In the last one month or so, we keep researching continuously on various courses available for law students. We speak to hundreds of law students about the courses they have taken, what they expected to learn from them and how they have benefited from the courses. We have even spoken to dozens of law teachers. This has led us to some pretty interesting insights about legal education.
Let’s start from an existential question: Why do these courses exist? Why would people take any additional courses at all?
Think of a student from a National Law University. She is studying law at one of the best legal institutes of the country. In all probability she is shelling out a significant amount of money every year for this privilege. She is also probably very busy with her academic schedule. Why would she enrol for any extra courses at all?
Reason 1: Courses of choice
One of the first courses to be very successful was a course by Asian School of Cyber Law. They taught cyber law – a buzzword at that time – in a simple and easy-to-understand manner. At that time, there were few people even in the NLUs who knew anything about this area of law. Students were kicked about learning cyber law – hence this course became very popular. In NUJS, several of my friends did this course.
Later on, Rainmaker has launched a whole range of courses on various topics – close to 20 subjects are on offer currently and they say that they are going to introduce more!
The point here is that our colleges are sometimes slow to introduce certain subjects, or teach them with a reasonable standard, since faculty may not be easily available for each institute. Want to learn sports law? Really few colleges have such a course. You’d be lucky to find a law teacher in your college who knows anything about it. However, Rainmaker has a course on this and a lot of similar subjects.
Reason 2: Differentiating your skill set
This is a basic human instinct – to be different. Your peers are studying the same things as you are in college. Many students feel a need to learn something more. This is great, but often misdirected. Most of my friends who took up the cyber law back in college are not doing anything in that realm of law. Maybe it helped some of them somewhere – but I am not sure that their goals and actions were completely aligned. While spending money and time on these courses, it is important to be clear about the value you expect from it. Is the differentiation important enough? Does it bring not only new but useful skillset/ knowledge? Does it introduce you to new areas of law systematically that you are finding difficult to navigate on your own?
Reason 3: Certificate-mongering
Somehow, a lot of students believe that every certificate they bag actually helps them to progress in their career. Some of the others will do anything for a certificate. While I do not agree with these people, they do exist. We often come across people who want to sign up for our course just for a diploma certificate from NUJS. I really do not believe that just a certificate helps you to get any job – what counts is what you know and what skills you bring on the table. Many people can take a course, but the value they get out of it can be completely different.
Reason 4: To get a job
This is a rare category – there are very few courses that actually focus on the student’s employability. However, most law students have a clear agenda in mind – they want to bag a great, cushy job. Many of them are not employable for various reasons – lack of soft skills, poor communication, lack of legal knowledge – and so on. There are many flaws with the legal education system, and not everyone’s needs are met within the formal legal education framework. Hence, courses are coming up to fill these gaps. One important example is the Thomson Reuters course on legal skills. Even the course started by us at iPleaders together with NUJS deals with practical knowledge and skills that makes a law student more employable. I do not see things improving within law schools yet. In fact, the gap between the practice of law and what is taught within colleges is increasing rapidly. For instance, imagine the kind of knowledge and issues one deals with in a commercial law firm – the complexity of which has drastically increased in the last decade. However, the textbooks, the classes, the syllabus prescribed by BCI, what people learn in a law college – all remains more or less the same. Some good Universities, thankfully, has tried to introduce new courses and bring reputed lawyers to teach law. Murali Neelkanthan teaching outsourcing law at NUJS is an example of this. NLU Delhi and Jindal Global Law School also have taken some significant initiatives in this direction. However, there is a big mismatch between the demand and the supply. Hence, you can expect these courses to gain in popularity.
How should you go about choosing an online course?
Five years back, hardly any additional online or distance learning courses were available to fill up specific skill-gaps for law students. Probably the only course of repute available was the cyber law course offered by Asian School of Cyber Law.
Today the situation is different. With so many courses available, which one should you choose? However, a question we often asked ourselves was how could we become superb at corporate/ commercial law while studying in college? The standard advice of seniors has been to read business newspapers – like Economic Times. In the absence of systematic training, some of us have done that in the past – but it did not really help. You will come across a lot of new terms – you can look them up – but it did not send my knowledge of commercial law skyrocketing. It will probably make a marginal difference to your understanding. Far from making you the new corporate law stud.
Reading more cases is also not a solution. Nor is performing better in class. Many who do well academically are utterly confused as to what can be done to drastically improve their skillsetsas a commercial lawyer. Reading the same textbooks, journals, blogs, newspapers, attending classes and optional guest lectures feels woefully inadequate in rapidly improving one’s lawyerly skills.
This is a systemic gap. I would have taken an extra course only to fill this gap, and for nothing else.
Naturally, you need to know that what you are opting for is actually filling a gap like that. Be very clear – what value is being offered by a course? What do you gain from it? Is it aligned with your goals?
A 6-point checklist you can use for choosing the right course
1. Always prioritize skills over knowledge
Giving you some information is easy. However, teaching you a skill is difficult. You can find information on your own, but learning a skill will take more time, and needs a systematic approach. Information will lose relevance, but skill will serve you for long! Go for a course that teaches you skills, not just gives you information.
2. Talk to people who have already taken the course
You should try to talk to several people to understand what are the pros and cons of a course. People often have varying understanding of the same thing – it is a good idea to talk to multiple people rather than relying on only one or two. Try to ask objective questions about the course rather than just their subjective opinion.
3. Ask for demonstrations
If someone has really built something valuable – they would not mind giving away a bit of it for free. Ask for free sample chapters, demand to see material before you buy a course. This would really help you to assess the quality of a course.
4. Stay focussed on YOUR goals
Before buying a course, talk to someone who has built the course – not just a call centre employee. Ask him how the course will add value to you, what skills will be taught and what will be the procedure. See how all these can help your career objectives.
5. Make sure you have the time and motivation
A large number of people seem to be subscribing to courses that they do not really study, because of hectic schedule or some other reason. This is not good at all. If you cannot commit to a course, do not take it. Understand how much time is needed to pursue the course first. For instance, we planned the iPleaders – NUJS business law course in such a way that it would not take more than 3-4 hours in a week and it can be accessed at any time one wishes.
6. Engagement and ease of communication
This is also crucial. Do they engage you during the course or just send some modules to you? There should be some engagement – if you are just given some material and asked to go away and study, it’s not good enough. How approachable are the people behind the course? If there is a glitch, or if you need help, how soon will they respond? It is always better to deal with human beings when it comes to this rather than an entity hiding behind call centre workers. This significantly affects your experience with a course.
Since July 2012, we have been offering a diploma course on Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws with the objective of helping law students build practical skillsets and increase their employability. The course has been hugely appreciated by lawyers and law students (including those from India’s best national law schools). Some of our students are now working with law firms such as AZB, Amarchand Mangaldas and Luthra.
Write to us at email@example.com by replying to this email if you want to know how it can help you, or if you want to be connected to someone who took the course in the past.
This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee
About Ramanuj Mukherjee
Ramanuj Mukherjee is a young corporate lawyer and an alumnus of National University of Juridical Sciences. He co-founded iPleaders, seeking to make law easily accessible to everyone. He used to work at a leading law firm in Mumbai. He generally blogs at A First Taste of Law. You can find him on Google +.