Legal Education : Looking Beyond National Law Schools
India is such a vast country with a population of more than 1.3 billion. Out of the total number of seats available for people to study law, national law schools and high profile private law universities constitute only a small fraction. Merely improving the quality of education in top Indian law colleges will not be sufficient. Further, national law schools and popular private colleges are very expensive, with their fees running into a few lakhs every year. Such fees are outside the reach of a huge population of India. Many students are compelled to take significant loans which need to be repaid. Therefore, to enhance the quality of legal education, it is necessary to turn focus to thousands of law colleges in small towns and mofussil areas, spread across the length and breadth of the country, by looking beyond the national law schools.
For lawyers to be ‘social engineers’ as Professor Madhav Menon put it, they need to be able to pursue careers and earn a livelihood by working in the areas where they can make a meaningful difference and an impact on society. This requires them to acquire skills early on from their college days itself, as they cannot afford to struggle to earn a basic living for long years after they graduate. They must be ready to start out on their own path from the moment they graduate, and that requires some prior preparation and skills. Hence, it is necessary to address certain specific areas of concerns in small-town law colleges.
Current system of exposure to practical experiences
The most obvious pathways of providing practical exposure to law students are internships and moot court experiences. There are a few reasons why these are not proving to be effective or contributing to law students’ success on a wider scale in India.
Limitations of participation in moot courts
Moot court teams in several colleges do not have a guided system of tutoring or mentorship, while some colleges have a heritage of mooting. That leaves some people too far behind the curve. They will have had an experience of mooting but it may not make a lasting contribution to them. Also, several moot courts focus on international scenarios and laws which many law students may not encounter as practitioners. For example, an everyday civil or criminal litigator or even a corporate lawyer will not typically work on a public international law issue.
Basic skills necessary before internship.
While lawyers want to contribute to others, teach and groom them, most lawyers do not have the willingness to engage interns because basic formatting, research and presentation skills are missing. These need to be taught in college, not by practitioners. For example, an intern may send an email without a subject line, elementary grammatical errors, or send you a PDF of his or her work, such that you cannot edit it. An intern without elementary professional skills and subject knowledge will be a burden to the legal practitioner. Hence, it is necessary to impart some basic skills in college, before setting out the students for internships.
‘Dukkis are the Bible’ culture
Dukkis or one-week series or passbooks culture is very common, especially in small cities. Law colleges of such cities do not have the proper infrastructure and systems for training students at par with law students of national law schools and famous private law colleges. The intention of the students in the small cities is to get a degree of law so that they can get an access to the courts from where they can earn their bread and butter. Generally, classes are not regular and college is just a formality. Even if the classes are taken many times lecturers are not qualified enough to teach students. There is a huge deficiency of well-qualified law professors (even in the NLUs) who have a good command on their subject and who have good teaching skills in them.
Absence of use of technology and tools
It is necessary to use advanced tools and techniques of teaching such as use of advanced skills in MS Word, Excel, tools like Grammarly, Google Keep, Google Calendar to schedule meetings and reminders, Zoom to conduct meetings, making structure diagrams in Powerpoint presentations, doing screencasts, videos, etc. to make it more interactive and interesting for students. However, use of technology while teaching is found to be minimal, especially in small town colleges, impacting the overall quality of teaching.
What alterations are required?
There are two major issues which if sorted may solve a lot of problems in the legal education system. First of all inserting practical insights into the theory of law and second improving standard of teachers of law.
Support to practical training
First of all legal education must be completely shifted from theoretical methods to practical methods of learning. Instead of insisting on 75% or more attendance criteria and short-term internships, methods must be made so that first some theory and law are taught and then students get an opportunity to apply it in the real life scenario. This is only possible when after giving them a basic knowledge of law they are allowed to go for long-term internships for at least one year at a time (just as CA students do). This will enable them to understand the technicalities involved in the legal matters and really learn how to apply textbook knowledge to real-life situations.
Training on use of technology and social media
Professors and students must be taught how to use the advanced technology available to simplify and fasten things, such as:
- Advanced use of MS Word - Track Changes, Table of Contents, Advanced Bulletting Techniques, which are useful to serve clients.
- Advanced use of Powerpoint - to explain complex business transaction structures in a simple way through diagrams
- Google Keep and other tools for making notes, preparing lists and reminders
- Google Drive and Asana - to enable people to collaborate powerfully on complex projects
- Use of video making and editing tools such as Camtasia, Movie Maker or Screencast-o-matic so that they can record videos explaining the law and its connection with stakeholders on various aspects
- Use of social media and blogging to communicate their thoughts
This can not only make the learning process better and simpler but also help to make education available to the deepest parts of the country.
After this, we must concentrate to provide long-term internships to law students or find out ways to bring practicing lawyer on regular basis in law schools to ensure that students get acquainted with practical aspects of the law. Right now because of compulsory attendance requirements and restrictions on practicing lawyers, both of the above suggestions are not possible. This will encourage lawyers and firms to train interns better as they know that they are going to stay with them for a long term. They will not feel that their training or resources will get wasted.
Research in the field of law must also be promoted. Research has always been a tool for finding new dimensions of law in various countries with developed legal systems. Research here does not mean to research to find some case law or regarding a particular matter. By research, it is meant to write research papers and to conduct various doctrinal research to create something new in law. Indian legal system is prone to adopt foreign legal systems according to its own needs. There is nothing wrong in doing so, but we must also be capable to develop our own systems to successfully deal with our indigenous problems. There may be certain circumstances where we cannot find anything in other countries to adopt from. There may also be situations where the system developed by another country may not apply to our country. Research will not only increase the reputation of the education system of our country in the world but also unearth new dimensions for us.
Once a mix of technology, theory, research and practice will be combined in the legal education system, the level of knowledge and skills of law professors and students will change completely. It must be ensured that changes impact every law school and law university in the country and not restricted to national law schools alone.
Harsh is a Senior Associate at iPleaders. He is also a UGC-NET & JRF scholar and test prep expert for judiciary and bank legal officer exams.
[The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of LiveLaw and LiveLaw does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same]