Legal education and its status

Legal education and its status

The introduction of the All India Bar Exam is a step in the right direction to improve the quality of the Bar.

Should legal education be accorded status similar to medical or engineering education? While a good doctor or engineer could save a human life, so could a good lawyer. Therefore, only if the society perceives lawyers as important as doctors or engineers, would legal education be considered professional education.

Recently, Justice T S Thakur, Chief Justice of India and Justice U U Lalit highlighted the declining standards in legal practice and urged the need for immediate reforms in legal education. They observed, “Administration of justice is important as the profession of a doctor. If one is not permitted to become a half-baked doctor, you cannot become a half-baked lawyer.” They opined that the LLB degree must be brought on par with MBBS and Bachelor of Technology degrees.

The legal profession today is at cross-roads. On the one hand, law colleges have mushroomed across the country which has led to dilution in the quality of lawyers while on the other hand, law graduates from the prestigious national law schools pursue career choices other than litigation practice as they are wary of practicing along with or against such “half-baked” lawyers.

Unless the quality of the Bar is improved, it would not be fair to expect law graduates from elite law schools to take up litigation practice. While a collective of lawyers is called ‘Bar, similarly a group of judges is known as ‘Bench’.  Moreover, only a quality Bar produces a quality Bench.

The legal system comprises legislators, lawyers, judges and jurists. Roscoe Pound, an eminent jurist states, “Law is an instrument for social engineering”. Justice P N Bhagwati has observed that, “the profession of lawyers is an essential and integral part of the judicial system and lawyers may figuratively be described as priests in the temple of justice. They assist the court in dispensing justice and it can hardly be disputed that without their help it would be well nigh impossible for the courts to administer justice.”

Former Chief Justice of India Y K Sabharwal had rightly observed that the legal fraternity represents the most enlightened and traditionally respected section of society. He quoted Justice Fortas who highlighted that: ““A lawyer…has a special role in our society. He is a professional especially ordained to perform at the crisis time of the life of other people and almost daily, to make moral judgments of great sensitivity. He is an important hand at the wheels of our economy and of course as the custodian of the flaming world of individual and professional liberty, as well as of the public order.”

Part-time courses
Since the mid 1980s, the introduction of 5 year full-time law courses and abolition of part-time/evening law courses revolutionised legal education. The establishment of National Law School of India University, Bengaluru was an important step in this direction. Three decades hence, these efforts do not seem to have delivered the desired results.

The introduction of the All India Bar Examination is a step in the right direction to improve the quality of the Bar. Though the statutory force for the proposed examination is under question before the Supreme Court, it was observed by the bench comprising of Justice Thakur and Justice Lalit that, “… in principle it was not against the screening test as there was a dire need to weed out non-serious persons from joining the legal profession.” In fact, the bench recommended the need to strengthen the entry barriers into the profession.

Importantly, enabling full-time law faculty members to practice law for a stipulated number of hours every week would infuse professionalism in legal education. Considering legal practitioners can teach as adjunct faculty, the converse would be for law professors to practice in the courts of law. The fact that professors in teaching hospitals/medical colleges are also medical practitioners, this principle should be extended to the legal profession. Ironically, full-time law faculty members are required to mandatorily surrender their enrolment certificates for “Suspension of Practice.” Instead, they should be allowed to retain their enrolment and issued Certificates of Practice and designated as ‘academic lawyers.’

Today, law schools need to concentrate not only on quality legal education but young lawyers also need to be fully groomed to take on the challenges of the legal profession. Holistic education is required to mould a lawyer to be ethically sound and socially responsible. This will prevent incidents like the recent lynching of Kanhaiya Kumar, student leader and an undertrial, in the court premises in Delhi.

Clearly the legal profession should be accorded professional status at par with medical or engineering professions, given the multifaceted manner in which it affects peoples’ lives. A person could be sent to the gallows or may lose property worth crores of rupees if a case is handled by a half-baked lawyer. Similarly, a wrong-doer may go scot-free if the prosecution lawyer is inefficient or lacks integrity, resulting in travesty of justice.

(The writer is an Associate Professor, School of Law, Christ University, Bengaluru)
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