CLAT Exam: How should the law admission test change?

Does the CLAT help select the right candidates for law schools? The CJI has doubts and so does a section of NLU academics, alumni.


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The CLAT, or Common Law Admission Test, the entrance exam for some of India's top law schools (Image: Shutterstock)The CLAT, or Common Law Admission Test, the entrance exam for some of India's top law schools (Image: Shutterstock)

Team Careers360 | January 13, 2023 | 08:47 AM IST

By Garima Mishra
NEW DELHI: Can a national-level entrance exam assess a student’s ability to realise their responsibility towards society? Or is it limited to only gauging the efficiency with which a Class 12 student can interpret basic concepts of law?

While speaking at an event in Goa, these concerns were raised by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), DY Chandrachud, who questioned the selection process through Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) and its relevance in finding candidates with the right “ethos” for law.

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“All entrance exams in different streams have their limitations especially if it is mass testing,” said VC Vivekanandan, vice-chancellor, Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU), Raipur. “To some extent, the content of testing can bring out the value system one subscribes to. But then the moot point is how far an entrance exam can test the right “ethos” of students at an age when they are yet to understand social complexities.”

Also Read | How Murakhali got a lawyer

CLAT and the ‘ethos’ debate

Law school alumni and academics agree that too much focus is given to cracking the exam rather than on testing the ethical side of the aspirants. There is also a perception that students who are not from the National Law Universities might not become good lawyers. Therefore, most of the aspirants sit for the exam with the intention to just crack it.

VC Vivekanandan, VC, HNLU Raipur

“I think right ethos means bringing those candidates into the legal profession who are motivated towards improving access to justice for every stratum. However, he (the CJI) does not provide specifics on how to go about it,” said Apurva Zutshi an alumnus of NLU Jodhpur. He cleared the CLAT in 2009 and is presently working as a corporate lawyer.

“Our society focuses more on intelligence than on integrity. However, it needs to be understood that intelligence is good for the development of a person while integrity is good for society,” said Manwendra Kumar Tiwari, associate professor at Dharmashastra National Law University (DNLU) Jabalpur. “To make lawyers who realise their responsibilities towards society, all the stakeholders such as NLUs, students and teachers must come together.”

According to Supreme Court lawyer, Tarun Gupta, the new generation of lawyers is avoiding litigation and is focused more on financially remunerative corporate practice.

Also Read | ‘Need drastic measures to improve legal education’: NLU Tripura VC

“A lot of changes in the legal profession have been witnessed in the last 10 years with the entry of corporates in the legal field. These days, every business house has lawyers and is willing to pay good packages,” he said, adding that lawyers would do pro-bono cases to help the weaker sections of the society some three decades ago. “Today that spirit has waned in the rat race of accumulating luxuries.”

Gupta joined the legal profession in 2005 after obtaining his degree from Punjab University.

Before and after CLAT

CLAT was introduced in 2008 with the objective of streamlining the process of selecting students for the NLUs. Prior to CLAT, each national law university conducted its own tests. This put aspirants in a fix since the patterns differed across premier institutes.

“I have taught both the students: those who studied before CLAT was introduced and ones who came after qualifying it. I can say that quality of students studying in the national law universities remains more or less the same,” said Tiwari.

Manwendra Kumar Tiwari, DNLU Jabalpur

According to Anas Tanwir, advocate-on-record, Supreme Court, the NLUs were set up with the objective of bringing good lawyers who are available to help the needy to the forefront. But with changing times, getting a degree in law has become expensive.

“Students take loans to study and once the course is finished, the focus is on paying it off. So, they end up working for corporates and helping the public and the poor takes a backseat. Also, those who want to work with the senior lawyers for getting experience are seldom paid enough. Some are not paid at all,” he said.

Tanwir is an alumnus of Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University (RMNLU), Lucknow. He joined the course in 2007, a year before the CLAT was introduced.

CLAT and barriers

Students who sat for the CLAT acknowledged that there are barriers and it might not be the best way to select the students. The undergraduate examination is computer-based with objective-type questions and is entirely in English. It can be a disadvantage for the students whose medium of instruction was not English.

Zutshi said that coaching facilities for CLAT are mostly in tier-one and tier-two cities putting aspirants from smaller cities at a disadvantage. “Once the exam is qualified, the fees of most national law universities is steep. The examination has managed to remove some barriers but they still exist. CLAT does bring in diversity, that students from different parts get the opportunity to interact while studying in the national law schools, this diversity is more geographical than economical,” he added.

Also Read | Kerala’s free CLAT prep initiative helps Adivasi students reach NUALS Kochi

According to Tanwir, making legal education accessible and affordable is the need of the hour.

“There might be aspirants who know about their responsibilities towards the public but find it difficult to enter the field due to financial problems. There is a need to reduce the form fees, course fee and to provide a level playing field,” he said.

To make the legal education more inclusive, HNLU’s Vivekanandan suggested three ways, “Firstly, effective social sciences foundation is a must even in the offering of variants live BBA or BCom. Secondly, it is essential to have an effective and diverse experiential learning of internship not limited to a law firm. For instance, training with public policy planners and think tanks and finally, but importantly, Pro Bono should be a strong and effective component of the curriculum and evaluation.”

He added that the comment, coming from a scholarly jurist like him (CJI), who has been watching the entry point from close quarters, deserves serious thought. He hopes that the CJI will interact with the NLU VCs to give his deeper insights and support to better the system.

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