N.R. Madhava Menon: Father of modern legal education in India

N.R. Madhava Menon: Father of modern legal education in India

Neelakanta Ramakrishna Madhava Menon is the Father of Modern Legal Education in India. He was a distinguished lawyer, an educationist, and an institution builder who, all his life, strived to bring legal education in India to global standards. He is greatly revered by students, professors, and scholars in the legal field in India. He originated the five-year integrated LL.B. Programme in India and was the Founder of the National Law Universities system with the first National Law School of India University (NLSIU) established in Bengaluru in 1987. He served as the founding director of the NLSIU Bangalore and Kolkata for 12 years. He was the director of the National Judicial Academy, Bhopal. He was also founder-vice-chancellor of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS). He reformed the legal education system in India remarkably, making NLSIU the only Indian institute to win the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in 1999 and 2013. About 25 alumni of NLSIU emerged as Rhodes scholars.

Neelakanta Ramakrishna Madhava Menon: Father of modern legal education in India
Neelakanta Ramakrishna Madhava Menon’s Career

N.R. Madhava Menon was born on 4 May 1935 in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. His parents are Bhavani Amma and Ramakrishna Menon, to whom he was the fourth of six children. His father was a law graduate who worked as a revenue officer at the Travancore Corporation. He died when Madhava Menon was two years old. His mother then worked as a clerk at the Travancore Corporation to raise Menon and his siblings. 

Neelakanta Ramakrishna Madhava Menon’s Career – Academics and Law Services

Menon didn’t start his career in Law from the beginning. He graduated with a B.Sc in Zoology from S.D. College, Alappuzha in 1953. Subsequently, he joined Government Law College, Ernakulam, to pursue a Bachelor of Law degree. But later, he shifted to Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram, when it restarted in the capital city in 1953. Finally, he graduated in Law in 1955. He started his career as an apprentice to V. Nagappan Nair, a famous lawyer in Kerala. In 1956, at 20 years old, he enrolled in the Kerala High Court as a lawyer. He then cleared the Civil Services examination and joined the Central Secretariat Service in New Delhi in 1957. Besides working at the Secretariat, he continued with his studies and obtained a Master’s degree in Political Science from Punjab University in 1960. He joined the Faculty of Law and continued to study LL.M. at the Aligarh Muslim University where he secured a University Grants Commission(UGC) scholarship. He researched White-Collar Crimes, on which he obtained a PhD. Degree. Later, he joined the Law Faculty at Delhi University and served as head of the department in 1980. While working as a professor there, he received a Fulbright Scholarship from the American Council of Learned Societies, usually given to the most outstanding performing scholars in academics, research, and teaching. He presented a paper on “Legal Aid” at Berkeley, California. At Delhi University, he was a part of the panel that collaborated with universities such as Harvard, Columbia, Michigan, and Yale. While at Delhi University, he published his first book, “Law Relating to Government Control Over Private Enterprise”, along with his colleague, G. Narasimhaswamy, through Eastern Law Book Company. Soon, “Law and Property”, his second book, was published by N.M. Tripathy Co.

He was a paragon of multi-tasking to students and professors. He managed and maneuvered multiple responsibilities, all while teaching and mentoring students at Delhi University. He organized the annual conference of the All India Law Teachers Association in 1972, where he was elected as the Secretary General of the association. He was a member of the Committee for Implementing Legal Aid Schemes(CILAS), formed under the chairmanship of V.R. Krishna Iyer. He served as the secretary of the Bar Council of India Trust. Simultaneously, he functioned as the Head of Campus Law Center, the principal of the Government Law College, Pune, and briefly at Pondicherry. 

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N.R Madhava Menon’s Transformation to Father of Modern Legal Education in India

Post-Independence, Legal education in India needed to be ideally institutionalized and standardized. Due to this, many by no means desired a career in Law. And legal education itself was facing a credibility crisis in India. On the other side, N.R. Madhava Menon had an illustrious and elaborative career in the legal domain; he functioned in various areas and departments of law institutes in India, met global law pioneers, and gained exposure to the world’s standards in legal education. He contemplated ideas of reshaping the Indian legal education system. At the same time, the Bar Council of India Trust and the Government of Karnataka decided to establish a system of law universities in the early 1980s and sought Menon’s services for the same. Therefore, Menon founded the National Law School India University(NLSIU) Bangalore in 1986 and later in Kolkata. Eventually, this led to the establishment of NLUs across the country, with at least 27 institutions of NLU operating today.

