In the Interim: A Conversation with Prof. Mallar
As Law School enters this new phase, we find ourselves at the threshold of possibilities. We are the oldest institution of our kind in this country, and yet we are young enough to remember the past that got us to the point where we are. Aditya Phalnikar and Lakshmi Nambiar (Batch of 2023) interviewed Prof. V.S. Mallar, a founding faculty member, to gain some insight into what Law School once was, the way Prof. Madhava Menon, our founder-Vice Chancellor, envisioned it to be. We hope for this piece to be a glimpse into the past, and a vision for the future.
When did you first meet Professor Madhava Menon?
I met Prof. Madhava Menon at a conference on legal aid in Bombay University. At the time, I was the Principal of GR Kare College of Law in Margao, Goa. I had heard that he was starting a Law School and so I asked him whether advertisement would come in the newspapers, for teachers. He did not give me a positive answer. Ultimately, I found the advertisement in Journal of Indian Law Institute – one of my students handed over that advertisement to me. After that I applied for the post and an interview was held on 30th January 1988 in New Delhi, where I met him for the second time.
How did the interview go?
Interview went okay – it was not good or anything like that. One or two questions I could not answer. but I had given him a detailed report on the curriculum of National Law School.
What was your impression of Prof. Menon?
The first time I met him was only for 20-30 minutes, during the interview. I told him I wanted the job because I wanted to leave administration and focus on academia – he said I would have to do both, if I got to serve in the National Law School. As a person, of course, he is a well-know professor, an accomplished administrator, all of that is true. But the most important thing is that he led administration and academics by example – whatever he advised, first he did it in his life. Leadership by example, not by merely telling or giving advice.
Professor, we’ve heard that Prof. Menon’s conception of the Law School was based on Harvard. How true was this?
See, the point is that it wasn’t Harvard or anything like that. At this point of time legal education was given a step-motherly treatment as a part-time, evening college. Further, the examinations were more about cramming and less about analysis. So, entire legal education was in disarray, except for a few good ones here and there. He wanted legal education to be full-time, he wanted it to be professionally conducted, and with that view in mind he started the Law School. Our evaluation process is continuous – learning, teaching and testing together. And that is why that five marks of attendance was introduced – so that students would attend regularly. The system took your research abilities into account with your projects, and your communication ability is made proper by vivas. And with examinations, memory, case law and analysis was taken care of. That was the way he envisioned the trimester system. And by the end of the fifth year you would have made 60 projects, given 60 vivas. Even someone who was not able to speak at the time of admission – I remember a Sudanese student in the first batch, I don’t remember his name but he was roll number 54 or something, he was not able to speak – now at the end of the fifth year he spoke fluently – that’s because of the system.
What were his contributions?
He was the one who must be credited with the conceptualisation of the five-year system. Further, he made legal education interdisciplinary in character and context. When we were students it was only law in the text – no moot court or debating. But this is not sufficient – law in the text, law in the context, and law in action – that was the point of Law School, that was what he made it.
Professor Menon had four Es in his mind –
Economy – we didn’t have enough money. Bar Council did give us some money, Govt of Karnataka gave us some money – but there were about nine teachers to start out with, salary to be paid, for teachers and administrative staff – we didn’t have enough money. He was very economical. He used to live in Dollars Colony, but then he left that house and came and lived here – it was not a very good building at that time. He wanted to save that money, so he gave those two houses on rent.
Efficiency – with minimum number of staff, you must do maximum. Originally, we had nine teachers and only 4 subjects – and this was fine in the first two years. But as we developed courses we had to make sure it was efficient
Ethics – we must be ethical. If I give grace to one student, I must give grace to a similarly situated student.
If you join the above three – it leads to Excellence. In the very first trim, we had the Bar Council of India Moot Court – National Law Moot Court. Prof. Joga Rao was in charge of training the team; Prof. Venkata Rao taught international law at Vishakapatnam, so when our team reached the final they contacted Venkata Rao who told him what had to be done, how everything should be answered, and we got the prize.
How was he as a teacher? What was his relationship with the students?
He taught Legal Methods at the time, for the first year, along with Prof. NS Gopalakrishnan. He was very dedicated to his job. I remember this one time, the Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University was coming to visit him. But he said he would take the class, and he would not leave the class.
He was very involved with his students. Whenever there was a problem, he had a meeting – what is known as Wednesdays – with faculty. It was a cabinet-like meeting. In that meeting if any problem is there with regards to discipline, or any suggestions brought forth in respect of students we would discuss it. We would give our opinion, but once a decision is taken, we would not question it – we would stand by it together.
When students asked for changes in the system, how did he handle it? What would he think of the student reforms that are being pushed for, like removing the attendance requirement?
For handling it he would have appointed one committee of teachers – who would be asked to submit a report. This would be discussed in the faculty meeting. Then we would call the students, explain to them what we are doing and for what reasons – and the students would be convinced. For example, if some students had a problem with the attendance, he would ask them to compensate for it in some way – like working in the library.
He would have nothing against the proposal – but he would have looked at the object of these reforms and the impact it would have on the standards of education. He would agree for a balanced decision considering all of these things. He would’ve asked how it impacts education? And he’d ask for you to keep this in mind in order to balance the change. And this balance depends on the leadership – whoever is coming here as the Vice-Chancellor needs to look into this balance, that is what is the most important.
We ask for everyone to take a moment and think of the kind of Law School this paints a picture of. To us, it is a Law School that was built on dedication and effort, where Prof. Madhava Menon led by example. To us, it is a Law School where both the students and faculty came together to ensure that it survived and was brought to glory on economy, efficiency and ethics, towards excellence. We ask for everyone to take a moment and think of the future we want for Law School, as we stand on this threshold.