Three Things That Need To Change In The Sphere Of Legal Education In India

Dr Ghayur Alam, Senior Professor; Dean, Undergraduate Studies; and Registrar of The National Law Institute University, Bhopal, India talks future of legal education in India like never before and makes us wonder if lawyers will be hostage to the powers of AI in times to come!

What are the 3 most pivotal things that need to change in Legal Education in India today?

Three most pivotal things that need to change today in Legal Education in India

Law teachers should be allowed to practice law

Undergraduate legal education is intended to produce professionals trained in the artificial reasoning of law. The problem is full-time law teachers are not professionals because they are not allowed to practice law under the rules framed by the Bar Council of India. Law teachers are best trained in theorizing law as scholars. Scholars’ approach is inherently different from professionals’ approach. Legal scholars generally lack first-hand experience and hence can neither bring the fire and thunder of the courtroom to the classroom nor can they share their transaction practice of law with their students. This must change. Sooner the better, if India wants to have legal professionals trained by legal professionals. The idea of clinical legal education borrowed from medical education has not been translated into practice. Clinical legal education (CLE) by and large is conducted through simulation exercises and moot courts and in some cases, it is merely a formality. If legal education has to become professional education, it must adopt the practices of medical education.

 Focus of legal education must shift to outcome-based learning

Students and teachers should clearly understand the objectives and methods and mechanisms to help realize and achieve those objectives both at the macro and micro levels. Students admitted to five-year law programs are generally eighteen years of age and some of them are on the verge of attaining majority. Learning behaviour varies with age. Therefore, elements of pedagogy and andragogy may be combined in such a manner that the learning needs of this age group should be meaningfully catered. Every topic of every subject should have a clearly stated outcome and measurable mode of assessment and evaluation (A&E). The focus should shift from summative assessment to formative assessment. Mere information about the marks or grades does not serve the purpose of A&E if the students are not informed about their strengths and weaknesses and the method to overcome their weaknesses.

Method of learning-teaching of law must change

Law schools in India generally make two related claims about their curricula. First, their curricula integrate law with other disciplines like humanities, social science, science, management etc. Second, their learning-teaching method employs the Socratic Method, Case Method, Case Study Method, and Clinical Method. Both claims, however, may be contested. To the best of my knowledge, neither the integration has taken place nor the lecture method has been deemphasized. Humanities, social science, science, and management are generally taught to law students the way they are taught to the students of B.A, B. Sc., BBA and students are left to find the linkages of these subjects with law on their own. The method of learning-teaching of law, therefore, must change and the leaders of legal education in India should pay heed to this aspect.           

How feasible is a dynamic curriculum to match the ever-growing laws and requirements of the industry?

The feasibility of a dynamic curriculum, to match the ever-growing laws and requirements of the industry, can be defined and designed in terms of its method rather than its content. It does not follow from here that the curriculum should be contentless. Content should be used only as examples to demonstrate how the content can be and cannot be learnt and used for a practical purpose. Curriculum when broken into syllabi, syllabus when broken into units/modules, and units when broken into topics should be organized at must, should and could levels. To be relevant, law curriculum should give adequate and proportionate attention to local, regional, national and international problems and needs. 

One necessary principle is that ignorance of the law is no excuse. In the absence of this principle, no law can be enforced for everyone may claim ignorance of the law. The fact is that no one either knows all the laws nor can one know all the laws. Problem is that no law school can teach all the laws. But every law school can teach how (not) to learn the law. Law by necessity cannot remain static. It has to be dynamic and ever-evolving. The old law is amended, repealed, substituted, varied, modified, overruled, reversed, or eviscerated. The new law is made to deal with unprecedented but contemporary challenges and problems. No curriculum, therefore, howsoever dynamic can cover all the laws. The focus of law learning-teaching should therefore be on, building the ability and capacity of the students by teaching them how to fish. First ‘how’ should equip the students with the ability to understand facts of every type. Facts win cases. Facts may be simple or complex. Facts may be related to day-to-day life, society, economy, finance, polity, simple technology, and/or advanced and emerging technology. Second ‘how’ should equip the students with the ability to fit the facts in the most appropriate legal category. It is possible that more than one legal category may be available for the given facts or no legal category may be available to accommodate the facts fully or even partially. The ability to find the most appropriate legal category can be mastered only by acquiring the artificial reasoning of law by reading, thinking, researching, writing, speaking, discussing, and interacting with teachers and peers over a long period of time. Third ‘how’ should equip the students with the ability to pre-empt, minimize or at least resolve and solve problems with the help of law. The success of curriculum can be measured if the students develop a frame of mind and know how (not) to think like a lawyer, how (not) to read, write and speak like a lawyer.                 

What are the pain points of the institutes imparting legal education that need the industry's or the government's intervention?

Some pain points of the institutes imparting legal education are lack of funding by the government and industry; high fees and charges make access to quality legal education difficult for students belonging to low-income families; poor student-teacher ratio; lack of cutting-edge and socially relevant research mainly because of lack of funds; multiple regulators and the problem of overregulation; contractual and ad-hoc appointment of academic and administrative staff; and lack of industry-institution collaboration.

Your message to young lawyers

Work hard, not hardly. If success is a habit, then reading is a habit, then working hard is a habit, writing is a habit, honesty is a habit, and helping others is a habit. Either one has a habit or does not have it. My message to budding lawyers is that one should:

  1. Be industrious to be industry ready

  2. Not try to specialize in a particular branch of law at the beginning of the legal career

  3. Practice at least in the beginning at trial courts

  4. Make reading, writing, and speaking a habit 

  5. Think within the box and outside the box 

  6. Keep oneself updated, read newspapers and at least one judgment a day

  7. Read the text of the Constitution of India; the Indian Contract Act, 1872; the Evidence Act, 1872; the General Clauses Act, 1897; the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908; and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 as many times as possible 

  8. Read the landmark decisions of the Privy Council, House of Lords, Federal Court, Supreme Court of India, US Supreme Court and other Courts 

  9. Try to help, pro bono, those who cannot afford the cost of litigation

  10. Make happiness of pursuit for justice as the objective of life rather than the pursuit of happiness         

What is in store for the future of legal education in India?

The future of legal education in India is going to be mainly defined by technology in general and by artificial intelligence (AI) in particular. AI is already in use for finding relevant statutory provisions, and relevant case law. AI is also being used for the preparation of legal documents. Some of the traditional lawyering skill sets have become redundant and obsolete and some of them going to become useless very soon. We have entered the era of AI-assisted lawyering. Therefore, legal education must identify what is being done or is doable by AI. What is being done or is doable by AI should not be made part of the legal curriculum. Students should be trained to use AI in a meaningful manner and should also be encouraged to acquire newer knowledge and newer skills which may remain technology neutral, if possible. No doubt it is a tall order and who knows that the technology of tomorrow transcends AI and forces the homo sapiens to ask the question: whether homo sapiens are more sapient than quantum computing-enabled AI. Imagine an AI created by an AI – an AI not envisaged by the human inventor. . . 

The future of legal education is going to be more challenging not only in India but everywhere in the world. Challenges will also throw unprecedented opportunities. Technology-savvy lawyers will be doing better.               

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