In Conversation With Prof.(Dr.) Nripendra Lal Mitra, Partner, Fox Mandal, Ex-VC, NLSIU, NLUJ

In this fireside chat with Chandril Chattopadhyay, Junior Correspondent, BW Legal World, the legendary Prof. N.L. Mitra talks about his glorious journey in legal academia and teaching. He talks about his experiences as a Professor, as one of the founding fathers of the National Law School Framework and his roles as Advisor to RBI, SEBI, GIC, and so on

Please walk us through your journey in the field of Law. When did you realize that Law was your life’s calling? 

NLM: My coming to the legal profession was not planned at all. I completed my Masters in Commerce, followed by my degree in Law. I was always interested in teaching. Calcutta University back in the day did not have a Masters in Law course and therefore I opted for a regular LL.M. from the University closest to my place that had the full-time programme, that is Utkal University. I eventually completed my Ph.D. in Law in 1982, followed by a Post doctoral degree from Strasbourg in France where I worked on Human Rights.

I had also Joined the Police Service, but later realized that academia would suit me better. I came back to teaching and in 1970, i helped in establishing Department of Law, the University of Burdwan where I took over as the Head of the Department. Over the years, I believe that the path worked out on its own as I walked along.

Who have been your mentors in this journey?

NLM: I always believe in the idea of making your own way. However, I would like to mention Dr. G.S. Sharma, Prof. Madhava Menon, Prof. Upendra Baxi, Dr. Tripathi among the several other academics who touched my life in several ways.

How would you like to sum up your journey as a legal academic over these years?

NLM: To start with, I was the first Professor in NLSIU, Bangalore. it was a fascinating experience being a part of the first law school, albeit without money. The pockets of Professors used to be empty back in the day. As an administrator, I have seen the institution growing over the years. The Karnataka Government gave a small contribution towards setting it up and from the start there were several differences in the way NLSIU was structured as an institution. We believed in the idea of " catch them young". There were these bright, enthusiastic 21 year olds who would undergo a lifechanging law school experience. The institution had its curriculum in a manner that prepared them for the solicitor's firms and for in-house jobs and made them job ready.

My diverse academic experience came handy while I later went on to establish NLU Jodhpur as well and I also served as the Chancellor of KIIT Deemed to be University I tried to bring courses in science, arts, commerce and business studies, besides economics to be supplemented with the courses in Law and I realized how important was technology in understanding law at that time. 

I was also directly involved in establishing National Law Universities like  NALSAR in Hyderabad, GNLU, NLUO, NLUJAA, MNLU and have assisted in structuring the NLUs in Bhopal, Raipur, Kolkata and Shimla.

According to you, how much sustainable are the practices concerning very niche areas of law ?

I believe that domain knowledge is the key to learning and practicing law. IP and IT Laws are very important practice areas now. When I went to Russia, I saw that there are Specialized lawyers concentrating in the Oil and Natural Gas Sector only. In spite of the big developments in the sphere of law and introduction of specialized areas of practice, we are still hovering around the poor man's criminal law as a practice and putting all the importance on it. The specialized areas are very sustainable as practice areas for young  lawyers. However, we need far more IP lawyers in India.

What according to you have the problems been in practicing law and what are your suggestions in overcoming the problems?

NLM: The problems are plenty. We are actually suffering from very small flow of cases. Opportunities are not equal everywhere and district courts still do not handle constitutional cases. We are still suffering from the colonial hangover and that perhaps is the biggest problem.

Even while working with the World Bank, I got foreign trained lawyers as researchers who often did not have strong financial knowledge or knowledge of economics to help understand the complex issues in relation to the World Bank.

You have spoken of Professors of Practice a decade before it actually came into being as a concept. What is your take on engaging seasoned professionals for teaching in colleges and Universities?

NLM: I believe that the learning is a two-way process. I got Ram Jethmalani to teach during my time at NLSIU and Ram taught Evidence Law to the students over months. Now, such dedications from top attorneys are hardly available. I also formulated two courses- Associate of the BCI(ABCI) which would work as Masters' degree for Practitioners and Fellow of the BCI( FBCI)- which would be like a doctoral degree. In IIMs, such kind of doctoral programmes are available. Educationists must also have the flexibility like in foreign countries, but sadly the regulations act as hindrance for such cross transfer of intellect across the 'desk' and the 'bench'

What is your take on the lack of interest among students in taking up Legal Philosophy or Legal Theory as areas of research?

NLM:You must start teaching them what Baxi said and not only what Austin said. It is important, but do also teach them Eastern legal philosophy. Japan has a beautiful ecosystem of  jurisprudential knowledge. We must learn from them. However, you must understand the state of teaching Law in this country. There are no employment opportunities, underpaid teachers, no requisite number of teachers. It has somehow become a harbinger of unemployment and BCI cannot always regulate. The conditions of State Law Colleges are even worse, no infrastructure, no support and importantly the students are suffering. You have seen yourself. The vacuum will exist and there is hardly anything that can be done.

What did you observe while being on the advisory committees of these regulatory bodies? What are their key challenges?

NLM: My multi- disciplinary academic background helped me to develop present curriculum design of the BCI. It also helped me to become advisor to the regulatory authorities. The regulator must stop being and acting like the Government. There must be a difference. The Power can never be bigger than functions and sadly this is what is happening. The professionals need to know the regulatory framework and somehow I believe that they must know the subject. There was a decision of making the bankers the head of bankers, but somehow the decision never saw the light of the day.

What is your opinion on the necessity of public policy and research advocacy?

NLM: Research is the mother of most professions. These lawyers mostly do research and regulatory lawyers have an eye for detail. They must also understand economics, public policy and must have strong financial knowledge. Sadly, our administrative system in itself is the first hindrance to developing a strong ground for public policy lawyers. Research forums must be strengthened and since the administrative framework is such that I cannot approach a bureaucrat directly, there must be ways in which these public policy advocates can act as bridge between people and the administrators. We need good private advocacy since most of our public policy system is also becoming politicised.

I always believe that Law and Justice are different things and that our focus should be on research. We must have separate academic faculties to train the judges as well, so that the public policy forums can be strengthened.

As a parting note, would you like to suggest some book for our readers?

NLM: I never suggest books, but for your readers I would ask them to read any book on Financial Fraud. It is one of the areas where we need sound knowledge and perhaps more lawyers are necessary in this space.

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