In 2015, about 40,000 students appeared for the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), hoping to steer their lives into legal education. The war for a spot in the top law schools of the country and the preparation, many feel, is like studying in a law school itself. By the time these students write these entrance exams, they already speak the legal language – damnum sine injuria… sorry, what?
People who decide to tread this path have varied reasons to do so – a lifelong dream, a family tradition, a non-science professional alternative, or even idols like Harvey Specter and John Grisham. Their expectations from law schools are also equally diverse. Looking at the track records of ‘noted alumna’, many believe that success is a natural product of attending a premier institution and clearing CLAT is the only major hurdle. Handsome pay packages and an offer from the “Magic Circle” are also on the wish lists. Quite a large number of these students also hope to create real social impact through their skills. (In most ways, deciding to study this subject in an engineering frenzied society is in itself quite a stand, where one has to convince one self and their family about the pragmatism of the decision through these reasons.)
If you too are among these students or know an aspiring law student, know this not-so-guarded secret – the reality of law schools is the same, but not the same at all. Here’s an image of an ideal world. Your hard work pays off, and you join a premier institution in the country. Because you were smart enough to get in and have been pretty much brilliant all your life, you quickly ace the challenges that are thrown at you. Moot courts, internships, research papers – you do them all. You have an amazing college life; yes, the parties are quite famous. You graduate with an offer letter from a famous firm or an acceptance letter to the Ivy League. Yes, this not-so-modest vision is what a majority of students have before they enroll for the field. So, here’s a little reality check.
Most students who are or have been in law colleges call it an excruciatingly competitive world. Blogger and NLSIU graduate Abhinav Sekhri says, “One must be prepared for a lot of hard work because, acing the entrance exam puts you in a pool of equally smart people who are probably ready to work harder than you. The competition expands across academics, extra-curricular activities like moot courts, and co-curricular requirements like internships.” Law students also clarify that, despite the popular notion, “being good at arguing” is neither a necessity nor a pre-requisite to have a successful legal career. What counts the most is one’s gameness to research and read up extensively and think critically.
Do law schools always guarantee a happening social life? In the words of a current law student Radhika Agarwal, “If you plan on attending a law school prepare to enter the adult world prematurely; and balance the work pressure, competition and friendships under pressure. To many, their seniors are lifelines, both academically and socially.”
Assumptions around careers after law school range from a guaranteed six figure package to a notary public. In reality, you could be either, or neither – depending on your credentials, interests and willingness to work. Many students diverge to related fields or take up research too. Unlike the common belief, litigation and corporate law are not the only options available for someone who has a law degree. For those who wish to create a social impact by the virtue of their profession, they must specifically work towards it and ideally, specialise in the field. This is not to say that the place is all about work. “Students are particularly glad about the opportunities to grow and learn that are available at law schools. The student community is always an amalgamation of people from around the country, also, competitions, internships and exchange programmes take students across the country and the world” says TNLU student Chaitanya.
The final word for people hoping to pursue law? Be ready to work hard and persevere. The field of law is very diverse, so while you are at it, explore it to the fullest. Most importantly, talk to lawyers and students before taking the leap. What you hear, may not always be what you have assumed, or even end up experiencing.