Father of modern Indian legal education passes away

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Father modern Indian legal education passes away
Professor Neelakanta Ramakrishna Madhava Menon

Professor Neelakanta Ramakrishna Madhava Menon, widely considered to be the father of modern legal education in India, passed away on 7 May at the age of 84 following a battle with liver cancer.

Among Dr Menon’s significant contributions to the legal profession is the founding of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in Bengaluru in 1986. He transformed the way legal education was carried out in the country with the introduction of the five-year integrated LLB programme. This allowed the university to create better training for the country’s future lawyers, judges and teachers. He served the NLSIU as its founding vice-chancellor for 12 years.

“Five years in the institution was a transformational experience despite the hardships of shifting campuses,” said Manoj Kumar, the managing partner of Hammurabi & Solomon. Kumar is a former student who began his studies at NLSIU in 1990.

“For Dr Menon, skill development was a key component of legal education. He introduced the case study method in legal education, which required us to write about 60 projects and undertake close to 15 internships. It was an exposure that was to serve the legal fraternity well with skilling becoming a norm going forward.”

In doing so, he also raised the profile of law as a career option for students. “This law school [NLSIU] became a role model for other states to follow and we now have dozens of law schools following the same model in India,” Lalit Bhasin, the president of Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF), told India Business Law Journal. Dr Menon was later invited by the West Bengal state government to set up the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata. He served as its founder vice-chancellor from 1998 to 2003.

In 2003, he also received the Padma shri, the fourth highest civilian award given by the government of India, for his outstanding contribution to legal education. He retired in 2006 as the founder director of the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal but remained active after. He served as a member on government commissions and committees while also setting up the educational charity, Menon Institute of Legal Advocacy Training (MILAT).

SILF had feted Dr Menon on his completing 50 years in legal education at an event in 2009. “While accepting the award, he conveyed to me that the best tribute to the fraternity would be to institutionalize a law teacher’s day that should be celebrated every year,” said Bhasin.

“Law teachers, not only from India, but from the neighbouring SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] countries should be recognized and honoured. He felt that there would be many more Menons and he was only one of them. He wanted recognition for his peers as well.”

Bhasin acceded to his wish and SILF began celebrating law teacher’s day each year in the first week of September. The body honours law teachers and schools and the most prestigious award is called the Professor N R Madhava Menon Best Law Teacher Award.