducted through the medium of non-specialized universities of India which granted law degrees like any other graduate degree. These Universities referred and taught the curriculum prescribed by the Bar Council of India but since they were under the overall control and supervision of the University Grants Commission and therefore it was not possible for the Bar Council to effectively pursue reforms in legal education.
This system continued for more than two decades with the overall legal education supervision by the Bar Council, since its establishment in terms of the Advocates Act, 1961. However there were calls for reforms from all quarters of the country in general because of the falling standards of the bar and there were mounting pressures over the Bar Council of India to bring forth change in the way in which legal education was imparted in India.
The first concrete decision to this end was taken in 1984 when various proposals to modernize legal education were considered and approved by the "Legal Education Committee" of the Bar Council, in an attempt to improve legal education throughout India. One of the major proposals was the decision to establish specialized institutions to impart legal education in an integrated and diversified manner. The aim was to revitalize the legal profession by making law as an attractive profession and making it competitive to attract talent, which was hitherto diverted to other professional areas such as Medicine, Engineering, etc.
Structure of National Law Schools
Quite in contrast with the existing pattern of legal education in India, the proposed autonomous law schools varied in structural design and in various other respects. Some of these can be identified through the characteristics they carry, these being;
- Autonomous status of the law schools: This implied that the law schools carried either a 'deemed university' or a 'university' status, which empowered them to grant their own degree and which was recognized by other institutions in terms of the University Grants Commission regulations.
- Five year law programme: Earlier law degrees were granted only to those candidates who had already completed their graduation and after three years of formal legal education. However, the admission to these autonomous law schools were only to those candidates who had completed Grade 12.
- Integrated degrees: In these autonomous law schools, students studied for a law degree in integration with another degree of their choice. This allowed prospective advocates to have understanding of areas other than law. It also compensated for the lack of three years of formal education of other subjects that candidates in traditional three year law degree programme carried. Initially the choice of second degree was confined to B.A. (Bachelor of Arts). However later with time other choices were also being offered like B.Sc. (Bachelor of Science), B.B.A. (Bachelor of Business Administration), B.Com.(Bachelor of Commerce), etc.
- Intensive legal education: These law schools were given autonomy to devise the imparting of the curriculum in a manner which would best suit the candidate's ability to understand legal concepts and ability to appreciate various issues involved in legal setting and instill in them the merit and reasoning standards required for a high professional conducts. Also a standout features of these institutions is that these are single subject universities where the main thrust of education is on law with other complementary social sciences.
- National status of law schools: These Schools are recognized by the university grants commission as "state universities" and are affiliated to the Bar Council of India. Each of these law schools were to be established under a specific legislation, to be passed by the State legislature of the State desirous of establishing a law school. In terms of these legislation, these law schools were required to establish and practice excellent and high standards, at par with other national level institutions imparting education in other wakes of social life. The conferment of national status also make admittance to these law schools at a prestigious choice and thus inviting meritorious students to get inclined to join legal profession.
- Involvement of legal luminaries: To improve standards of legal education and ensure education imparted in these institutions met desired standards, the Bar Council of India involved various prestigious and talented individuals with these law schools. The most notable of these was the involvement of highly placed constitutional functionaries, such as the Chief Justice of India or the Chief Justice of various High Courts as the "Visitors" and often "Chancellors" of these law schools, which implied a constant involvement and supervision of elite figures of legal profession in India with these law schools.
First National Law School
The first autonomous law school established to implement the reforms in legal education in India was the National Law School of India University (popularly "NLS") which was established in Bangalore in terms of the National Law School of India Act, 1986 passed by the Legislative Assembly of the State of Karnataka. The first batch to NLS was admitted in 1988 and the establishing Director was Prof. N.R. Madhava Menon, who is considered as a jurist in his own right (and who subsequently went on to be the founding Vice-Chancellor of the premier National University of Juridical Sciences, Calcutta). While the first batch of NLS passed out in 1993, it was only until the starting of the next decade that legal education through the medium of national law schools got popular.
Other National Law Schools
Following the NLS model, various other States also passed legislation in their respective State Legislative Assemblies to establish national law schools. While these essentially differ from NLS in terms of modalities etc., the structure and model of imparting legal education in these later law schools has remained the same. In the order of their date of establishment, these law schools are;
- National Law School of India University, Bangalore
- National Law Institute University, Bhopal
- NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad
- The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata
- National Law University, Jodhpur, Jodhpur
- Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur
- Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar
- Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala
- Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow
- National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi
- Chanakya National Law University, Patna
- National Law University Odisha, Cuttack
- National Law University, Delhi, New Delhi
- Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam
- National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi
- National Law School and Judicial Academy, Assam, Guwahati
- Tamil Nadu National Law School, Srirangam 
- Dr Ambedkar National Law University, Sonipat 
- Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai 
- Maharashtra National Law University, Aurangabad 
- Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur 
- Uttarakhand National University for Law, Nainital 
Admission to LLB and LLM in most of the autonomous National law schools in India is based on performance in the highly competitive Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), with acceptance percentages being less than 1%. However, National Law University, Delhi conducts the All India Law Entrance Test (AILET) and the private law schools conduct their own admission tests.
The number of such law colleges have increased in such a manner, in the last 5 years or so, that the country has been flooded in a manner and the quality of students who get in these elite colleges has dropped tremendously. With almost every State in India having a National Law University under their respective State Acts, it has become increasingly difficult to adjudge the standard of education imparted to the law graduates from these colleges. Nevertheless, law schools without state domiciled reservations have been successful in churning out quality law graduates.