"I realise that some of my criticisms may be mistaken; but to refuse to criticize judgements for fear of being mistaken is to abandon criticism altogether... If any of my criticisms are found to be correct, the cause is served; and if any are found to be incorrect the very process of finding out my mistakes must lead to the discovery of the right reasons, or better reasons than I have been able to give, and the cause is served just as well." -Mr. HM Seervai, Preface to the 1st ed., Constitutional Law of India.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Clarion Call for Reforms in Legal Education

Part I

It was heartening to read Mr. Veerappa Moily, Union Minister for Law and Justice, some days back in Indian Express on yesterday’s need for reforms in legal education. He, in this piece, place the issue in perspective and underscore that gone are the days where legal education was catering to the single segment, bar and marginally to academia. The institutional and curricular designs of legal education remain majorly of those bygone days that he thinks to save any institution from obsoleteness, timely and regular reforms are integral.

The conceptualisation about the function of legal education, per him, should be akin to the contribution science has made to the advancement of the society. He visualizes development of ‘global lawyers’ to cater to the needs of trade, commerce, industry as well as bench and the bar. He also sees the relevance of legal education as the axis of governance, rule of law and democracy. This is an echo of the outlook of the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) (Page, 79).

NKC’s roadmap for reforms ranges from regulatory environment to curriculum development. To be more specific they are;

1. New Regulatory Mechanism: Handing over the regulatory baton from the Bar Council of India (BCI) to a new regulatory mechanism is the primary need. A twenty five member Standing Committee for legal education comprising of representatives of BCI, judges, academics, trade, commerce and industry, economists, social workers and students is to deal with the entire gamut of legal education.

2. Independent Rating System: Rating could be used to benchmark quality and as an indicator for awarding and continuing of accreditation

3. Curriculum Development: Autonomy to develop curriculum is the way forward. Multidisciplinary approach interwoven with contemporary and cutting edge issues is expected to be the highlight of the curriculum

4. Examination System: A continuing system of examination with project and viva and reorienting the approach of evaluation which will test the analytical, writing and communicative skills.

5. Attracting and Retaining Talented Faculty: Incentivisation and imaginative career development schemes to attract and retain talented minds. Removing fetters for practice of law for teachers is a recommendation so that the perceived divide between classroom teaching and practice of law is mended.

6. Development of Research Tradition: Serious efforts to be undertaken to develop a culture of research. Methodologies such as having an academic component on research skills, rationalising teaching load of teachers to free their time for research, enhancing library facilities, and incentivising research are suggested.

7. Centre for Advanced Legal Studies and Research (CALSAR): Four regional institutions with a network between to carry out research on contemporary issues and to provide advise for the Government. To be established.

8. Financing Legal Education: Fees is considered as the major source of revenue. Autonomy in fixing of fees with certain guidelines is the prescription. Public private partnership, the way forward.

9. Dimensions of Internationalisation: Imbibing the spirit of developments in international arena of legal education and legal profession and understanding the domestic law in a comparative perspective. This is to be achieved through partnership and collaborative ventures.

10. Technological Assistance in Legal Education: Use of technological advancement in the development of legal education. Digitalisation and networking to share the resources is the suggested mode.

The Minister has not made any particular suggestions of his own but is seemingly endorsing the reports submitted by the agencies appointed by the Government to look into the higher education sector, namely the Yashpal Committee and National Knowledge Commission. It also needs to be borne in mind that change in the legal education primarily is in the court of Ministry of Human Resources. Mr. Kapil Sibal has already started acting on these reports and have a catena of legislation on table, in the pipeline, and in the closet.

What intrigued me as a part of the legal education fraternity is the identification of law schools as the islands of excellence, which is far from reality. True, it started as a refreshing change in the deteriorating environment of legal education and carried an aura of distinction and superiority but this claim today is far from reality. The law schools are ailing from similar maladies of the rest. The law schools maintain the rank mostly on the past glory and recruitments. For recruiters it is nothing but relative best available in the market. I am not oblivious of the individual merit of the students and certain teachers in the law schools but they are “the islands” in law schools today. The same is true with any traditional institutions imparting legal education, sparks are there as well. The differentiating factor then is the exposure a student of law school gets in terms of infrastructure, resources and opportunities. These opportunities are in the form of moot invitations, internships, exchange deals, visiting faculties from foreign universities, library resources, relatively more regular classes, courses catered to the needs of the market and continuing examination system. Ostensibly this is a picture perfect system. The ensuing question is how come law schools do all these whereas other institutions of legal education cannot. Autonomy is the answer in the forefront.

To be continued...

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