A Master of Laws (LL.M, Legum Magister) is considered an advanced, post-graduate academic degree. It is usually pursued by those who hold an undergraduate degree in law or in subjects related to the LLM being applied for. While the LL.B (Legum Bachelors or Bachelor's of Law) is enough for an individual to practice law in India, many people pursue LL.M degrees, for various reasons, such as, to develop a career in academia or research, or to gain further specialized knowledge in a given area of law, etc.
Traditionally, any master’s program in India takes around two years to complete. Even LL.M, before 2013, had courses that went on for two years, divided into four semesters. However, in January 2013, the UGC introduced LL.M courses of one-year duration, just like in many other countries such as the UK and the USA. While it was a relief for students to have saved one year while studying LL.M, the Bar Council of India (BCI) has decided to change this system going forward.
What does the BCI say?
The new Bar Council of India Legal Education (Post Graduate, Doctoral, Executive, Vocational, Clinical, and other Continuing Education) Rules, 2020 state that BCI, as a body now shall regulate Post Graduate and Other Higher Education in Law, since legal education has been excluded from being regulated by the National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC) and the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), after the incoming of the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020.
It states that on the advice of the Legal Education Committee (LEC), the BCI shall appoint a Special Sub-Committee for implementing these Regulations under the BCI and the LEC’s overall control.
There are a few crucial points about LL.M in these Rules. They are :
Chapter II states that the Entry Level Qualification for LL.M has to be either three-year or the five-year LL.B.
BCI has made it clear that the post-graduate course in law, leading to a master’s degree (LL.M), has to be of two years’ duration spreading over four semesters.
This further establishes that the LL.M one year, which was introduced in 2013 (as per the UGC notification), will remain operative only for the current academic year.
LL.M course is only restricted to law graduates. Any other master's degree specializing in a particular area of law where the pre-requisite is not an undergraduate in law will not be considered an LL.M.
BCI has brought forward the concept of a Post Graduate Common Entrance Test in Law (PGCETL) and has stated that it may conduct this test for admission in masters degree course in law in all universities. Once it gets implemented, students shall be admitted based on the merit list subject to rules of classification and reservation in the state concerned.
LL.M degree obtained from any foreign university is not equivalent to Indian LL.M degree. However, one year LL.M degree obtained after an equivalent LL.B degree from any ‘highly accredited’ Foreign University may entitle the person concerned to be appointed as a visiting professor in an Indian University for at least 1 year. When this 1 year of teaching experience as a visiting professor is completed, the Foreign University LL.M Degree may be considered equivalent.
What do legal professionals think?
We decided to ask a few legal professionals about their opinions on these new LL.M Rules by the BCI, and here is what they have to say –
Abhinav Barthwal, present (1yr) LL.M candidate – University of Buckingham, one amongst the oldest private universities in England
"The BCI is well empowered to introduce the changes as it is now the sole regulator of legal education at all levels after the NEP 2020. However, these powers should have been exercised after due consultation with the authorities and students. This notification, which prima facie appears to be drafted in haste, has completely perplexed the students and academicians alike. This decision does not fall in line with the Indian education sector's aspiration to be on par with globally reputed educational regimes that offer high-quality education within a year. Does prolonging the duration guarantee an enhancement in the quality of education imparted? What it is surely going to do is to dissuade law students from pursuing the LLM. Personally, I would not have opted for a degree of Master’s in Law had the duration been two years. But luckily, it was only one year in my case. The BCI should reconsider and take this decision back in light of its practical implications. If this is not done, the BCI should alleviate the fears of LL.M aspirants by clarifying how the increased duration of the course is going to help them secure a place of themselves in this highly competitive market and these uncertain times."
