IN Pakistan, education has never received the due attention it deserved from past governments and the state of legal education has been more disappointing. The quality of law graduates being produced is not up to the mark.
To begin with, the majority has no proper knowledge of English, the legal language. This restricts their ability to understand and apply the myriad concepts, laws, and judgments — available only in English. The teachers, at these universities and their affiliated law colleges, also don't bother to motivate the students to overcome this deficiency.
Also, instead of encouraging the students to make their own analyses, explore new ideas, and engage in discussions, the teachers, generally, stress on rote learning and only appreciate the narration of memorised rules and facts. Similarly, rather than introducing the students to a combination of theory, policy and law, in order to train them in legal thinking and expressing themselves in a legal way, the teachers usually discourage them to go beyond the outdated text books. Well, this is what these teachers themselves learnt when they were students; this is all they know.
Teaching at a public university is neither very prestigious, nor financially rewarding. There are often no incentives even if one is doing some outstanding work. Consequently, most people who join the profession do so after having failed to establish themselves elsewhere. Lawyers who teach on visit-basis at these universities are mostly interested in just making money, they don't do it because they are interested in academic pursuits. Thus, one rarely comes across a talented teacher.
Private universities offering their own law degree courses and there are institutes which provide tutoring for foreign law programmes. The standard of teaching is usually much better than that at public universities. However, there are certain shortcomings. There is a growing preference for teachers with foreign law degrees, both basic and advanced. Whereas foreign exposure enables one to acquire new ideas and latest skills, ignorance of Pakistani laws is a major drawback. Knowledge of foreign laws is always desirable, but it can't be a substitute for Pakistani laws.
When asked about a certain legal issue by the students, I have often seen such teachers answering in terms of American or English laws instead of Pakistani laws. The UK qualified Pakistani lawyers argue that the Pakistani legal system is based on the system that was prevalent in British India. So it is. However, it doesn't mean that ours is the same as the present-day English legal system. There are so many differences.
In short, preference must be given to the teachers having advanced law degrees from the United States, the United Kingdom and other developed countries but also possessing basic law degrees of Pakistan. These are the people who are aware of the weaknesses of the local system and can remove these defects by utilising the knowledge and expertise gained abroad.
Over the last five years, the concept of five year B.A/LL.B. programme has gained significant popularity in Pakistan. Inspired by Indian law schools - though B.A/LL.B is offered in certain other countries as well - it is considered to be the answer to all our problems by an increasing number of public and private universities. The programme has its advantages, but there are better options available. Why not run our existing LL.B. programmes like the J.D. programmes run by Harvard and Yale? If we have to follow someone else, why not follow the best?
The biggest flaw in the B.A/LL.B. programme is the lack of diversity. After Intermediate or A-Levels, the students just get set on a track. On the other hand, at Harvard and Yale, J.D. candidates with a background of creative writing, psychology, neuroscience, medicine, engineering, environmental studies, business, investment banking, etc., make a profound contribution to various academic and co-curricular activities, ultimately enriching the experience of everyone around. Those are extremely vibrant and versatile intellectual communities.
One can pursue LL.B. under University of London's External System as well. It is definitely more prestigious than the LL.B. offered by our public universities. However, as students are never taught Pakistani laws, it is a very impractical choice in order to prepare for a career in Pakistan. As mentioned above, there are differences between Pakistani and English laws. Such graduates are unprepared to successfully navigate through the Pakistani civil and criminal procedures. Consequently, they have to study the local laws from scratch after they graduate.
Certain private universities too are offering tuition courses for the University of London's LL.B degree. The fact that a university has set up a “tuition centre” reflects a lot about its academic capabilities. Imagine, what kind of a university it would be if it offers tuition for another university's degree instead of running its own programme?
So, what's the solution? Well, why don't we just modernise and strengthen the three year LL.B. degree on the same lines as, let's say, in Harvard? Of course, it will not be an easy task. However, with a serious and determined effort, it can be accomplished. And once the basic standards are achieved, we can always innovate.
In the mean time, in terms of curriculum, while focusing on local laws, we need to familiarise the students with the trends and developments in other legal systems. A comparative approach broadens one's perspective and equips one to handle issues in the best available manner or devise a better way.
Regarding faculty, real academics and people with academic potential must be encouraged to join legal academia by offering them better remuneration and congenial environment. Research and publications must be promoted. At the moment, there is no law review/journal of national standing in the country.
Most importantly, the selection criteria for law school entry must be made strict. At present, law is among those programmes that are very easy to get in. It wouldn't be a bad idea to ask the applicants to take something like LSAT.
Our law schools should be able to produce lawyers that make competent academics, public servants, policy-makers, legislators, judges and advocates — the lawyers that not only have the confidence to compete with their western counterparts, but who also demonstrate the same professionalism and abilities. For this, both the Higher Education Commission and the Pakistan Bar Council must take coordinated measures and start immediately.
The writer is a graduate of Harvard Law School, and a lawyer based in Lahore.