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The pioneer who founded the National Law School

By L Viswanathan
May 25, 2019 08:34 IST
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'I cannot think of a teacher who has had such a high impact on students across several generations and who has produced several professionals in various disciplines of law.'
L Vishwanath salutes Professor N R Madhava Menon, who passed into the ages recently.

IMAGE: Professor N R Madhava Menon. Photograph: KeralaGovernor/Twitter

"What is law?" was the question Professor Madhava Menon put to us on the first day of our college.

A simple yet deep question to explore various theories of the jurisprudence of law.

Professor Menon's contribution to legal education and training of students, lawyers and judges is well known.

His contribution to the building of corporate law firms has been profound.

When he founded the National Law School, Bangalore, it coincided with the liberalisation of the economy.

With liberalisation, corporate and transactional lawyering saw exponential growth in India.


While students at the National Law School were taught conventional legal subjects, they were absorbed by corporate law firms.

Of course, Professor Menon was initially disappointed that students who were trained in Constitutional law, development and human rights ventured into the world of corporate law and he never hesitated to share his disappointment with me, time and again.

I think, eventually, he appreciated that corporate law firms have a big role to play in economy and the legal system and took pride in the fact that several of his students were working successfully in leading law firms in India and abroad and contributing to the profession.

It would be an understatement to say that the National Law School experiment succeeded due to his tireless efforts.

It was his hard work that gave its identity as an institution of excellence.

With his personal efforts, he raised funds for the National Law School from state governments, senior advocates and other institutions during days when there was limited budgetary support for legal education.

One would be mistaken to think Professor Menon would have rested on his laurels.

He started all over again by building National University of Juridical Sciences and when the first batch of graduates from NUJS joined corporate law firms, they had the mark of Professor Menon.

NUJS became a success story. He still did not rest.

He then took up the responsibility of director, National Judicial Academy in Bhopal -- the first institution set up in India to train judges.

Professor Menon never retired from teaching and inspiring his students. He created one institution after another.

He continued to teach lawyers across the country by organising legal education programmes.

Today, the National Law School that he set up in 1988 has become a model for imparting legal education.

He changed the classroom method of teaching. He introduced the collaborative clinical and project method of teaching.

He judged people by their questions and not by their answers. He brought sitting judges of high courts and the Supreme Court and legal luminaries like Nani Palkhivala, Fali Nariman, K Parasaran and Soli Sorabjee to the campus to deliver lectures.

He disrupted the way legal education was imparted in the country. The discipline of law has become a mainstream career choice for students.

Corporate law firms and corporate India are big beneficiaries of the foundation of deep thought and analysis he laid in the institutions that he set up or inspired others to set up.

Professor Menon was a selfless individual and constantly thought about how to improve legal education and training for lawyers, judges and create better teachers.

I often meet his students whom he taught at Pondicherry University, the Delhi Law Faculty and the National Law School.

Today, his students have established themselves in corporate law firms, corporate India, international law firms, international organisations, NGOs, have been designated as senior advocates in several high courts and the Supreme Court and have been appointed as judges in several high courts.

Their fields of excellence range from championing civil liberty to the frontiers of commercial law.

I cannot think of a teacher who has had such a high impact on students across several generations and who has produced several professionals in various disciplines of law; a truly unparalleled achievement for which all his students would be indebted to him forever.

It was his imagination that National Law School will become the 'Harvard of the East'. All of us, as his students need to continue his efforts and strive hard to realise his dream.

L Viswanathan is partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, and class of 1994, National Law School, Bangalore.

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