Legal Education for the Future

Volume 1 • Issue 5 • July/August 2015
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Legal Education in Emerging Economies

The transforming law school in India and Brazil

Legal education in the United States has come under a new set of pressures in recent years. As the traditional employment market has stagnated, there has been increased demand from both employers and students for new teaching methods, like experiential and online learning, as well as training in business and negotiation skills (see “Educating the 21st Century Lawyer”).

However, it is not just legal education in the United States that is in flux. Around the world, legal education is undergoing marked transformation. This is perhaps most apparent in emerging markets like India, Brazil, and China where legal education has witnessed a sea change in the last 25 years. Beginning in the 1990s, India, Brazil, China, and other emerging economies began to move from “closed” economies to ones that were increasingly open to foreign investment and private enterprise (including the privatization of many state-owned companies). This global shift produced major impacts on these countries’ legal systems.

Many emerging economies now boast law firms comprised of hundreds of lawyers, as well as large corporate legal departments, such as the five-hundred-lawyer general counsel office of India’s Tata Group.

Predictably, the opening of markets fueled a growing demand for new laws and regulations to facilitate this new economic activity. This, in turn, created an urgent need for lawyers capable of practicing law within these new legal and regulatory environments, particularly in corporate law fields such as mergers and acquisitions, project finance, securities, and initial public offerings.

Although emerging economies like India, Brazil, and China have, to a greater or lesser extent, called on international law firms seeking to serve their markets to provide the necessary expertise, each has also developed an important domestic corporate legal sector. Today, this new domestic, corporate legal elite has significantly increased in size and importance. Many emerging economies now boast law firms comprised of hundreds of lawyers, as well as large corporate legal departments, such as the five-hundred-lawyer general counsel office of India’s Tata Group.

There are two main ways of training these new lawyers. On the one hand, they can go abroad, largely to Master of Law (LL.M.) programs in the U.S. or Europe. As Carole Silver, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, has documented, large numbers of LL.M. programs draw their students from emerging economies.

However, that is only half of the story. The emerging economies have also worked to transform their own systems of legal education to meet the demand for corporate lawyers. Indeed, in a relatively short period, these countries’ legal education systems have gone from producing almost no corporate lawyers to graduating thousands annually that can compete globally.

Below we review the history of law schools in two emerging economies, India and Brazil, and examine how they have evolved in the context of globalization and the increased demand for well-trained, sophisticated corporate lawyers.

Globalization, Lawyers, and Emerging Economies

Launched by the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession in 2010, the Project on Globalization, Lawyers, and Emerging Economies (GLEE) is a multidisciplinary, multinational collaborative designed to examine how globalization is reshaping the market for legal services in important emerging economies such as India, Brazil, and China. GLEE studies how these developments are contributing to the transformation of the political economy in these countries, their connection to the broader world economy and the institutions of global governance, North–South engagement and competition, evolving South-South collaboration, and the development of the increasingly globalized market for corporate legal services.

At present, GLEE has more than 50 scholars from a broad range of disciplines, including law, sociology, economics, political science, anthropology, area studies, and international relations, and from leading institutions in the U.S., China, India, Brazil, Singapore, and the U.K., conducting original qualitative and quantitative research on the transformation of the market for legal services in India, Brazil, and China. GLEE is currently planning an expansion to Africa, the Middle East, and the states of the former Soviet Union. To learn more, visit the the Center on the Legal Profession’s GLEE website.

Training India’s corporate bar

India has a long tradition of formal legal education. Government Law College in Mumbai, founded in 1855, is the oldest law school in Asia, and courts and lawyers have long been central to Indian public life. However, before the 1990s, legal education in India was not oriented towards corporate law. Vikramaditya S. Khanna, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School explains, “When you’re looking at legal education in India, there’s a transformation that occurred in the late 1980s and mid 1990s as India’s economy started liberalizing. Prior to that, the vast majority of law schools focused on training people to be litigators and people who worked in government. The kinds of legal skills that were needed were not really fine contract drafting and clever or creative corporate structures.”

“Before the takeoff of corporate law firms,” the Center on the Legal Profession’s Robinson says, “law was a low prestige profession for all but the most elite litigators. Students who could not get into medical or engineering school would go to law school.”

As the number of private companies multiplied and their size grew in India’s fast-growing post-liberalization economy, there was more and more need for sophisticated corporate lawyers. “You started seeing not just increased demand, but starting salaries for these lawyers going up quite a lot too.” Khanna notes, “That demand kept growing and that, of course, led to increased demand from students interested in corporate law.”

Although lawyers had played an instrumental role in India’s independence struggle, the profession was generally not seen as a source of economic advancement. Nick Robinson, a research fellow at the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School and an expert in Indian legal education, observes, “Before the takeoff of corporate law firms, law was generally seen as a low prestige profession for all but the most elite litigators. Students who could not get into medical or engineering school would go to law school. Law was a last choice for the children of middle class or wealthy families.”

