3-year Vs 5-year: How the LLB courses compare on curriculum, legal job opportunities, challenges

Is the five-year integrated law programme, increasingly popular at law colleges, really better than the three-year one?

There is an increase in demand for the five-year courses but legal education experts say the three-year one is here to stay as well. (Representative Image: Wikimedia Commons)There is an increase in demand for the five-year courses but legal education experts say the three-year one is here to stay as well. (Representative Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Sanjay | January 12, 2024 | 11:30 AM IST

NEW DELHI: Mohak Chaudhary knew he wanted to study law while still in school. He cleared the Common Law Admission Test in 2022 and took admission in Gujarat National Law University (GNLU) Gandhinagar. By the end December 2023, in his second year, Chaudhary was already on his second internship – this one under a senior lawyer of the Supreme Court.

Enrolled in the five-year integrated Bachelor of Social Work-Bachelor of Legislative Law (BSW-LLB) programme, he gets a 45-day internship break after every semester to train under a practicing lawyer. This is helping him get the “required exposure” for a career in law.

The five-year integrated programme, pioneered by the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bengaluru, started with it in 1986 but is fast overtaking the three-year LLB in popularity. There is widespread belief that it offers better career prospects and provides more professionally-oriented training.

For Chaudhary, it was a no-brainer. “Law is a professional course and I thought it would be better to enroll myself in a five-year course to focus solely on what I wanted to learn. The five-year law course also helps you develop a perspective on implementation of laws in your subject areas. My BSW-LLB course is helping me learn law in the context of social work,” he said.

As more students and institutions embrace the five-year course, a more professionally-oriented programme, experts in legal education say the three-year one is here to stay as well. It provides an avenue for students to build a law career after graduation and produces, they argue, graduates with the depth and maturity required for litigation.

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Out of 26 NLUs, only two – National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bengaluru and NLU Odisha – offer the three-year LLB along with five-year integrated law course. With an increase in demand for them, Delhi University (DU) – home to one of India’s best-known law schools – launched a five-year programme this year. A total of 24 NLUs and most central universities offer the five-year integrated programme only.

3-year LLB: Second UG course

In India, the undergraduate law degree is awarded at the end of two types of programmes. A three-year LLB programme comes after a full-fledged three-year undergraduate course and hence a student takes six years to get the law degree, also a UG one.

The five-year integrated programmes offered by the NLUs and others, combine a bachelor’s in any stream with law leading to BA-LLB, BCom-LLB, BSc-LLB and other variations of these degrees. Admission to these programmes is right after school.

“Instead of wasting six years to get an LLB degree, I will finish my integrated LLB degree and complete my masters in law too,” said Mayank Bhola, a second year BA-LLB student at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. He is interning with a senior Supreme Court lawyer.

Prashant Kumar, who worked with senior Supreme Court lawyers after earning a BBA-LLB degree from Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University, Pune, pointed out that several factors determine whether a student goes for a three-year or an integrated programme and at what time they pick law as a career is a major one.

“If someone decides to become a lawyer in school, he will enroll for a five-year course. If someone decides to make a career in law after graduation, he will opt for a three-year course. The fee of law colleges is also a deciding factor,” he said.

A longer time spent on law courses, more professionally-oriented curriculum involving internships and projects and lucrative salary offers are drawing an increasing number of students to the five-year version.

There is an increase in demand for the five-year courses, agreed Pushpa Kumar Lakshmanan, professor, Faculty of Law, DU. “There are two major reasons behind starting a five-year integrated law course in Delhi University. First, there is a lot of demand among students. Second, students are eager to learn law and get a law degree right after finishing school. The five-year course saves one year,” he said.

DU started classes for the programme on November 20, 2023. There are 120 seats and admission is based on the CLAT (Common Law Admission Test).

Duration and exposure

In the three-year programme, students dive right into core law subjects; the first two years of the integrated one are spent on core stream subjects. Due to its shorter duration, the three-year course allows fewer internships. In the five-year one, there’s more time for moot courts and exposure to the legal system.

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Arjun Bose, a civil advocate who earlier worked with a law firm, said: “Because of the longer duration, understanding of laws among graduates of the integrated programme is usually better. When I completed my five-year law course from Symbiosis Law School, Noida, I had two years and eight months, or 32 months, of internship. You cannot expect this from a student enrolled in a 36-month course and hence, he will not have enough professional experience. Training experience matters the most to law firms when it comes to hiring.”

Students argue that the three-year course produces lawyers with greater maturity and understanding.

“The maturity level and seriousness of the three-year students are higher because of their college experience,” said Manik Gupta, a third-year LLB student at DU’s Faculty of Law. “After finishing school, I was not sure what I wanted to do but while pursuing BA (Hons) History from DU, I got clarity that I want to be a lawyer. Now, I will have two undergraduate degrees instead of one and have two fields to explore. I can sit for the National Eligibility Test (NET) exam in both History and Law if I want to make a career in academics.”

Lakshmanan said: “With a graduation degree already in hand, the maturity level of three-year law students is high and they are able to understand the laws very well.”

Jobs and internships

A law graduate works for law firms in advisory capacity. Many also pursue litigation in courts after clearing Bar Council of India’s (BCI) All India Bar Examination (AIBE) within two years of enrolment in their respective state’s bar council.

In some cases, graduates of the integrated programme may have an edge. But how the three-year programme graduates fare also depends on what they studied for their first undergraduate degree.

Bose explained: “There are a few three-year law course students who also have advantages in some areas. For example, a law graduate with a civil engineering degree will have an edge in securing opportunities which deal with cases on constructions. A law graduate with a mass communication degree will have an edge over others when it comes to firms dealing with defamation cases.”

Nishant Kumar Srivastava, founder and managing partner of Actus Legal, a Delhi-based law firm, said that firms catering to corporate clients and doing advisory and consultancy work will prefer five-year law graduates over three year ones because they are trained for such work.

“The three year law degree holders make good litigation lawyers because of their maturity, wider worldview and good knowledge of their graduation subjects,” he said.

Lakshmanan does not agree with the view. “Most of our three-year law course students are getting internships and jobs. The law firms look for knowledge, skill sets and work spirit. If a student can prove his skills, law firms will hire them,” he said.

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Future of law courses

There’s no consensus among experts on the future of the three-year programme. Srivastava said he believed it might “vanish in the next 10-15 years” as more students pick law straight after school.

Lakshmanan disagreed. “Both will always have demand because of their nature of catering to different sets of students. If somebody studied BA, BCom or BSc in graduation and later feels like making a career in law, there should be options for such students. This will always be in demand. I don’t think because of the five-year courses, the three year law course will lose its significance. Some NLUs are also starting a three-year law course,” he said.

NLU Odisha launched a three-year LLB course from the academic year 2023-24.

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