Lawyers need to be equipped with the right skills if we are to reap the benefits of liberalization, writes Ojasvita Srivastava
Much has been said and written about the liberalization of the Indian legal services sector. However, there is little discussion about the systemic changes needed in legal education and training to cope with liberalization.
From an economic perspective, liberalization is the need of the hour. Agriculture contributes 18% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), industry contributes 29%, of which manufacturing contributes nearly 17% of GDP. Even with the government’s push towards increasing manufacturing with the Make in India campaign, it is likely to increase to about 22% by 2022. This leaves the services sector contributing more than 50% of the GDP.
As for the Indian legal services sector, it was valued at US$8.8 billion in 2015, with a total of 600,000 legal professionals. During the same year, the UK’s legal services sector was valued at US$49.5 billion and employed 314,000 legal professionals, and the sector in the US, the world leader in legal services, was valued at US$289 billion while employing 1.3 million legal professionals.
These figures do not reflect well on India given that India has the second largest number of legal professionals globally after the US. Domestic firms have been timid when it comes to expanding overseas even though a majority of corporate lawyers in India speak English. Instead, international law firms tend to hire Indian lawyers only to cater to the needs of Indian companies in other countries. To add to this, the lack of liberalization of the legal services sector has held back India’s score on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Services Trade Restrictiveness Index.
Though there is a compelling case for liberalization, many large Indian law firms have been resisting it. Had Indian law firms successfully penetrated the international market, the opposition would have been significantly less. So, what could be the reason that domestic law firms find it difficult to compete with foreign firms? A reason could be the lack of clarity about the organizational structure compared to magic circle or other leading firms. Another aspect is the lack of formal training.
Taking a cue from the above, it is high time that domestic firms invest in formal and structured training for young lawyers. The ad hoc “watch and learn” approach currently followed needs to be replaced with an emphasis on equipping lawyers with practical skills, which would ensure a uniform quality of service provided across all the firm’s offices similar to global legal practice.
Legal education in India, as in several other countries, is far removed from the practical knowledge and skills required for the profession. Most law firms in Western jurisdictions and advanced Asian legal markets have developed formal training programmes for young lawyers. However, India does not have any requirement for formal training of young lawyers.
Not only would formal training programmes increase uniformity in service delivery but it would also integrate the firm with uniform values in sync with international firm culture and practice. Indian law firms would then stop being the islands of excellence around very successful partners, as they are today, and emerge as reliable providers of legal services. This would also shift focus on their recruitment from a handful of national law schools to talents from across the country, thereby encouraging diversity.
Though most law firms realize the importance of structured training, they hesitate to invest in associates owing to the high attrition rate at law firms. However, this is a delusion going hand in hand with lack of professional development. Undoubtedly, a lawyer is more likely to stay at a firm if they can see their career progress both professionally and financially. It is, therefore, time to rise above the survival of the fittest mentality and position the legal sector as a pillar of India’s growth story.
OJASVITA SRIVASTAVA is an in-house counsel based in Delhi. She is the founder of Project Abhimanyu, an NGO working towards increasing access in the legal industry, and providing training programmes for law firms and law schools. For more information, please visit www.projectabhimanyu.in or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.