Law School Outreach Programme in Kerala

NUJS Kolkata professor Shamnad Basheer has begun a pilot project to increase access to the legal profession to those from poorer backgrounds, seeking to grow it into a mass movement with funding and involvement from lawyers and students across India. The project has already started in Assam and Bihar. We plan to start the project in Kerala by the second week of June.

The National law schools, widely seen as the pre-eminent legal institutions in India have become increasingly elitist over the years. A variety of factors have contributed to this, including the extremely high fee structures at these institutions, a very difficult entrance examination that now requires extensive and expensive coaching as a pre-requisite, and most importantly, a lamentable lack of awareness about law as a career amongst low income students in small towns, rural areas and other non mainstream institutions. 

The net result is that the current student composition at many of these schools lack any serious diversity and comprise mainly of English medium educated students from middle class or upper middle class families. The numbers from rural areas, small towns or non English speaking schools are deplorable. Apart from this, the composition also suffers from under-representation from the disabled community, minority commmunities, ethnic groups etc. This project therefore seeks to find ways to reach out to “under-represented” groups and help those interested to acquire admission to these law schools. It is hoped that such access to the under-represented would not only empower them and the communities that they represent, but also increase the diversity at law schools and make for a more optimal melting pot of views and perspectives.

For the immediate future, we hope to execute pilot projects in identified areas/schools and identify promising candidates, based inter-alia on aptitude tests. We then guide the selected students, help them through the CLAT process and train them for taking the CLAT exam. CLAT is one of the biggest “access” bottlenecks in so far as candidates from under-represented areas are concerned. Therefore, supporting students to take CLAT is one of the most critical components of this program. We’ve been lucky enough to have several training centres agree to give us materials free of cost for distribution. Apart from this, we will impart CLAT training through online educational platforms.

Since many students would have come from non English speaking backgrounds, we plan to administer “English” language training as well. Here again, we would do it through a combination of online and offline modules. Even amongst the students that do well in our aptitude test, we try and select under-represented categories based on gender, ethnic and economic background, so as to provide for an optimally diverse mix. Once under-represented students make it through CLAT, we offer them a full tuition fee waiver, if they fall below a certain income level. Further, we also institute specific scholarships (based on contributions from law firms, alumni and others that believe in this cause) to help students gain stipendiary money as living expenses and to buy books, a laptop etc. We also try and get the law schools to offer some part time jobs in the library etc so they can make some pocket money.

The project will also aim to advertise scholarship programmes, highlight law as a career option,etc. For the success of the programme we need volunteers to help us in all possible ways. You can help us in preparing materials or taking classes or in other ways. You have various options through which you can help us. All those who are really interested in participating in this mass movement; please do let me know at the earliest. Mail me your expression of interest.

With regards,
Raghul Sudheesh
Coordinator
Law School Outreach Programme
Ph:-94473 23332

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