This insight is a miniature proposal from the VLiGTA Team on how to change the way the Legal Profession in India exists, in multiple streams, such as the academia, litigation, corporate jobs, dispute resolution, freelancing, consulting and other categories of legal professions.
This insight will keep updating the list of proposals we have offered to shape and reinvent the legal profession in India. Hence, this is not a final insight per se.
The proposals we have suggested are in tandem with how people and stakeholders in the policy, industry and social sector space in India, who are not a part of the legal industry, could be helped by making some reasonable changes in various categories of legal professions. These suggestions are proposed to promote a healthy discourse. Nevertheless, in case we proceed with a deeper analysis, we would convert our proposals into a technical report. Hence, these suggestions must be understood with a reflective angle.
The approach we have adopted is to propose solutions, and offer context to achieve policy clarity.
The Legal Academia must be a Separate Class of Professionals
It is appreciative that the Supreme Court of India and the members of the Bar have endorsed the creation of an Arbitration Bar in India, and have promoted court-ordered arbitration and mediation processes. Nevertheless, as for advocates - we have the Bar Council of India as a representative body, and for the National Law Universities - a Consortium to conduct CLAT and make key decisions, it is now more than important to have a proper Indian Council of Legal Academicians, which represents the interest of law teachers in India, who teach, research and work in universities. This must include all assistant professors, associate professors, full professors, lecturers, research associates and even fellows as designated by the University Grants Commission. An alternative could be to transfer the authority to regulate legal education in India to the University Grants Commission. Let us understand why have we proposed this. Although it is a contentious issue, but it would be untenable to have legal education regulated without teachers. Although the UGC regulations apply on legal education, law teachers are more capable and in a better state to handle matters of legal education. The fact that we do not focus on having better law academics from research associates to professors across law schools and departments in India, has led us to such a point that except few top law schools in India (maybe between 10-15, both government and private), the quality or standard of legal teaching has gone down. In fact, it has ossified even so further that vacancies for key and elective legal subjects has been on a rise. Further, lack of competence and experience comes from the fact that India's legal education system does not incentivise better pay and better work approach to become effective legal academics. However, for a new India where we are intending to become a key player in the Global South, we would have to improve legal education at a mass level.
That is why standardisation of representation is needed. A hybrid model could be to first create a separate Indian Council of Legal Academicians in India, and then give dual authority to both the Bar Council of India and the Council of Legal Academicians to regulate legal education, be it professional, academic or executive in nature. However, in certain matters, the say of the Indian Council of Legal Academicians must be preferable by law. In that case, the Bar Council of India is not deprived of its authority, and the Indian Council of Legal Academicians. An act of Parliament could establish ICLA as a statutory authority, which could have 2 key bodies - an Executive Council, and a Representative Council. The Executive Council may have the Chairperson as an academic, with other members of the Council being one bureaucrat from the Ministry of Education, one bureaucrat from the University Grants Commission and a few academicians. The Representative Council could have academicians and researchers in the field of law represented from various parts of India, of various levels, as designated by the UGC, and also those who work in think tanks and research institutes. Again, these suggestions are proposed to promote a healthy discourse.
Legal Education must be Democratised, Schematised and Digitised
There are serious issues in how law teachers and educational institutions are teaching law. The first problem we see is that the legal education by virtue of its pedagogy techniques, and not the legal subject itself, is stagnating. Law is taught as if it is rote learning, or a mere exposition of poetry or any form of literature, with a literary or rote approach to learning. While value systems must be taught to people, they cannot be taught without a realist perspective. The moral and ontological background of any legal subject and its subtopic must be taught with a way to develop a sense of taxonomy in that field, and develop a mathematical and workflow-based understanding of law, both substantive & procedural. This could work in any field of law. In fact, one must teach any legal subject as a semi-experience of sorts, which is then challenged, re-assessed and then learnt properly by students & professionals.
The second problem we see is that the mandate of education is different from the level or extent of pedagogy. There are certain things a law firm could teach, while some things could be taught better by advocates practicing in courts of law. The same applies to universities. Let us assume they ensure that teachers will be able to develop better pedagogy techniques, it would still not solve the larger problem of democratising learning of a subject, and the extent to which one as a student / a professional would be able to reciprocate what they have learned per se. It is not so easy to reciprocate what you learn in law. And hard and soft skills like, writing, speaking and others are obvious components, which must be dealt differently. In addition, considering the syllabus offered for 5-year, 7-year and 3-year law degrees and post-graduate law degrees, many universities are naturally bound to limit the scope of teaching to academic issues. This means while many universities and institutions have a deficit of representation of teachers and then even competence of teaching in those who already teach, adding to the fact that many of them have had financial crunch in the past, they would not be able to offer an infrastructure of learning & reciprocating.
The third problem is the assumption of gatekeeping. Since the burden of democratising legal education lies primarily on the members of the Bar and the judiciary, considering the regulatory landscape of legal education in India, the academic fraternity has no onus to democratise legal education. There have been honest attempts by the Supreme Court, the Bar Council of India and even the Government of India through their Law Ministry to promote legal aid and ensure that law universities and departments engage in the reciprocity of legal education for all by virtue of pedagogy. However, how many legal aid camps and measures work, is another issue. Nevertheless legal aid by its virtue cannot address reciprocity of legal education. This leads to gatekeeping because most academic stakeholders (except those in top law institutions) have no awareness as to how should they teach and reciprocate legal learning, beyond aspiring law professionals and scholars. Law is not merely a profession but also a way of life for many. A democratic republic needs its businesses and citizens to know the law in a graduated fashion, which is experience-based and clearer. Now, while governments, statutory bodies and regulators have larger legal and political issues to handle, a sense of policy and legal clarity can be taught to people. This is how the half-baked assumption that gatekeeping happens in the legal profession can be addressed.
Thus, we also propose that digitising legal education is a great way forward, if done with a concerted approach.
This insight is subject to revision.