Gone are the days, when the term lawyer imaged a black robed guy sitting in a court chamber, or sometimes outside with an umbrella atop. Lawyers have moved from court chambers to carpeted bays of corporate offices. The practice has moved from saving shady criminals to merging two multi-national companies. From contending a family feud over a piece of land to getting injunctions over intellectual property infringement. Certainly, the legal profession is rapidly evolving, and so is the legal services industry. Cross-domain expertise is now highly sought. Company Secretaries well aware of business and compliance laws, Charted accountants that are versed with tax laws and PHDs that are well versed with patent laws are accepted with open arms, and of course remunerated very well. There is an optimistic demand in the industry for such professionals. The concerns remain regarding the supply. Is our legal education system able to quality train such professionals? I certainly do not think so.
The Bar Council of India, the body responsible for accreditation of courses at law schools, prescribes two streams of law courses required to be enrolled as an advocate viz. a 5 year integrated LLB degree open for students after 10+2 or 11+1, and a 3 year law course for graduates. The onus of choosing what to offer is on the law schools, and all of the top law schools including NLSIU, NLUI, NALSAR and NUJS, have opted to offer the 5 year integrated LLB degree (although initially few of the top law schools did offer 3 year LLB, but, then they gradually moved to the 5 year year program). This leaves graduates and professionals with very few options to pursue quality 3 year LLB education. The reasons for lack of 3 year LLB programs are best known to these law schools. Some suggest that by offering 5 year programs, students save an year in completing their education. However, most often than not saving an year lack of interest in students is quoted as an excuse. Is lack of interest really a justified reason? Again, I beg to disagree.
Recently, IIT Kharagpur started a 3 year LLB program restricted to engineers, doctors and post graduate in sciences, and it has been a huge success. The 3 year LLB program at University of Delhi (the only program for graduates that has some credibility and quality) has always been well attended by professionals from civil administration, police, corporate, and science and technology. Lately, the number of applications received by the university has increased by about 30 % in last 2 years. All this surely suggests an increase in awareness among professionals in pursuing legal education as a means for obtaining cross-domain expertise, and specifically meeting the demand of the industry, especially the legal industry.
Another reason given by administrators is that professionals do not consider study of law seriously, and only see it as a part time vocation. Law is serious business, and market forces cannot be allowed to govern studies in law. This argument though partly true, is not true in its entirety. Lackadaisical attitude has been prevalent in many quarters regarding legal education, wherein working professionals opt for LLB programs with a typical “ho jayega” (we will manage it somehow) attitude, and wherein graduates opt for LLB programs with a typical “kuch nahin se kuch to sahi” (better study law then do nothing).
However, this does not mandate closing the doors of quality education for professionals who are serious about studying law. I am sure, if given an opportunity of studying at top law schools of the country, a student will definitely think of means to balance his professional occupation with studies, and even might think of taking a sabbatical. If the policy makers believe that a professional is incapable of such balancing act, then I would like to politely mention that these indecisions are better than apprehensions of a typical teenager, who enters these top law schools. Moreover, maintaining minimum standards, such as minimum level of attendance, minimum passing marks, and who should pass and who shouldn’t is always in the hands of the administrators of universities.
The old BCI rules (rule 5, 7 and 8 of section A) mandated all law schools to provide an option of lateral entry in their 5 year LLB courses, wherein graduate and post graduate students can enter the 3rd year of such programs. Notwithstanding, the concept of lateral entry might not be an attractive proposition anyway for professionals as this would mean studying with fellows, who are easily 5-6 years junior to them. This at least provided flexibility to graduates and post graduates to enter laterally into the 5 year LLB programs. However, these rules seem to have been scrapped and the latest set of BCI rules (rule 13 of Section A), prohibits such lateral entry and exit.
Therefore, a review of 3 year LLB policy at top law schools is highly desirable, since the onus is completely on these schools to provide access to quality legal education to a sizable mass of students. Also, a review of lateral entry to 5 year LLB by the BCI might also provide means for professionals and graduates to pursue quality education. Until then it will be fair to say that our legal education system, which is supposed to teach justice, might be ignorantly or intentionally imparting injustice to lakhs and lakhs of law aspirants.
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