Role of Lawyers and Law Firms in the Development of Legal Education

HKB

Introduction

“I don’t feel stupid, just inadequate. After three years of studying the law, I’m very much aware of how little I know.”[1]

Before dealing with the question of role of lawyers and law firms in the development of legal education, it would be pertinent to understand what legal education actually signifies. The concept of legal education should be understood in a holistic way rather than following a narrow approach. In a layman’s understanding, law should be read only by those who plan to pursue a career in law or in other words legal profession. But I would like to caution here, that now the time has come when every individual should have basic legal education and the law students should know more than the bookish law. Law is so closely interwoven with our daily lives that we can’t severe it in any manner. Whatever we do some or the other law is related with almost every aspect of our daily existence. No matter whether you are filling a warranty card while purchasing a new TV set or doing an online transaction through your bank account. If you are an employee then you should be more cautious and should know that you have a right to be considered for promotion. If someone is working in the factory he/she should be aware of minimum wages and basic facilities, similarly a person should be aware of employee’s state insurance scheme. These are just few illustrations to emphasize on the need of legal education or rather legal awareness. As Frédéric Bastiat[2] said Life, liberty and property do not exist because men made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”

 

Position of legal education in India

It is horrendous to imagine a lawyer admitting something contrary to his case and being thrown out of court within a minute. The situation becomes graver in criminal cases where even a slight mistake can turn the outcome of a case. A single mistake in drafting a legal notice may ruin a case while an error in a plaint or a written statement may ultimately be the cause for a person losing a case. A single wrong question in cross-examination may again be the sole cause for a party losing a civil case or in his getting convicted in a criminal case. We need to realize that the ‘legal profession’ is a profession which is as serious as that of a career as a chartered accountant or a doctor. Unfortunately, in India legal profession was looked upon as a `fall back upon’ profession. Everybody thought that it is easy to pass a law examination, and that no matter whatever one’s training or knowledge, it is not difficult to attain success in the profession. It is this attitude that has diluted the quality of the profession over some time.

However, in the last one decade, the system and manner of legal education has undergone tremendous positive change and the credit goes primarily to the principle of `demand of quality lawyers’ occasioned on account of socio-economic and political developments in the country; which has led to the setting up of high standard supply chain in the form of National Law Schools. But we need to check that these law students should not get into another extreme of commercialization for legal profession is today being referred to as `legal business’; and it shouldn’t happen that we prove John Grisham’s following quote right –    “All students enter law school with a certain amount of idealism and desire to serve the public, but after three years of brutal competition we care for nothing but the right job with the right firm where we can make partner in seven years and earn big bucks.” [3]

 

Role of the Bar Council of India

BCI is a statutory body under section 4 of the Advocates Act[4] to regulate legal education and institutes among other objectives. Now, coming to the role of the Bar Council, as we already know the Bar Council of India (BCI), under Section 7 (1) (h) of the Advocates Act, 1961, is empowered to promote legal education and lay down ‘standards’ of such education in consultation with the Universities imparting such education. The University Grants Commission, under Section 2 (f) of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956 (UGC Act) also has power to exercise control over the Universities and affiliated colleges for prescribing standards of education. Accordingly, BCI has prescribed standards for legal education by making Rules under Chapter IV of BCI Rules. It has provided the minimum subjects that should be taught along with minimum standards for legal education.

Practically speaking, it is not possible for the BCI to consult each and every University and there is no manner prescribed in the Advocates Act, 1961 for rendering effective consultation in this regard. Thus, there is a need to amend the provision of Section 7 so as to bring it in harmony with modern requirements.[5]

 

Role of Lawyers and Law firms

The role of lawyers and law firms in enhancing the quality of legal education and strengthening legal system emanates from the principle of corporate social responsibility. Being a responsible corporate citizen, it is our responsibility to serve society in whatever way we can. And what can be a better way to do so, than to improve legal education and awareness which would ultimately result in a better law and order situation and a happy society. Legal education has two facets one being the theoretical knowledge and the other in the form of practical knowledge which can not be acquired or better say mastered through bookish knowledge.

It is in this aspect where law firms and lawyers can play a significant role. They can assist the Legal Education Committee of the BCI to lay down standards for education. Legal associates working in law firms can enrich students with their practical expertise. There is a vast difference between a class-room and the court room. At the same time our existing syllabus is not in conformity with the industry’s requirements. Plethora of new legislations have come up which are not included in most college syllabus’s at all.