Saransh Chaturvedi, present (2yr) LL.M Candidate – Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, one of the top premier institutes in India
"I feel that LL.M is not just a degree for academia but also for others who want to strengthen their understanding of subjects. Now there are two angles from which I see these Rules about LLM. The first one is from Employment, and the second is research. From the employment perspective, I do not welcome this move. The reason being I, an LL.M graduate who prefers not to go into academia, will also stand on the same level as that of a 5-year LLB grad in a company. We'll be getting paid on similar lines, so I don't see the need for a 2-year LL.M just for me to get a job because not everyone will go into academia. From the research point, I can understand why BCI must have thought about imposing 2-year LL.M. The thing is, when you do a 2-year LL.M, you have an entire last two semesters to work on your thesis. It means more work around the research. A 2-year LL.M will surely help an individual have better research skills that a 1-year LL.M student might not have, owing to the dearth of time. But do I support Rule 6, if you may think? No. Scrapping off is not certainly an option because I think one should at least get a say in what they want to study. I had the option between 1- year and 2-year LL.M because I wanted to strengthen my research, and I chose the latter, but I feel BCI shouldn't take this privilege away from students."
Kingshuk Halder, an Ex-Deloitte and a fresher (1 year) LL.M graduate in Maritime Laws from Gujarat Maritime University, one of the top maritime colleges in India.
"I have studied Maritime Laws in my Master's, which was only for 1 year. I have to say that the things I learned here in just a span of 1 year have changed me as a professional. I don't see the point of increasing two more semesters when it is possible for us to learn everything concisely in just two semesters. For those who think you need to spend more time in a course like LL.M, that's not true. Maritime Laws doesn't have a 2-year master's course yet, and I feel it's unnecessary. If I had the chance of choosing the 2-year LL.M or 1-year LL.M in maritime laws, I'd still go for one despite the availability, because after studying Law for five years, I think I'd like to save some time while I pursued my Master's. When the whole of the western world is progressing, I don't see the point of 4-semester, 2-year LL.M because it doesn't make sense at this point."
Ansh Singh Luthra holds an LL.M from the University of Cambridge, one of the top public universities in Cambridge presently an advocate at the High Court of Delhi.
"I think that a lot of thought needs to go into these rules. For instance, why would an advocate want to incorporate his credit points on his business card (referring to Rule 17 where BCI may run a Continuing Education). My client would focus on whether I can get him relief or not; he wouldn't care much about my credit points. I do welcome the thought behind continuing legal education, but the rules must be re-worked to make them practical. Getting to the LL.M rules, right now, there is no date from when 1-year LL.M would be scrapped. However, I don't welcome the move to change the LLM program's duration from one to two years. There is no statistical or empirical analysis on the basis of which they've introduced this new 2- year LLM program. What is the practical benefit of this Rule? Will the students get better placements on graduation? Will they have a higher intellect if they study for two years instead of one? It is still very ambiguous and unstructured. It's essential that stakeholders are consulted and the rules re-worked to make them more practical and implementable. Only time will tell us how these rules pan out."
Chhaya Bharadwaj holds an LL.M in Environmental Law from Vermont Law School and is currently a Lecturer at Jindal Global Law School.
"When I read the notification, I thought the objective of this was to make the quality of education better, but I don't see how increasing the number of semesters would improve the quality of education. Because if we go by that logic, then a 5-year LL.B degree would hold a superior position than that of a 3-year LL.B, but that is also not the case. Secondly, during the Pandemic, Universities and regulators worldwide are working towards making education accessible and more effortless. This regulation may make it difficult for universities and students to transition from two semesters to four semesters. Thirdly, given LL.M. is the first degree to a research/academic career, the regulators could build a curriculum and its implementation to develop research and teaching skills within that one year. The regulation seems to discriminate amongst the foreign 1- year LLM degree holders and Indian 2-year LLM degree holders. If this regulation's impact is the acceptance of both degrees, it might make more sense to allow 1- year LL.M. in India and add another year of teaching as mandatory."
Jayant Bhatt holds an LL.M from NUS, Singapore, and an LL.M from NYU School of Law, presently a practicing advocate in Delhi.
