LEGAL education has never been prioritised by our policymakers. Thus, it is no surprise if the judiciary is failing to match the expectations of the people. Unfortunately, by many, the legal profession is considered to be a profession of ‘dropouts’.
There is a mushroom growth of law schools without any regulation by affiliated universities or bar councils. Some law schools do not have proper buildings, libraries, or classrooms. Some do not conduct regular classes. They operate like fee-collecting agents, promising admission without proper coaching. Dropouts from other fields join these schools and then the bar without proper legal training.
There should be strict admission requirements for becoming a lawyer, eg a law school admission test (LSAT). Libraries must be updated with online databases such as LexisNexis, JSTOR, etc, and the Socratic method of teaching used to encourage classroom discussions. Exams must include an analysis of case law.
Bar councils rarely offer apprenticeship certificates and other credentials. Instead, new lawyers are reportedly ‘assisted’ in the examination hall to pass the entry test, suggesting that they are recruited to increase the political strength of bar-council factions and not the prestige of the profession. Making the bar a professional and more respected institution requires immediate reforms. The bar must check fake degrees and certificates before granting licences. It must conduct a fair bar examination.
Legal reform cannot succeed without better legal education.
Continuous legal education (CLE) will also provide a further opportunity for learning even after passing strict entry tests. Young lawyers will get a chance to learn from senior members of the bar. There is a dearth of good lawyers in Pakistan. CLE will help meet this challenge. However, adding more lawyers to the bar will saturate the profession, increasing the likelihood of occasional clashes between competing and frustrated young lawyers.
The law continues to change, so lawyers must learn continuously. CLE is mandatory in the United States. Every lawyer has to undergo a certain number of hours of compulsory education to remain a member within the state bar. In the United Kingdom, the four Inns of Court provide continuous training to barristers. The Law Society of England conducts such training for practising solicitors.
In Pakistan, however, CLE is even more necessary due to our poor legal education system, flawed entry requirements, and lack of training for working lawyers. CLE is even helpful for those who are trained through external degree programmes. In a nutshell, CLE will strengthen our bar and the legal profession.
Further legal education can be provided when lawyers are appointed as judges. In developed countries, constant learning in every profession is a norm. Every idea is being challenged and constantly improved. The performance of legal institutions is being examined in the context of politics, sociology, and economics. The education of judges, therefore, has become increasingly important. Lawyers are trained to draft pleadings, issue legal opinions, and argue before court. Judges, however, are required to do a very different job — evaluating legal arguments and writing judgements. Judges also need to perform administrative tasks. So, they need suitable training.
Presiding over a court requires patience and other social skills to interact with the bar, the litigants and state functionaries. It is essential for judges to be trained in court/case management to use the court and its resources wisely. This is only possible through education at judicial academies.
In fact, no effort for legal reform can succeed without improving our legal education system. The Higher Education Commission must review its policy regarding law schools’ procedures for new registration and admission, and provide guidelines on the syllabus. Law schools must learn from other seats of legal learning in developed countries.
The Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan should ensure a study is done in collaboration with the HEC to make appropriate changes in laws/rules relating to legal education. Bar councils must functionalise their legal education committees to ensure that law schools impart education relevant to fast-changing needs of the legal profession. They should also review their mandate providing for CLE for lawyers and paralegal staff. The bar must make this training mandatory for renewal of licence of every lawyer each year and offer certification and awards to encourage participation in continuous legal education. It may give cash awards, medals, and law books to new entrants in the profession and arrange international conferences of lawyers to support CLE efforts in Pakistan.
The focus must be on eradicating fake apprenticeship certificates and fake law degrees from substandard law schools and a strong argument should be put before the government for establishing centres of excellence for legal education at the federal capital and provincial headquarters.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore.
Published in Dawn October 2nd, 2015