But this lacuna can be filled by utilizing the expertise of law firm associates in the form of conducting guest lectures, allowing internships, holding moot courts, debates etc. Indeed these are being followed by some law schools but they are hardly 10-20 which do not represent the majority of law graduates in the country. In a way, I would say that it is high time for law firms to think beyond National Law Schools and focus upon holistic development of the legal system. At the same time they can also start different diploma and certificate programmes in collaboration with universities which will be more practically oriented.

 

Practical aspects of Legal education

Some of the top National Law Schools have started compulsory internship/training program for their students to equip them with practical aspects and intricacies of law and for this they are placing their students with law firms and advocates. But if we trace back the importance and history of such training programmes we find that before the Advocates Act, 1961 was enacted, there was a system by which a law graduate had to undergo training by way of apprenticeship in the chambers of a lawyer for one year and pass a separate Bar examination conducted by the Bar Council on the subjects of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.

It was only after a law graduate successfully completed his apprenticeship and the Bar examination that he became eligible to be enrolled as an Advocate. This provision was even continued in original Advocates Act. However in the year 1964 the provision of apprenticeship and bar test was omitted by way of amendment. But the same was reintroduced by way of the rule making power of BCI which was challenged in the case of V. Sudheer vs. Bar Council of India on the basis, whether, having regard to the legislative history which revealed that the Training was part of the mandate in the Act, the same could not be reintroduced by way of a Rule by the Bar Council of India. The Supreme Court held that BCI can not reintroduce provision of apprenticeship by way of rule making power. In other words it requires amendment of Advocates Act. However, in the same case Supreme Court has accepted the recommendation of Justice Ahmedi Committee and inter-alia observed that training under Senior Advocates with a view to equip them with court craft and to make them future efficient officers of the court became a felt need and there cannot be any dispute on this aspect.[6]

After the conclusion of conference of Chief Justices in the year 1993, a high-empowered committee was constituted to review and recommend reforms for legal education.[7] Some of its relevant suggestions are hereunder;

  1. Rule 21 of the Bar Council Rules directing that every university shall endeavour to supplement the lecture method with case method, tutorials and other modern techniques of imparting legal education must be amended in a mandatory form and it should include problem method, moot courts, mock trials and other aspects and make them compulsory.[8]

 

  1. Participation in moot courts, mock trials, and debates must be made compulsory and marks awarded, (ii) practical training in drafting pleadings, contracts can be developed in the last year of the study, and (iii) students’ visits at various levels to the courts must be made compulsory so as to provide a greater exposure.[9]

 

As Malcolm S. Forbes said “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one”[10]

 

Requirement of apprenticeship in other nations

In most of the countries like Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Hong Kong, Malaysia New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa and UK, some period of training or apprenticeship or pupilage and the passing of Bar examination, completion of course are mandatory before a student enters into the legal profession. Similar is the situation in other countries like Botswana, Cameron, Caribbean, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Papua New Guiana and Zambia.[11]

 

 “I think we have waited long enough to repair the cracks of the Legal Education system of this country and it is high time that we rise from our arm chairs and start the repair work in right earnest.”[12]

 

Author: Hemant Batra*

*Hemant Batra is an Indian lawyer with nearly 24 years’ experience in diverse legal assignments. He is founder of a renowned international law firm Kaden Boriss and is also Secretary General of Saarclaw; he is recipient of Mahatma Gandhi seva award and is a visiting faculty to leading educational institutions; his profile can be accessed by clicking http://in.linkedin.com/in/hb15aug

New Delhi, India

 

[1] John Grisham (The Rainmaker)

[2] Claude Frédéric Bastiat (30 June 1801 – 24 December 1850) was a French classical liberal theorist, political economist, and member of the French assembly.

[3] John Grisham (The Rainmaker)

[4] Section 4 of Advocates Act, 1961 available at http://www.barcouncilofindia.org/bar-council/constitution.php

[5] 184th report of Law Commission of India on Legal Education available at http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/184threport-PartI.pdf

[6] 1999 (3) SCC 176

[7] 184th report of law commission of India on legal education available at http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/184threport-PartI.pdf

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Malcolm S. Forbes (August 19, 1919 – February 24, 1990) was publisher of Forbes magazine.

[11] “Directory of Commonwealth Law Schools, 2003/2004” published on behalf of the ‘Commonwealth Legal Education Society, UK’, cited at 184th report of law commission of India on legal education

[12] Justice A. M. Ahmadi, former Chief Justice of India