Professor Kingsfield Goes to Delhi: American Academics, the Ford Foundation, and the Development of Legal Education in India
by Jayanth K. Krishnan (46 American Journal of Legal History
447 (2004)).Globetrotting Law Firms
by Jayanth K. Krishnan (23 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics
, forthcoming Autumn 2009).
Not all law review articles are boring.
Most are. Scholarly writing by law professors has become so arcane that judges and legislators – the people who actually make the laws – have stopped reading law reviews. “No one speaks of them. No one relies on them,” said the Chief Judge of the federal appellate court in New York.
The reasons are obvious. Law professors enjoy abstract discussions of metaphysical concepts; judges and politicians need practical examinations of actual statutes, regulations and rulings. Some law profs are atrocious writers, simultaneously opaque and windy. And many a tenured professor’s idea of fieldwork is asking an assistant to pull some books from the library.Jayanth K. Krishnan
is different. His work is interesting, relevant, practical, readable and – here’s a word you rarely see in this context – enjoyable.
Krishnan, who is currently transitioning from the William Mitchell College of Law
to Indiana University-Bloomington
, specializes in the study of the legal profession, particularly in India. If you’re interested in the topic, I highly recommend his articles, many of which can be downloaded for free from the Social Science Research Network
In any country, legal education is the means by which the profession propagates itself and transmits its values. In the words of The Paper Chase’s fictional Professor Kingsfield
, “You come in here with a skull full of mush, and, if you survive, you leave thinking like a lawyer.”
Unfortunately, in the middle of the twentieth century, law schools in India were a ragged hodge-podge of institutions, most suffering from inadequate libraries, rigid pedagogy, an absence of faculty scholarship and a low quality of student. As detailed in Krishnan’s piece Professor Kingsfield Goes to Delhi
, one Indian law prof opined at the time that (in Krishan’s words) “three-quarters of these schools were miserable, degree-stamping institutional failures, while the remaining one-quarter barely could qualify as mediocre.”
The Ford Foundation sponsored several fact-finding trips by U.S. academics – who were careful to act as students of India rather than high-handed First World consultants – but the foundation’s efforts resulted in little more than a series of reports and two unsuccessful pilot projects.
Fundamental change, Krishnan reports, came from within and was premised upon a geographic quirk. Law schools in northern India tended to be departments within universities -- and were constrained by the politics and patronage of the parent institutions. But law schools in southern India were usually independent operations – which meant that reforms could be instituted with less resistance.
In 1985, the governing Bar Council of India
agreed to create a new law school in the south which would break from tradition. Hiring standards would be stringent, faculty would be required to publish, and only the best students from a nationwide pool of applicants would be admitted. The result was the National Law School of India University
, located in Bangalore, which is usually ranked as one of the top law schools in the country
– a triumph for an institution less than twenty-five years old.
If none of this sounds like theoretical hair-splitting over the impact of Michel Foucault’s discursive theories on the dormant Commerce Clause, you’re right. Krishnan uses the methods of history and journalism to add to the library of legal knowledge – and tell a good story in the process.
The same laudatory qualities are seen in his new article Globetrotting Law Firms
, which discusses the manner in which large, Western law firms are prohibited from practicing in India. In researching the article, Krishnan traveled to India and interviewed the major players, both Indian and Anglo. He explains in crisp terms the structure of the Indian legal system, and the different types of attorneys who practice within it.
In one footnote, Krishnan uses the eyewitness techniques of travel writing to describe the environs of the Tis Hazari district court in Old Delhi (pictured):
This complex is the largest of its type in Asia, housing some 250 civil and criminal courts and serving as the site where an astonishing 500,000 people work or have business to which they attend on a daily basis. In addition, there are approximately 14,000 mostly solo practicing lawyers whose primary work is at the complex. Around the complex yard is a seemingly endless number of what are referred to as individual “chambers,” which serve as each practitioner’s individual office. (Some practitioners do office-share.) Generally these chambers have no library, no staff, and no computers; usually there is just a wooden desk, an operational typewriter, and a few statutory books to which they can refer. Furthermore, these lawyers have to compete with unlicensed brokers, better known as touts, who stroll around the courtyard offering potential clients the ability to resolve their legal disputes for nearly half the costs.
If you’ve never read anything about the Indian court system before, this paragraph paints a portrait of its size and flavor. It’s easy to understand, and it’s memorable, and it can serve as the starting point for another scholar’s research. In short, it does everything a law review article should
I look forward to reading a lot more articles by Krishnan, and I hope aspiring academics use his work as a model. I know I will.
Labels: India, Law School, The Academy