“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.” — Max de Pree
No society can flourish by restricting legal education to the elitist. When law does not discriminate between rich and poor, why should law school education be restricted to the elite? How does one expect inclusiveness in legal education without affordable access to all?
It is time to face the stark reality and be concerned about the alarming statistics. A diversity survey, conducted by Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA), an organisation spearheading the movement for more inclusive education in law schools revealed that mere 3 per cent of students across top national law schools hail from a non-English medium background. The family income of 83 per cent of them was found to be above Rs 3 lacs, 53 per cent being from families earning more than 7 lacs a year. Majority of them could afford expensive pre-admission test (Common Law Admission Test –CLAT) coaching. Minority representation was also found to be at its minimal by the said survey.
A whopping 90 per cent of students surveyed rely on parents or relatives to fund their law school education with only 1.5 per cent taking benefit of scholarships. 42 per cent of students have a friend or close relative in the legal profession, conveying the still continuing scepticism among the youth regarding a career in law. Such findings highlight the dismal state of diversity in National Law Universities. The numbers get worse as we shift focus to other private colleges.
The major factor that limits law school admissions to the well-off is the fact that law is generally not seen as a lucrative career option in India among the underprivileged. Quite similar to the thought process of the middle class, even the underprivileged will consider putting money into engineering or medical fields as a safer bet than a field like law. The marginalised lot is still not quite aware of the vast and ever booming world of corporate and commercial law practice. Even after being sensitized, the matter of affordability makes law school education a distant dream, due to overly expensive entrance exam training, soaring fees in National Law schools and dearth of easily accessible scholarships. A family earning less than 30,000 rupees a month, i.e., approximately 3.5 lacs an year can definitely not be expected to pay 1.5 lacs as its child’s tuition fee only, other expenses kept aside, making quality law school education an affair restricted to the privileged class. Language barriers and online tests add to the hardship.
Realising the existing disparity, a few institutions and organisations have come forward and are doing their bit to change the bitter reality. A leading National Law School has announced a full fee waiver for the underprivileged students. Other institutions are leading by example by promoting legal education among the marginalised communities through mega sensitization camps and career guidance seminars, training promising scholars from low income families for CLAT and funding their law school fees thereafter. Not only do they help the scholar financially, but guide and mentor him/her socially and culturally in their 5 years of graduation. Free coaching facility on merit basis is also provided by certain CLAT coaching centres for students interested to pursue a career in law who have low family income as a roadblock in their career path.
Such initiatives are a guiding light towards a more dynamic and inclusive environment in law schools which will benefit both students and the institutions at large. A diverse classroom will, on one hand, show intolerance a door to exit, witness cultural infusion and heightened capacity to think critically, and on the other, encourage an open dialogue across differences. More the perspectives, more heated the deliberations. Gradually, diverse voices will have their say in policy making, thereby transforming the country’s legal landscape. It is hoped that representation of a diverse client base by lawyers hailing from varied backgrounds will go some way in empowering the marginalised, strengthening the weakened and uplifting the communities they come from.
After all, as Jacqueline Woodson puts it, “Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together.”
– Hitansh Sharma and Shachi Jain (V-IV)