When it comes to the law in India, it all began with Bombay. The first British court was established in Bombay by then-governor Gerald Aungier in 1672. The first law college of India, which is also the oldest law college in Asia, is the Government Law College. It was set up in 1855. Some of India’s revered legal luminaries have come from Bombay, which is now Mumbai. But the biggest question the law and judiciary are facing today is if the legal education is up to the required standards?
It does not have an answer in black or white. Yes, there are a greater number of colleges in Mumbai. As many as 81 law colleges in the city, is a mind-boggling number. Yes, more students are opting to pursue law as a choice of profession. Maharashtra had decided to centralise and streamline the admission process by introducing Common Entrance Test (CET) in 2016. But has it served the purpose of imparting quality legal education?
The more the colleges, more the students and more the need for quality teachers. The aim of legal education should be to bring out from the students, the knowledge, skills and critical thinking to advocate the cause of justice who could serve as legislators, judges, policymakers, public officials, civil society activists, among others.
Traditionally, legal education was offered to anyone who had finished a three-year graduate degree. But that has changed over the period of time with new five-year courses in LLB that allows students to pursue law as their first bachelor degree. It possibly was a much-needed reform to keep up with globalisation.
But that paved way for legal education to become an interesting business the proposition which saw law colleges popping up like mushrooms. Gone are the days when the likes of B R Ambedkar would be the principal of a college, or legal luminaries like Justice M C Chagla, Ram Jethmalani, D M Harish, AAA Fyzee would recognise the need to impart education and would teach.
Today, law colleges fail to attract talented law professionals as teachers. The problem gets compounded by the need for NET-qualified applicants as lecturers. This has also seen students being least concerned about gaining knowledge through the course, and are largely focused on the minimum requirements of passing the course.
It wasn’t long ago when a friend of mine insisted on me pursuing a degree in law, soon after he passed LLB. “It’s not a big deal in clearing an LLB exam. You get quick reference guides, which contains a list of questions asked in previous examinations. You just need to focus on those questions, and you will be through,” said my dear friend. And yes, he hardly ever walked into the college he had enrolled into.
He is not the only one who has passed LLB in this fashion. There are many who have a legal degree. It made me wonder, if legal education was as simple as that and if the field is still as revered as it used to be when the likes of Nani Palkhivala, Soli Sorabjee, Fali S Nariman and H M Seervai graced it. Ever wondered how the third pillar of our democracy would have shaped had these gentlemen ‘passed’ the LLB.
The anecdote that my friend presented, talks about the state of legal education here. The examination system is faulty, the syllabus is irrelevant, it questions teaching facilities and techniques and it also portrays easy entry in legal education. What legal education needs is exactly what Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, once said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
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