By Ranbir Sing
Efforts must be made to increase diversity and access to quality legal education.
Legal education in India has seen many transformations in the past decades. The most prominent transformation can be witnessed in the rise of legal practice as the profession of first choice. Much has been written and said in this regard. The experiment of National Law Universities has successfully nurtured, inculcated and established a class of legal professionals who endeavor to serve the world, nation and the society through the instrumentalities of law and legal practice. This can also be evidenced from the fact that common law admission test saw more than 60,000 applicants in June, 2022 alone.
Nevertheless, there is something fundamentally flawed in understanding legal education as a means to an end in this sense. Instead, for us educators, legal education must be an end in itself. Developing such an understanding will not only help us understand the challenges of legal education in the 21st century, but also find ways and means to address these challenges and to gear up for the next transformations in legal education. The following paragraphs are an attempt to chalk out these challenges so as to allow us to piece together a transformation strategy.
Firstly, we must admit that legal education in India is pockmarked with deficiencies ranging from outdated curriculums to formalistic pedagogies ignorant of social and political realities. The demand of socially relevant legal education in India has been a long standing one. Recently, while speaking at an event in Goa, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India D.Y Chandrachud reiterated this demand while stating that law cannot be divorced from social change. We belong to a land which, as observed by the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in his seminal work “The Idea of Justice”, lays an emphasis on a shift from ‘Niti’ to ‘Nyaya.’ Niti, in this context, refers to “organizational propriety and behavioural correctness” while Nyaya takes a more comprehensive approach to “realized justice.” Why then, does our legal education still place an unreasonable premium on Niti rather than Nyaya?
Secondly, we must try to understand that legal education is a transformative journey in an abstract but yet – a very real sense. The process from being a law student to becoming a lawyer requires the catalysation of several fundamental changes in the cognitive and behavioural abilities. These changes require the development of a curious mix of inquisitiveness, rationality, humanity, sympathy and empathy. The journey opens up several pathways to the students. Whether it’s the premium of a well-paying job or the zeal to contribute to nation and society building – both outcomes are determined by the experiences of the students during their transformative journey. It does not require a deep introspection for us to realise how oblivious legal education has been to this journey of a law student from being a fledgling teenager to a groomed professional. Our pedagogies must be tailored to suit the needs of the student.
Thirdly, there is an urgent need to make legal education inclusive. In 2018-19, a report by IDIA (Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access) threw up startling results that showed that in our law universities, the idea of merit often becomes a factor of inter-generational and socio-economic inequalities. Most students belonged to urban backgrounds with financially well-off families; minority communities were highly under-represented; and, students that qualified entrance examinations were able to afford expensive coaching centres which prepared them better for the tests. This makes our educational institutions vulnerable to criticism on grounds of being elitist and exclusive, and rightly so. Efforts must be made to increase diversity and access to quality legal education.
Lastly, digitalisation of legal education is a must. We live at a time when the push for digitalization is at its greatest and sits at the heart of several governmental campaigns such as Digital India and Make in India. Legal education must not isolate itself from advances in technology. This adaptation must work at two levels. At the first level, legal education must adopt technologies that foster an efficient learning environment. Such adoption has the potential of not just increasing access to legal education, but also access to justice itself. At the second level, legal education must prepare itself and the future generations to face the challenges emerging from digitalisation. As digital technologies and artificial intelligence threatens to make manual work redundant, legal education must find new ways to reskill and upskill the workforce to ensure their relevance in the coming decades.
The author is pro-chancellor, IILM University, Gurugram. Views are personal.