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At the recently held Justice VR Krishna Iyer memorial lecture in Thiruvananthapuram, Prof. Shamnad Basheer spoke about legal education, the Bar Council of India and the future of the country’s national law schools.
Organised by the Kerala Law Academy Law College in association with the Centre for Advanced Legal Studies and Research, the event saw Prof. Basheer speak on the need for innovation in legal education, and the problems facing the current crop of national law universities.
He did not hold back.
“Unfortunately, these alleged “islands of excellence” have failed on a number of critical fronts.
Firstly, a disproportionately large number of students enter the corporate commercial world, owing to the lure of a sizeable salary, and a workplace that is relatively more meritorious and professional than the courtroom.
The numbers that do alternative lawyering and take up cudgels on behalf of the marginalized and underprivileged are negligible.
Secondly, not much has changed in terms of teaching methodology, since the advent of the National Law School in Bangalore. Although the Socratic method (now disavowed even in the US, from where it sprang) is touted as the main pedagogical technique, very few teachers deploy it, much less understand it.
Further, although clinical legal education remains on the menu, law schools continue in large part to pay mere lip service to this concept.”
But pedagogy at the national law universities were not the only subject of critique. Basheer also made it clear that the Bar Council of India (BCI) is ill-equipped and simply not competent to regulate law schools in the country.
“BCI is neither competent nor do they have the resources [to regulate legal education]. There is no pressure on National Law Schools to ramp up their faculty or curriculum. Students from National Law Schools have succeeded despite these….. If NLUs are not careful, private law schools will take over.”
Basheer’s remarks comes at a time when there is significant debate over the BCI’s role in legal education. Barely a week ago, the BCI and Delhi University appeared to have reached a truce of sorts over BCI accreditation of the law course at Delhi University. In July this year, current and former BCI members were awarded with imprisonment and fines, after being convicted of demanding bribes from educational institutes for BCI accreditation.
These comments are also important for another reason: the increasing number of national law universities in the country. This month saw the laying of the foundation stone for the Himachal National Law University; Maharashtra has two NLU’s one in Mumbai and the other in Nagpur. There were also some plans to have an NLU in J&K as well as one in Haryana, although it is unclear when this will happen.
With the burgeoning number of law schools, both national and private, Basheer’s remarks and call for introspection could not have come at a better time.