Today, however, corporate law firm jobs are much sought after and often pay high starting salaries. And law schools have responded to this new wave of student interest. The National Law Universities are perhaps best known for producing lawyers for India’s top corporate law firms, and many of their graduates now work in law firms abroad, including Magic Circle firms in London and elite law firms in New York and Singapore. There are currently nineteen National Law Universities, but NLSIU Bangalore, founded in 1987, was the first and most prestigious. It pioneered an interdisciplinary, undergraduate, five-year legal education that the other national law universities subsequently adopted.

“When National Law School Bangalore was founded it was supposed to be a break from the formalistic training of the more traditional schools and create well-rounded, public-spirited litigators for the courts,” says Robinson. “Previously, law school had been a post-graduate degree, but NLSIU made it an undergraduate one because there wasn’t much quality undergraduate education in the country and they wanted to be able to focus on writing and contextualizing law within political science, economics, and other disciplines. During the 1970s and 1980s there had been a multiplication of law schools in India and standards had fallen. These new National Law Universities were designed to set a new bar of quality, and were modeled on the already successful Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs).”

In 2014, National Law School of India University, Bangalore, the most sought after school, had an effective acceptance rate that year of about 0.2 percent. By comparison, Harvard Law School had an acceptance rate of 15.4 percent.

Like the IITs and IIMs, these schools stressed a competitive entrance exam and a small class size in order to keep the quality of students high. Each National Law University has about 60 to 80 students in an entering class. With the availability of law firm jobs post-liberalization, demand for these spots has skyrocketed. Some 31,000 students sat for the common entrance exam in 2014. NLSIU Bangalore, the most sought after school, had an effective acceptance rate that year of about 0.2 percent. By comparison, for the same year, Harvard Law School had an acceptance rate of 15.4 percent. As a result of this competition, the students are generally high performing and highly motivated. Indeed, they frequently attempt to make up for deficiencies in the infrastructures and teaching at the national law schools through self-organization.

A striking example of this is the recruitment coordination committees found at many national law schools. Through these committees, students organize themselves to coordinate the law firm hiring process. Khanna explains, “These committees have their own rules, their own procedures, and they work to get their classmates hired. It’s an amazing thing to build. These students are young—just 21 or 22. At most Indian law schools you don’t see the faculty or the staff helping them get placements in law firms or elsewhere. The students have taken it upon themselves to act as intermediaries.”

Because many professors were not trained in corporate law or other areas of specialization, these schools frequently have faculty from outside of India to come in to teach either a short courses or guest lecture. “This can be on very specialized topics like project finance. Some of the top British firms, which also recruit directly out of these schools, regularly send people to India to run these very short courses on these highly specialized areas of law,” Khanna notes.

In addition to the government-run National Law Universities, after liberalization, private law schools also multiplied and began sending graduates to the newly created and well-paid corporate law sector. One of the most prominent and innovative is Jindal Global Law School (JGLS), founded in 2009 with funds from Naveen Jindal, a steel magnate and philanthropist. The law school is part of the larger Jindal Global University, which also has schools in business, policy, and international relations. The law school offers both a three year LL.B. post-graduate law degree as well as a more popular five-year, multidisciplinary undergraduate law degree (the so-called B.A. LL.B.).


The school is expensive in the Indian context. It charges over $8,000 a year, which is about four times as much as a National Law University. Part of the high costs can be attributed to the fact that it boasts faculty from the U.S. and Europe as well as many Indian faculty with foreign credentials. The University’s founder and Vice-Chancellor, C. Raj Kumar, was a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Law School graduate. As part of his plan to create a global university, he has spearheaded tie-ups between JGLS and a number of law schools in the U.S., U.K, and Australia, including joint-degree programs with the University of Indiana at Bloomington School of Law and the University of Arizona College of Law and a joint research center with the University of Michigan Law School on Global Corporate and Financial Law and Policy.

The development of National Law Universities and private law schools like JGLS has transformed the legal education space in India, allowing for much more sophisticated training of lawyers needed in a liberalized economy. However, it is not simply the legal academy that has responded to this need. The Indian company Rainmaker recently started that offers a wide variety of law courses online for lawyers and law students in specialized subjects like international arbitration, competition law, and infrastructure law. These courses vary in length to suit the topic and are taught by experts in the field, including U.S.-based legal educators. These online offerings have become popular among young lawyers beginning careers, particularly those who might not have had a legal education that prepared them in corporate law. More broadly, much like in the U.S. context (see “Educating the 21st Century Lawyer”), there have been significant efforts by companies and law schools to promote post-law school legal education, whether online or through certificates and other programs.

Tradition meets innovation in Brazil

Like India, Brazil has a long tradition of legal education. The University of São Paulo Law School, the nation’s first, was founded in 1827. Initially, legal education was to train elites, but law schools multiplied in the 1960s to help give the middle class a chance for social mobility. With so many entering these schools, many graduates did not even practice law after receiving their law degree, which is a five-year undergraduate degree.

Despite having their students pursue diverse careers, “these schools were very formalist,” explains Fabio de Sa e Silva, a research and planning specialist at the Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea), a major think-tank in Brazil. “It was students going over the statutes without actually understanding how their practice might fit into economics, social development, or civil liberties.”

