Indian law schools produce about 200,000 lawyers per year, but to find Indian legal talent, you first need to understand the country’s methods for grooming its students.
Individuals pursuing a career in law must gain admission to a five-year course of study at a university (in contrast to four years of college and three years of law school in the United States). Like UK students, Indian students receive a Bachelor of Laws or LL.B (as opposed to an American Juris Doctor or JD). Undergraduates with three years of coursework can also apply to a three-year law school program to obtain the same degree.
Some of the leading institutions include:
- National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore
- The National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), Kolkata
- National Law Institute University (NLIU), Bhopal
- Panjab University- Faculty of Law, Chandigarh
- Faculty of Law-Chandigarh University, Chandigarh
- Institute of Law, Kurukshetra University, Haryana
While there’s no national law examination required to practice in India, upon graduation, prospective lawyers interested in appearing before a particular court, such as the Supreme Court of India, must take a national exam similar to the bar. Attorneys who pass this test are designated as “Advocates on Record.”
Those who choose not to take the exam can simply enroll in the bar association of the state in which they intend to practice. Once the bar council is satisfied with the credentials and references of an applicant, the council accepts them as members. It’s technically possible to have multiple state memberships, but it’s more common to be enrolled in the bar council of a single locality such as Haryana, Punjab, West Bengal, Karnataka, Maharashtra or Gujarat — to name a few.
On-campus interviewing isn’t common or extensive for law school graduates in India. New advocates will often work as “juniors” for more experienced advocates. Juniors with family in the law may also work in their relatives’ offices. The length of the apprenticeship depends on how comfortable the attorney supervisor is with the skill of the apprentice, as most apprenticeships result in full-time employment. There’s no fixed time period for these apprentice positions. Typically, the apprenticeship could last anywhere from a few months to a few years. The duration depends upon the personal relationship between the senior and junior attorney, skill level and performance. The senior gradually starts handing more complicated matters to the junior advocate, and the nature of employment changes from the junior being an apprentice to becoming an associate.
Also, most courthouses provide “chambers” in which lawyers can practice, but these spaces are so difficult to obtain that many advocates are forced to wait hours outside of the courthouses for some privacy. Although attorneys typically have private offices or share an office with partners, the chambers available in the courthouses are considered prime spots, especially since attorneys tend to spend the majority of their time in court. This is an office in the center of action where advocates can obtain their own clients, those people who are at the courthouse without representation. It’s also quite common for clients to look for advocates available in the courthouse. In such scenarios, if the advocate doesn’t have a chamber in the court, he or she must be physically present at the court and away from his or her office to solicit clients effectively.
Although apprentice positions are designed to provide graduates with experience, they don’t offer a substantial income aside from expenses. The compensation an apprentice earns depends on the type of apprenticeship. In large law firms, juniors can earn between 10,000 and 15,000 rupees (about $220 to $340) in a month. However, for individual apprenticeships, the amount varies from 5,000 to 10,000 rupees plus expenses such as travel and other case-related costs. Or the payment structure could be performance-related, with a fixed amount of money and commission from the cases the junior handles for the advocate.
The juniors often compete for their own clients to supplement their income, to gain additional experience and eventually to build their own client base. In fact, many juniors take nothing more than expense reimbursements from their senior advocates, in hopes of later resigning the apprenticeship with no obligation.
It’s this intense competition, among other factors, that encourages Indian lawyers to seek alternative career choices, such as document review in an outsourcing operation. In contrast to practicing in Indian courts, which requires long days in often stressful and uncomfortable environments, reviewing discovery for an overseas company provides excellent pay, exposure to cutting-edge technology and a regular schedule (which in India, like in the United States, is attractive to people with a family). In addition, women who have family members that expect them to serve as apprentices are particularly interested in opportunities of this nature because it allows them to obtain a certain level of independence from the “family business.”
Families often have their own solicitor firms, legal firms or other members of the family who are advocates to join these family-run practices. There are many social and cultural issues involved when a member desires to leave the family practice to work independently. In Indian culture in general, any family disassociation of this sort isn’t well-accepted. By choosing to work in a completely different legal field such as e-discovery, an attorney can effectively sidestep any social disapproval the family might have for the attorney not joining the family’s legal practice.