Swethaa Ballakrishnen

Hari and Kumar go to HLS: The South Asian Graduate Experience at Harvard Law School


Who were the first South Asian students at the country’s oldest law school and why did they
travel beyond known English law schools to come to the US? Why did more students from South Asia attend Harvard Law School last year than ever before? And what does this mean for the new South Asian Legal Education growth curve? In tracing the (first ever) South Asian law
student history at Harvard Law School, Ms Ballakrishnen studies the numbers and the people to evaluate trends in admissions, interest and international relevance of Harvard’s law programs.

The talk will deal in large part with the HLS Graduate Program numbers (which, due to the
availability of geographical student data is easier to gauge) over the last century and discuss
interesting trends in the interest and attitudes of both students and admissions committees at
HLS. The premise comes from the argument that student admissions at HLS, like most
international graduate study programs in law, started with (a) the early exclusionary stage
(1922-53) where international students were determinately kept out for presumed lack of
competency and applicability to the programs (Griswold) to (b) the missionary stage post WW2 (1953-80) which saw an increase in the numbers of “special students” at HLS from South Asian countries joining not legal programs, but specialized, mid-career tax programs aimed at aiding development through education to the current (c) international recognition stage where HLS is not only responding to the international interest in South Asia but also recognizing the potential for scholarship with renewed confidence.’

Although drawn from HLS numbers and students, the central focus of the talk is the new,
symbiotic interest between South Asia and International legal education programs and the
discussions will include the current legal education market, the globalized need of these new,
elite law students and the fresh challenges that face Indian law school models.

Swethaa Ballakrishnen is a 2004 graduate of the National Academy of Legal Studies and
Research (Hyderabad) and a 2008 graduate of Harvard Law School, where she did a Master of
Laws (LL.M) with a shared focus in international finance and the sociology of legal education.
Before studying at Harvard, she was a lawyer with the Mumbai offices of Amarchand Mangaldas and taught legal methods, family law and international finance at the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research, Hyderabad and the National Law Institute, Bhopal. Swethaa currently is a joint research fellow with the Program on the Legal Profession and the East Asian Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School (where she works on globalization of the Indian legal market) and a visiting researcher with Professor Marc Galanter at the University of Wisconsin Law School.