The Making of Legal Elites and the IDIA of Justice

40 Pages Posted: 7 May 2014

See all articles by Shamnad Basheer

Shamnad Basheer

Nirma University - Institute of Law

KV Krishnaprasad

National Law School of India University; University of Oxford; One Essex Court

Sree Mitra

West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences

Prajna Mohapatra

The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences

Date Written: May 5, 2014


In his “Idea of Justice”, Amartya Sen acknowledges the futility of searching for a perfectly just world. However, he argues that, as human beings, we are often moved to remedy immediate injustices wherever we find them: It is fair to assume that the Parisians would not have stormed the Bastille, Gandhi would not have challenged the empire on which the sun used not to set, Martin Luther King would not have fought white supremacy in the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, without their sense of manifest injustices that could be overcome. They were not trying to achieve a perfectly just world, but they did want to remove clear injustices to the extent that they could.”

The National Law Universities (hereafter NLU’s), often perceived as premier institutions of legal education in India routinely teach lofty ideals such as social justice and equality. And yet, have a serious issue of manifest injustice staring them right in the face. The current student composition at many of these elite institutions is bereft of meaningful diversity, comprising students primarily from privileged backgrounds. The numbers from low-income backgrounds, rural areas, small towns and from areas such as the North East and Kashmir are deplorably low.

A variety of factors have contributed to this phenomenon, including the extremely high fees charged by these institutions, a lamentable lack of awareness about law as a career option amongst low-income students and a rigorous entrance examination (the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT)), for which expensive coaching has all but become a pre-requisite.

It is imperative that all stakeholders in the legal ecosystem come together to foster access to legal education and enhance student diversity at the leading NLU’s. The reasons are obvious enough. Firstly, increasing access to legal education in favour of the underprivileged will empower such communities, and the ‘capabilities’ of such peoples. This will in turn foster social justice, one of the principal aims of most legal systems.

Secondly, diversity is an important end in itself in that it enhances the educational experience of mainstream students and improves the quality of education overall. A diversity deficit effectively translates to an under-represented legal system that excludes a large number of people and communities whose interest it is purportedly meant to serve, particularly minority communities. We posit that the diversity deficit at the NLU’s will soon translate to a lack of diversity at the premier law firms, now the largest recruiters of NLU graduates. Almost all these firms engage with corporate commercial transactions and have benefitted significantly from globalization.

The reputation of the NLU’s itself owes significantly to the liberalization reforms of the 1990’s and the subsequent need for high quality corporate attorneys. NLU graduates went on to fill this gap, and came to represent the top pick for leading law firms. The lack of student diversity at NLU’s essentially means that a vast majority of under-privileged students will be denied access to premier law firms and the benefits of globalization.

This paper proposes ways of addressing this diversity deficit and fostering what is now coming to be labelled as “inclusive growth”. This is a particularly important area of study for GLEE within the overall globalization and legal education framework, as many scholars critique globalization for having had an exclusionary effect.

Part II of the paper reflects on the process of globalization and its ramifications on equitable access to resources, particularly in relation to legal education and the legal profession. In many ways, this part sets the tone for the rest of the paper.

Part III discusses the issue of diversity and the need to enhance access to education in favour of marginalised communities. It then empirically establishes the lack of meaningful diversity (particularly income and geographical diversity) at the leading NLU’s and explores the underlying reasons for this. Part III also examines the recruitment data from leading NLU’s to determine if there are any student groups that are consistently unable to gain access to the premier law firms.

Part IV advocates solutions for fostering a more inclusive model of legal education and discusses one project in particular (IDIA) that is aimed at enhancing access. Part V reflects on earlier chapters and draws some broad conclusions.

It bears noting that since this paper is part of the GLEE (Harvard) project to study globalisation and the legal profession, our reflections on access and diversity concerns will be largely confined to this framework.

Suggested Citation

Basheer, Shamnad and KV, Krishnaprasad and Mitra, Sree and Mohapatra, Prajna, The Making of Legal Elites and the IDIA of Justice (May 5, 2014). HLS Program on the Legal Profession Research Paper No. 2014-18, Available at SSRN: or

Shamnad Basheer (Contact Author)

Nirma University - Institute of Law ( email )

Sarkhej-Gandhinagar Highway
Ahmedabad, Gujarat 382 481

Krishnaprasad KV

National Law School of India University ( email )

Bangalore, KS 560

University of Oxford ( email )

St Cross Building
St Cross Rd
Oxford, OX1 3UL
United Kingdom

One Essex Court ( email )

United Kingdom

Sree Mitra

West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences ( email )

12, LB Block, Sector III
Salt Lake City
Kolkata, West Bengal 700 064

Prajna Mohapatra

The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences ( email )

12 LB Block
Salt Lake
Kolkata, 700098

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