National Law Universities(NLU) are public law schools in India founded to provide global standard legal education with second-generation legal reforms. NLSIU Bangalore was the first in India to adopt Harvard teaching methods instead of the traditional lecture format. Menon ensured the teaching was based on the Harvard Law School’s case study method. He introduced the concept of group teaching, where more than one professor would conduct classes with different professors who would take and argue contradictory positions in law. This implementation was the original and perhaps the most uncertain experiment in India. When N.R. Madhava Menon started to set up such a university, stable funding or resources were unavailable. But he took it as a challenge, raised diverse resources, pooled a committed faculty, and inspired his colleagues and students to innovate in classroom teaching and learning. It was evident that he made the institution self-sustaining and lasting for generations as a prototype for upcoming institutions. Under the leadership of Neelakanta Ramakrishna Madhava Menon, the NLUs became new-age educational institutions equipped with an environment of stern pedagogy, collective engagement, and deliberation in designing courses and assembling resources. There was plenty of energetic experimentation in teaching. Today, NLSIU is regarded as the “Harvard of the East” among Indian Law Schools. Students trained under Menon went on to become leaders of other law schools in India, enforcing Menon’s ideals. 

N.R. Madhava Menon not only contributed to legal education but also strived to improve the judiciary system. Besides training and preparing young recruits, especially for the judge roles, he eventually built an institution for judicial academy training. National Judicial Academy, Bhopal, was founded under Menon’s leadership, where he served as a founding director till 2006. He was also a significant contributor to establishing corporate law firms in India. He brought various reforms in the legal field by serving as a member of committees on Criminal Justice, Committee on Equal Opportunity Commission, Criminal Justice Reform, and Restructuring of Higher Education in India. He introduced the concept of clinical education in India, enabling students to experiment and apply Law to real-world problems while still in law school. This concept helped students to acquire competency, advocacy skills, and professional ethics. Yet his most significant contribution to the legal field is the change he brought to prevailing attitudes towards legal education. He became successful in standardizing legal education and improving the quality of the justice system. And for his numerous contributions to the legal discipline, he became the father of modern legal education in India.

Dr. Menon’s Achievements 

  • The Law Commission of India always sought Professor Menon’s advice. He was a member of the law commission for two terms.
  • He served as the chairman of the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, and the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum.
  • He was selected as a member of the Commission on Centre-State Relations (2006-2010) after he retired from government service in 2006.
  • Dr. Menon was a Member of various committees: Legal Aid (1973), Civil Services Examination Reform (2000-2001), Criminal Justice Reform (2002-2003), Police Act Drafting Committee (2005-2006) and the Committee on Draft National Policy on Criminal Justice (2006-2007).
  • He also started M.K. Nambyar Academy in his hometown, Kerala, to augment the growth of legal education.
  • He established another institution, Menon Institute of Legal Advocacy Training in Thiruvananthapuram, to provide access to legal education for the weaker and underprivileged sections of society.
  • For his efforts in the legal field, he was given the “Living Legend of the Law Award” in 1995.
  • Recognizing all his contributions to public services, Dr. Menon was honored with Padma Shri in 2003 by then President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and posthumously, Padma Bhushan in 2020 by the Government of India. He passed away in 2019.

Professor N.R. Madhava Menon dedicated his life to developing legal education, providing equal access to justice, and creating a world-class judiciary system in India. He composed a new meaning and dignity for the legal system in India. He was a man with integrity, discipline, and a respectable character who always supported innovation and the use of modern technology in the legal field. To this day, people from the legal fraternity recall him as a tough, focused, and highly influential individual. He published a book narrating his life’s journey, an autobiography, “The Story of a Law Teacher: Turning Point”. His vision and values continue to inspire the legal institutions, which are a visual epitome upholding Dr. Menon’s legacy.

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