The successful law student needs to be able to place the law in context, analyse its effects on different parts of society, apply these rules to different problems, and reflect upon the suitability of both individual laws and the law as an institution. This ability to think critically and undertake broad and deep legal analysis is important to becoming a lawyer.
In law school, we often faced questions that ended with – "critically explain/evaluate/comment". The relevant dictionary definition of the word "critical" is "exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation." In this context, law students must learn to question and analyse what they hear, what they see, what they read, what they feel, and what they think. While training us to be lawyers, the expectation of our teachers was that we start looking at issues and problems critically. Albeit the expectation, the formal tuition on critical thinking never happened in Indian law schools. Critical thinking as a subject has always missed out of law school.
Legal practice requires highly developed cognitive abilities – from information retention and retrieval to analysis and interpretation, decision making, argumentation, etc. For this chain of cognitive functions to play into, critical thinking comes in very handy. In a simple sense, critical thinking is about gathering evidence, ideas and/or arguments and then assessing them in an objective and systematic manner. For example, while writing an essay on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, one could be presented with an argument that the Act must be repealed since it is draconian in nature and grossly violates human rights. To assess its validity, one needs to devote time to understand the Act and evaluate it unbiased. Depending on its content, certain parts of the Act (or other relevant Acts and cases) might need to be re-examined. The history and evolution of that law can also be used while preparing the arguments and counter-arguments. Finally, after an objective evaluation, one could proceed with the final argumentation supported by the most persuasive evidence.
When tackling a problem scenario, critical thinking involves reading the facts with an open mind, identifying key information, comparing the information with the facts of relevant cases and considering any arguments the other party or parties may come up with. This thinking exercise/technique helps us learn – How to think like a lawyer? While in India, we mostly emphasise on "what to think", the basis of legal education in many top law schools worldwide is – "how to think like a lawyer". Many of these law schools impart courses on critical thinking. In India too there is an immense need to train lawyers to think critically. This has to be done through a formal course. Although certain private initiatives like the Daksha Fellowship in Chennai have come up with such courses in its curriculum, this effort needs to be made uniformly by law schools across the country and be mandated by the Bar Council of India (BCI). This will help evolve a new generation of well-skilled lawyers in the country.
Abhishek Chakravarty teaches at Daksha Fellowship for Lawyers in Chennai. More at https://www.dakshafellowship.org/ . He specialises in Environmental Law.
 Imogen Moore and Craig Newbery-Jones, "The Successful Law Student: An Insider's Guide to Studying Law", Oxford University Press, 2018. Available at https://www.oxfordlawtrove.com/view/10.1093/he/9780198757085.001.0001/he-9780198757085-chapter-10 (accessed on 11-04-2020)