Requiem for a Dream
I started National Law School (hereinafter NLS or law school) when I was 17. I entered a college of 400 people (the LLMs and sundry researchers we deemed too irrelevant to measure) in a class of 80. I was told at the time that it was the most broad-based liberal arts program in the country. By a miracle, I left when I was 22, a year and some ago today. I left also with almost-80 people, but they were by no count the same 80.I know now that I was deceived, but only by a thin margin: India is not a country that trucks in the humanities. I found in law school standards both duplicitous and dangerous, as well as unkind to the likes of me. Even so, I can hardly deny that the average star in our firmament was obscenely bright; law school gathers oddities and outrages like so many moths to a flame. By the same counter, our douches are far douchier than your everyday college possesses, and far more of them exist than we will ever tell you.
A few years ago, two friends and I, tipsy on terrace-wine, postulated the existence of magic batches in law school, the batches that Shook Things Up. These batches come around every four years, we said, and ours was (naturally) the latest incarnation. I have very hazy memories of the reasons justifying this periodicity (almost certainly hokum) but to prove this was not a vanity project, we allocated the most dubious of credits to ourselves: as a batch, we had shed more batch-mates than any previously or (at the time) since. We were also the most enthused of.. intoxicants, but hush.
With that, onward and ho.
Cartoons courtesy Steve Brodner.
A note on law school failure
The NLS system involves taking 4 courses every trimester: 12 in the course of an academic year. ‘Passing’ in law school implies acquiring a ‘B’ grade, or 50-55/100 in the given subject. The highest grade, ‘O’ , involves scoring above 70 in the given subject. The 100 mark evaluation is broken down into project-viva marks (35), examination marks (60) and attendance marks (5).
Upon failure to reach the 50% cut-off, one is allowed a ‘repeat’ examination during the holidays between trimesters, making internships more difficult to sustain, vital though they are to one’s career. There is no provision to resubmit projects and thus raise one’s score, and creative teachers usually find those 35 marks the more effective way to regulate their students. A project-total of less than 15 spells doom for the best examinee. The highest exam marks awarded in NLS range in the mid-40s.
The schedule is this: two projects each month for the first two months of term, finals at the close; and, in the early years, midterms. Only in the final year could the exam be suspended at the teacher’s discretion in favour of ‘research’.
Passing is further contingent upon minimum 75% attendance, in the absence of which one fails automatically, without repeat reprieve. Medical leave entitles one to a further 10%. This latter failed state, also applicable to those who fail to make it up to 50 post-repeat, is known as a “carryover”. People are allowed three carryovers per year which they must make up in the following; if they gather more they are trickled down one batch. The same result obtains upon repeat-failing any single carryover (i.e. one can’t carry over a carryover).
The onerous attendance requirement is what makes a difficult schedule a punishing one, and stacks the cards against people with irregular timetables. Missing a month of class can, and does, tank a full year of exemplary behaviour. An alarming, and growing, statistic in law school is the number of people who “lose” more than one year (this is an intuitive claim with no research except for observation). Consequently, any batch in law school is a hardy, backstabbing band that travels together; a herd of folk continually trimmed of the weak, the exhausted, the unlucky, replaced by similarly worn seniors.
The one thing mildly interesting about academic life in national law school is project writing. Teaching is a shambles and course material is apportioned by an administration as fussy as a matron slick with illicit candy. Grading is, well, a joke. I was memorably failed in my final year because the teacher disapproved of my describing, in a paper on ‘transitional justice’, what the given society (Lebanon) was transitioning between and questioning how ‘transitions’ are measured and determined. But the papers rescued the education for me: every trimester, I found myself a canvas or two that threw up absorbing problems. Every so often, I was granted the rare clutch of three, and once, remarkably, four. Apart from teaching me a few things about research, the discipline provided a rhythm to my thought that my anarchic reading sorely lacked. On a reread of five years of slush, I find that I doubled back time and again, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes to score an easy 1000 words. Some themes-culpability, choice, communalism, flexibility, freedom, gender- echo across the years. ‘Justice’ I consulted never once.
A project begins when one is handed a ‘topic’- a phrase, a concept, a thought, a movement- and allowed as free rein as teacher and imagination allow. The usual project is about 5000 words, though beefy prospects impress teachers and butchers alike. Mine struggled valiantly to this goalpost, often flagging off at 4500 words, though they soar majestically on occasion. My last seminar paper sailed on for 15000 words of utter chaos.
The principle I followed in my monthly turnings-in was to find one thing interesting to read about and then jargon it up. Many projects, especially towards the close of law school life, were undertaken as psychological exercises- overblown diary entries- which is how I wound up with a seminar paper that was a manifesto and a tax paper about criminal jurisprudence.