Former Justice Dharmadhikari once said that the “Legal education makes lawyer an expert who pleads for all like the doctor who prescribes for all, like the priest who preach for all and like the economist who plan for all.” However, during the covid 19 legal education has seen the wrath of pandemic and as a consequence from classroom to courtroom has witnessed the new normal that is virtual platform. Legal education which is clinical in nature was adversely affected during the pandemic. However, India’s IT sector and its abilities to bridge the gap that was created by pandemic was effective to deal with the situation.
BACKGROUND OF LEGAL EDUCATION IN INDIA
Laws for the regulation of professional legal education in India are made by the parliament of India with reference to entry 66, 67 & 78 of List I laid down by the Constitution of India, which includes two regulatory bodies which are The Bar Council of India (BCI) as a regulating the standards of the legal profession and The University Grants Commission as an umbrella organization for all institutions of higher education.
The 184th Report of Law Commission of India in year 2002 suggested for harmonious construction of UGC & BCI powers & regulation of legal education in India. All the issue relating to admissions, practice, ethics & standards are addressed by BCI in consonance with state bar councils. The powers of BCI are also envisaged under Advocates Act, 1961 under Section 7 which states that the functions of BCI in India shall be to promote legal education and to lay down standards of such education in consonance with the Universities in India imparting legal education and the State Bar Councils and to recognize Universities whose degree in law shall be a qualification for enrolment as an advocate and for that purpose to visit and inspect Universities.
While exercising the powers given under Advocates Act, BCI has successfully done many reforms in Legal education owing to its dynamic nature and introduction of five years integrated degree program in Law in 1982 was one such step ahead of this transformation. This system has since been gradually adopted in various Universities and Colleges and NLS Bangalore was first to establish the course in 1987. Apart from this, BCI conducts examination for enrollment of advocates in bar. It is also responsible to maintain the essence of legal education by conducting various seminars by eminent jurists, publishing journals of legal interest and most importantly by organizing legal aid to the poor.
LEGAL EDUCATION IN COVID-19 – A SUFFERING BEYOND MEASURE
Education is a machinery which must go on irrespective of the uncertainties which come to its way. The coronavirus pandemic has stretched its tentacles into diverse facets of life. The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped at national borders. It has affected people regardless of nationality, level of education, income or gender. The education has been hard hit by this pandemic. Legal sector is no exception. In fact, it is the most effected owing to its dynamic nature and has exposed to inherent problems.
A huge misalignment has been seen in resources and needs. The COVID-19 and resultant lockdown pushed the students into the trap of worldwide online learning for the continuity of education. While the educational communities have made concerted efforts to maintain learning continuity during this period, children and students have had to rely more on their own resources to continue learning remotely through the Internet, laptops, mobiles and what not. Teachers also had to adapt to new pedagogical concepts and modes of delivery of teaching, for which they may not have been trained ever.
This online infrastructure lacked where students and various college in rural and underdeveloped areas struggled as they didn’t have any access to these modern and costly affairs of online learning. Students in metropolitan cities adapted as quickly as it was introduced with a little hope of those staying in rural areas. However, there are many institutions, though recognized by the Bar Council of India (BCI), where majority of not so privileged students with bright legal acumen are studying and aspiring to be part of bar and bench. They might have faced a huge problem to access the online classes or may be cannot afford the cost of technology. This digital divide may be attributed to multiple factors – lack of infrastructure in terms of access to internet, absence or dearth of computers in schools, inability of underprivileged students to procure computers, and lack of digital literacy amongst both teachers and students.
CLINICAL LEGAL EDUCATION DURING COVID-19
“Practical training outperforms theories”. This quote by Roscoe Pound – an eminent jurist strikes onto the clinical nature of education in different aspects. Education is a radiance that shows the mankind the right path to move forward.
With the changing trends of legal education, Clinical (Practical) teaching has become an integral part of it in developed countries. Clinical Education becomes integral part of legal curriculum when BCI introduced four practical papers to improve standards in legal education in late 90’s. It was introduced as a kind of extension to the course and classroom teaching but gradually it has emerged as a centre of attraction in legal field. Just like medical, law has also expanded its prospectus to practical training before stepping into the profession. It includes moot courts, real world case studies, Court judgment analysis, Internships. Internships has emerged an easy way out to understand the practical approach of law through Courts, Bars, law firms and Commissions.