Most law schools were not able to take advantage of economic change and educational reform. However, better-financed and often more innovative private law schools were able to capitalize.

In 1994, Brazil began a process to reform legal education and the curriculum was redesigned to provide multidisciplinary training that included a mix of theory and practice. At the same time these education reforms were occurring, Brazil’s economy was liberalizing after coming out of dictatorship in the mid-1980s. The resulting growth of the Brazilian economy, like in India, created demand for corporate lawyers. Most law schools were not able to take advantage of these economic changes and educational reforms because they lacked trained faculty and resources. However, better-financed and often more innovative private law schools were able to capitalize on these changes.

Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV), one of those private schools and which has law campuses in both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, has quickly become internationally respected. The two campuses, founded in the early 2000s, boast full-time faculties (law schools in Brazil have traditionally had practitioners teach part-time), a multidisciplinary approach, and numerous international collaborations and connections. Ary Oswaldo Mattos Filho, a graduate of Harvard Law School’s LL.M. program, was the first director of FGV São Paulo and helped introduce a number of new teaching approaches, from the Socratic Method to business-type case studies. Unlike traditional Brazilian law faculties, at FGV, faculty members are given incentives to research and many have degrees from abroad. Class sizes have also been kept small, ranging from 60 to 80 students to allow for more attention to students. Students must study full time for the first three years of the five year course but then are free to work part-time in law firms.

However, despite competition from new private law schools like FGV, prominent traditional schools continue to prosper and send their graduates to corporate law firms. De Sa e Silva explains, “The University of São Paulo Law School is a very elite school. There were U.S. scholars who went to Brazil in the 1980s and predicted that it would lose its importance because it was so formalist. Those same scholars today are struck by the fact that it still remains very powerful, very influential, and still attracting the elites, but it hasn’t changed its operations very much.”

“FGV is able to use an interdisciplinary curriculum to create a kind of training that is able to meet the needs of contemporary professionals,” argues de Sa e Silva.

Law schools like the University of São Paulo are much larger, with classes ranging from 450 to 500 students, and are either free or much less expensive than the pricey FGV. Largely formalist courses taught by part time professors are offered in the morning or the evening. This leaves students free to work in law firms where they develop the knowledge and skills not offered by the school itself. A forthcoming study by Luciana Gross Cunha and José Garcez Ghirardi of FGV-São Paulo shows that most lawyers entering corporate practice in Brazil rely on internships, study abroad, and continuing legal education—not law school classes—to get the skills demanded by the growing corporate sector.

This traditional approach in which students work around the deficiencies of most law schools is currently vying with the full-time student model at FGV and other newer private schools. De Sa e Silva argues that, “FGV is able to use an interdisciplinary curriculum to create a kind of training that is able to meet the needs of contemporary professionals.” In contrast, de Sa e Silva notes, “Students in traditional schools get their professional training in law firms. They start at law firms very early. They begin working full-time in their second or third year of law school where they get practical training under the supervision of acting lawyers. The students go to court proceedings with these lawyers. They draft legal documents. It’s really a hands-on approach.”

It remains to be seen which approach ultimately prevails in training a new generation of corporate lawyers. The FGV model has gained traction, but the despite the failings of the traditional law schools, students in those schools are able to get the needed skills outside of the school setting and do it at lower cost.

A new synthesis

“Most graduates in these countries won’t go to work in the elite corporate law firm sector,” says Indiana Law School’s Krishnan, “but they are still going to be relevant political players for upholding the law. Having good law schools really makes a huge difference in the stability of a country’s political system.”

As new demand for corporate lawyers emerged in both Brazil and India, law schools have adapted, often borrowing models from the U.S. and other countries. While Brazil and India have borrowed from existing models of legal education, they have not resorted to wholesale emulation, tailoring things to fit their national landscapes. Undergraduate legal education allows these countries to graduate students at a younger age, but also integrate interdisciplinary training into legal education. As these schools pursue partnerships with law schools elsewhere in the world to build capacity and prestige, they have ended up offering a more globally-oriented legal education than most law schools, including those in the U.S.

Yet, the corporate legal sector of these countries is still relatively small. Jayanth Krishnan, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, points out, law schools in these countries have to produce more than corporate lawyers. Despite the immense growth in corporate legal needs, it remains the case that “most graduates in these countries won’t go to work in the elite corporate law firm sector, but they are still going to be relevant political players for upholding the law. I think having good law schools really makes a huge difference in the stability of a country’s political system.”

Whether their graduates are entering the country’s growing law firms or becoming small town litigators, law schools must find a way to provide a holistic legal education that both responds to the changing needs of the market, but can also instill values and skills that will enable their graduates to help chart the larger future of their countries. Most schools are still trying to figure out how to navigate this balance. What is clear, however, is that law schools like National Law School of India University, Bangalore and Fundação Getulio Vargas in Brazil have gained respect internationally for their training of a new generation of lawyers. In the coming years, it is likely that these countries’ leading schools will become even more prominent, shaping the future of legal training not only within their own countries, but globally.

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Legal Education for the Future Volume 1 • Issue 5 • July/August 2015