Protip: Learning is not subject to any quick fixes. Please read carefully before investing yourself in this activity.
The present post is my attempt to help you navigate two major issues – learning (in college and beyond) and examinations.
I. Pre-Law Years
Under Mumbai University, the B.L.S. LL.B. course is structured such that “humanities” subjects are covered over the first and second years, while law subjects are divided across the remaining three. This means that the first two years are relatively relaxed. This in turn means that you have plenty of time to spare. The obvious question then is – how do you utilise this time?
Before I answer that, I must answer another, more frequently asked question. No, you need not intern with law firms/counsels/legal-teams-of-companies in the initial semesters. They do not serve much purpose and definitely do not “enhance your CV” (whatever that means). Exercise patience – there is a time for everything. (If you are really keen on interning, try doing so with an NGO or a similar organisation.)
I recommend that you use this time to build a good base for the edifice. Brush up your knowledge and hone your skills. Two of the most popular and rewarding options are working for college committees and societies, and participating in extra-curricular activities. Another is to pursue extra courses – institutional or online. A third option is to write – contemporary issues, causes that you are passionate about, your ideas and solutions to chronic malaises, stories, book and film reviews, travel logs – anything and everything.
In addition to the above, some useful resources –
Whether it is their beauty and wisdom (of which one cannot have enough) or the uncomfortable realities they mirror or even the piercing questions they raise, the following have much precious learning to offer –
- A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
- Before Memory Fades by Fali Nariman
- I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
- Learning the Law by Glanville Williams
- “Master Harold”… and the Boys by Athol Fugard
- On Balance by Justice Leila Seth
- The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- 10 Judgements that Changed India by Zia Mody
- 50 Greatest Short Stories (Rupa Publications)
- What is perhaps the greatest commencement address of all time – Steve Jobs at Stanford (2005)
- Constitutional Law of India by H.M. Seervai (Volumes I, II and III) – Set a target of reading one volume a year, beginning from your 3rd year. You’ll be doing yourselves a favour; the books are a master class in the subject.
NEWSPAPERS & JOURNALS
- Editorials in The New York Times, The Hindu and The Indian Express
- Articles in the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), The Economist and The New Yorker
- 12 Angry Men
- Erin Brokovich
- To Kill a Mockingbird
These lists are only a head start – the Harilal J. Kania Reading Room is on the 3rd floor and the internet on your phones and laptops.
II. The Law and You
V-III onwards you will receive a general introduction to (i) law as a social institution (conceptual basics) and (ii) law as a means to an end (practical basics). It is not a specialized program but instead is a smorgasbord of non-identical yet complementary subjects. You may take up specialised subjects (such as taxation and IPR) but you will not receive exhaustive instruction. The focus is on familiarising you with the fundamentals and not making you experts in every possible field of law.
The curriculum is crammed with theories, principles, Acts, Rules, Treaties, Conventions. So how do you study what you have to study? Let me introduce you to the Batman-Robin of law school – Bare Acts and Commentaries.
Bare Acts contain the exact text of laws as enacted by legislature, without any (or at least bare minimum) comments and/or supporting judgements. They are the Bible, Torah, Koran – your first and most reliable source of any legislation. Everything else is secondary. In order to get an accurate idea of any legislation, it is imperative to know what the sections actually provide. It is only after having referred to the Bare Acts that one moves to other sources (usually commentaries).
Commentaries are expositions on the law by jurists – containing interpretations and critical analysis of different aspects along with judgements. While commentaries come handy at all times, they are particularly helpful when studying uncodified law – such as personal laws of different communities. (There exists a perception that all commentaries are bulky tomes in tiny font. However, this is an unfair (and rather dissuasive) generalisation. Several commentaries have student editions that explain things concisely and lucidly.) The importance of a good commentary is, to give an analogy, like Albert Einstein teaching the theory of relativity.
Here I must tell you, studying isn’t a cakewalk. Even with the aforementioned (and other) material. The course-load is heavy and time is limited. Archaic language, haphazardly placed provisions and conflicting judgements add to the misery. On several occasions, things will make absolutely no sense. To feel frustrated, lost, and demotivated then is normal. The solution is to take a break, get some fresh air, and try again. And remind yourself of Martin Adelman’s words – “You can read. Law is not that difficult to figure out.”
III. The basics covered, I will now briefly discuss examinations. (Before I proceed, a word of caution – do not expect to score like you did in school/junior college. Securing a Ist division is a fantastic achievement in law school.)
Pre-law is straightforward. The subjects are interesting (if slightly repetitive) and recommended texts are engaging. If you work diligently, you will do well. Contrary to popular perception, having taken up Science/Commerce subjects in school/JC is no impediment. (Though you might have to practice writing a bit.)
V-III onwards, it is a different ball game. By now you must be familiar with horror stories of misplaced answer sheets, unassessed answer-sheets, delayed results, inexplicable results, re-evaluation woes, etc. Despite burning the midnight oil and then spending hours answering papers as fast as humanly possible, you can’t be sure of faring well. In fact, one wonders whether Murphy’s Law was expounded solely to define one’s time in law school… Obviously, things are difficult.
However, you must not lose hope or approach exams with a sense of fear. (And definitely not use the system’s flaws as an excuse to get away with poor performance.) The aim should be to do as best as you can. More often than not, you’ll emerge unscathed. And when faced with unanticipated outcomes, the option of hopping onto a Santacruz-bound train is always available. Going to the Kalina campus is almost a rite of passage, to be honest…
–Preeti Sahai, V-V
 Coursera has some great MOOCs – pick and choose depending on your interests and not necessarily legal topics.
 If you want to get published, MagCom welcomes submissions year-round for the blog. You can also submit your works for méLAWnge.
 Texts authored by Mr. Noshirvan Jhabvala and/or published by C Jamnadas & Co; fondly referred to as ‘the Jhabs’.