"There has to be some data collection which has influenced BCI's decision to scrap the 1-year LL.M, but to my knowledge, nothing of that sort is available on the public domain, so I don't understand why they need to go back to 2-year when 1-year LL.M was doing perfectly fine in the country. The cons over here would be an extreme financial burden on students, their parents to finance two more semesters, and in this Pandemic, it is a challenge. I also don't see how the extension of two more semesters will turn out on the students' job front. I am certain that no one can guarantee placement after two years because even 1-year LL.M graduates are seen struggling, so why this? Also, how is mandating two more semesters going to contribute to a student's intellect? We live in an age where we need to reduce time in academics and spend more time on practicality. I understand that this move might focus on a detailed and in-depth study of the discipline, and there is more likely to be a better student-teacher ratio, but wholly, taking away the 1-year LL.M is making no sense to me."
Divya Swamy holds an LL.M in Competition Law and Market Regulations, from NLU, Delhi, and is presently pursuing her PhD from RMLNLU, Lucknow
"I believe that the 1-year LL.M was a very smart step to take specially because in most foreign universities, Master’s is a 10 month degree. This way, there was a parity with the rest of the world. However, there are a bunch of other factors that need consideration especially since Masters degrees are meant for research and higher jurisprudential understanding. Firstly, I don’t think the 5+2 or 5+1 system in itself is the ideal way to proceed. The 2 year period for Masters is necessary to encourage good research but a total of Six years of education to pursue law is sufficient. The idea should be to avoid brain drain of bright legal minds. So maybe, if they’re looking for an overhaul, then a 4+2 would be more effective or else some modifications to ensure that the 5 year bachelors degree also incorporates good research. Personally, while pursuing a 1-year LL.M., I felt that the pressure to write a good dissertation while not compromising on the quality of my research and writing, was very high. So, while I do agree with the extension of 1-year LL.M but it makes sense if we look at the number of training years in an integrated manner, or else we might end up losing a lot of bright minds to the foreign markets. Secondly, I believe the BCI should give some time for the transition to happen, like around 3-4 years, so even colleges and universities can accordingly make changes in their curriculum. Keeping in view the pandemic and the fact that graduating batches are already coping with employment concerns, it is not the best time to bring about these rules."
Abhijit Nair holds an LL.M from GNLU, Gandhinagar and is presently an Assistant Professor at Presidency University, one of the top-ranked universities in Bengaluru. He is also a PhD candidate at NLSIU, Bangalore.
"As someone who did my LL.M a couple of years ago and who has been in legal research and academics for more than two years now, I am not surprised that this has happened. The 1-year LL.M was introduced to prevent brain drain and to prevent people from going abroad to pursue Master’s. Still, the thing is, people are any which way pursuing LL.M from abroad and looking for opportunities abroad after 1-year LL.M, so why compromise on the integrity of the research and the degree? The reason I am saying this is because you have around nine papers and one dissertation in an LL.M, and honestly, there is very little time to concentrate on your dissertation, something that the 2-year LL.M takes care of! I am glad that I got to pursue the 1-year LL.M, three years after I graduated. The LL.M enabled me to get into teaching very quickly. However, with M.Phil being taken down, LL.M now has become a stepping stone research degree. So now, the 2-year LL.M makes perfect sense because there is no intermediate research degree between your LL.M and Ph.D. Hence, the LL.M must form a foundation of the Ph.D., which can only be achieved by investing more time in Master’s. Come to think of it, every other Master's course in India is for two years, so a 2-year LL.M is not new! You are supposed to be an expert, you are supposed to specialize, and I think this is where this Rule falls into place."
These are the points we can take away from all the information at hand:
1. BCI has not produced any empirical or statistical data based on which these Rules are being introduced.
2. There is a mixed reaction to these changes, however, based only on the above opinions taken at random and from persons with varied career paths, majority seem not to be in favour of abolishing the 1-year LL.M programme.
3. The fact that the pre-requisite degree to LL.M itself spans over 5 years (integrated course) or 6 years (non-integrated), is also something that has been raised as a fact to be considered, in determining the duration of law studies.
 Rule 6: One year Master Degree to be abolished. A Master Degree Program in Law of one year duration introduced in India in 2013(as per notification) by the University Grants Commission shall remain operative and valid until the Academic Session in which these Regulations are notified and implemented but not thereafter at any University throughout the country.
 We started a small poll on Linkedin, which seems to be tilting in the same direction. Follow the poll here.