According to BCI guidelines, the infrastructure of a law school must include a well-organized library, Computers, internet connections, moot court set-up so that the budding lawyers could make the most out of the subject which is extremely vast and dynamic. Owing to all this, continuing with legal education in Coronavirus stood as a massive challenge all over. The essence of Clinical education was not at all being fulfilled in the pandemic.
TECHNOLOGICAL INTERVENTION IN COVID
Technology has played a vital role throughout the COVID and is serving fuel to all the sectors of economy. During the pandemic, remote learning became a lifeline for education but the opportunities that digital technologies offer go well beyond a stopgap solution during a crisis. The majority of the activity present in this educational category includes teaching, learning, communicating, and transitioning from face-to-face to online. Digital technology offers entirely new answers to the question of what people learn, how they learn, and where and when they learn. Biggest challenge is to utilize this valuable time. Technology seems to be the only answer.
Today around 1.5 billion students are learning online due to the COVID-19 situation across the globe. While schools and colleges are temporarily closed for quarantine, learning continues. It’s just that it is a different kind of teaching. Students are being educated using technology. This is being done through a variety of online courses, electronic textbooks, meeting platforms like Zoom and Google meet and Google Classrooms or other applications. Various webinars were being hosted on various legal topics, various workshops on legal education, national and international seminars through webinars what not even the online internship programmes were offered by legal firms. Also, many legal firms came up to form the structure for conducting online certificate courses on various law subjects. It is true from the contemporary scenario that law teaching is not merely a methodology but technology. Law schools and Universities in future will be constrained to offer e-courses in law.
Gradually, evaluation methods also shifted to online platform. Various law universities developed their own method of examination through online mode by introducing MCQ based evaluation exams rather than subjective, evaluative assignments, developing their own proctored online exam mechanism. More weightage was allotted to internal assessment through various PSDA activities such as moot court presentation, VIVA, project presentation etc. But again, everything comes to its way posing some challenges. In India, we have a diverse set of states and cities, at different levels of income and development. The spread, use and availability of technology is the key, as is the availability of online learning materials, as well as devices and the level of internet connectivity at home. The impact of the challenge is so much that the traditional role of a law teacher is fast reaching extinction. Hence, low key digitalization and uneven distribution of resources became obstacle in the smooth functioning of online education system.
WAY FORWARD: STRENGTHENING LEGAL EDUCATION
The pandemic situation highlights some of the unfortunate reality of legal education. The changing paradigm lead in by the information revolution is bound to place a greater responsibility and pose new challenges on the teacher and the student. The gap that has been created between legal education and practical training needs to be reduced. The need for technology induced revolutionary changes as well as innovative teaching techniques to cover a wide range of topics was posed by pandemic. There is a need to teach not only the domain knowledge but also the skills associated with the profession and most importantly the attitude required succeeding in the profession. E-learning platform needs to be established by legal institutions to bridge existing gap of theory and practice as an all-time substitute for physical learning.
The present pandemic can be treated as a positive time to think, re-think and change the curriculum of legal education at all levels of legal institutions so that the future lawyers would be able to stand as a confident figure before the society and the courts and judiciary also may achieve the objective of becoming “Smart/E-Court and digitization”. No doubt, classroom teaching clubbed with clinical learning serves the best purpose of legal education but there is need for all the stakeholders of the profession to equip with the technology which would in turn raise the standards of legal education. There is a need for regulatory authorities and concerned stakeholders to move forward for the integration of technology and restructure legal education with phenomenal change. Hence, online education cannot be completely kept aside post-pandemic in order to shape it up for new challenges and opportunities.
Summing up the discussion, Legal education has come up to be an important facet of society owing to its vibrant nature and its growth all over the world. BCI and UGC being the pivot of the legal area, needs to recognize the opportunity to look into the future and introduce multifarious dimensions to the subject considering possible threats in future. Alike, USA and China who have already indulged into the regular learning through online platform in some ratio to which extent it’s functioning well and have emerged as the inspiration to the world.
This crisis should better be utilized to analyze the shortcomings of mechanism under which legal education functions, demonstrating the areas in which it excels and where it failed. Effective learning out of school has clearly placed greater demands on students’ autonomy, capacity for independent learning, and before that a need to develop reliable and accessible infrastructure for online and remote learning. Hence, it’s time to expand the wings of education beyond the four walls of traditional learning methodology.
Abhinav Kumar is the awardee of ICSSR Special Call for Studies Focusing on Social Science Dimensions of Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic. Views expressed is entirely that of the author.
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