Reform of Legal Education in Pakistan – More Form, Less Substance

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Reform of Legal Education in Pakistan – More Form, Less Substance

Legal education in Pakistan like several other aspects of our society has been marred with a duality that has led to the development of two distinct streams (the local and the foreign regime) that run parallel with one another but which ultimately culminate within one common ocean that is our legal system. Consequently, the outcome creates an unfair playing field not just for local students but also in relation to foreign graduates in their own context. As a result, none of the streams have been able to nurture a complete and desirable training of its subjects leaving much of the fine tuning on to the able shoulders of the senior lawyers that automatically places them in the influential role of a ‘mentor’ with the capacity to make or break his/her junior associate’s career.

The need for reform is therefore, an open-shut case and it goes without saying that indeed, something, somewhere is seriously wrong with how things have been in the past. As conceded by the Pakistan Bar Council itself in its recently promulgated the Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules, 2015 (“The 2015 Rules”) that repeals and consolidates (i) The Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules, 1978; (ii) Affiliation of Law Colleges Rules; and (iii) The Pakistan Bar Council (Recognition of Universities) Rules, 2005, there has been a consistent deterioration of standard and quality of legal education particularly in the context of the local law stream where mushroom growth of law colleges and a lack of check and control over their administration is likely to have made matters worse. However, that alone cannot and should not be taken to be the sole cause of plight of the law graduates and of legal education because that would be akin to an over simplification of a matter that merits a deeper analysis and insight for proper and potent responses.

In that, if the aim is to affect an actual improvement in the quality of legal education and acumen of law graduates then putting the blame on law schools and assigning them admission quotas[1] and restricting their timetables[2] would hardly serve the purpose. It may, yes, regulate the activities of law schools and to that extent indeed it is a step in the right direction, but it will not be enough to achieve the actual objective of improving the quality of education until and unless the standard of the curriculum, not just at the LL.B level, but overall at primary school and intermediate level, gets a complete overhaul so that a culture of independent thinking, study, language and research skills are entrenched and developed at a grassroots level. I understand that this demands a policy initiative on part of our government and so this may go a little out of the scope for Pakistan Bar Council so naturally, I am not complaining to them about this, but rather asking this to be undertaken at a policy level and not just for legal education but for all other disciplines also where the rote-learning culture persists.

I understand that Pakistan Bar Council, while staying within their respective limits has tried to inculcate this by proposing a new 5 year long syllabus for the law students in the local stream – a syllabus which would contain elements of non-legal subjects as well as aspects of research, skills development and internships to allow the students to have a hands-on exposure and training for actual legal practice.[3]

The universities are directed to develop their respective courses around the guidelines proposed in the new syllabus so eventually the quality of courses rests with the universities and their staff. It remains to be seen how the universities individually develop their courses to reflect the objectives of the new syllabus because there would be no use of undertaking any of these efforts if the universities fail to include critical thinking in their courses and if they revert to the same rote-learn based style of teaching at a policy level despite the direction to focus on skills development and research. So for instance, you may even enhance the time frame of the LL.B degree from 3 to 5 or even more years, but it would still not yield any practical improvement until and unless the approach to the methods of teaching and developing courses is likewise enhanced. This is where I feel where the 2015 Rules miss the bus for there is no provision or any focus on teacher development and training.  The culture of research has to be built and it is not enough to suggest that a research component be included in the curriculum, the faculty has to be engaged in on-going research initiatives and advancement of knowledge in their chosen fields for any real progress as far as this is concerned.

This by default leads me to my next concern that is, if the idea and purpose was to bring the legal education at par with international standards, then why, oh! just why not this opportunity taken to inculcate the notion of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) or Continuing Legal Education (CLE) in the law? Continuing Professional/Legal Development is the concept through which graduates and practitioners retain a commitment to education and enhancement of knowledge either voluntarily or are required by their respective law societies and bar councils to do so through a regime of meeting specific compulsory CPD hours worth of lectures in their chosen fields in a given time frame to ensure that they are up-to-date and well abreast with recent trends and development. The idea is to ensure a consistent intellectual enhancement even beyond the formal years of education and many jurisdictions around the world implement this regime in one form or another for the betterment of lawyers and the legal profession.[4] The Pakistan Bar Council had the best opportunity to introduce these international standards in our profession at the time of promulgation of the 2015 Rules, but they chose to focus only on casting a check and control on law schools, colleges and universities. What a waste!

In that too, there is a case for arguing that some of the provisions that they have promulgated in the Rules, particularly those relating to the quota of students[5] and cancellation of evening classes[6] might be against fundamental rights of individuals and in particular, the right to education so I would not be surprised if in due course of time any legal actions are initiated on this point.

Also it may seem odd that while on one hand, there is no problem with students doing some of the distance learning programmes of the listed foreign universities[7] but there is with the ones doing an evening shift in the local programme. That just seems down-right hypocritical if not foolish for the quality of legal education cannot be affected because of the ‘time’ of study. It can and does however, get affected by the quality of faculty, the courses taught and overall management of the administration such that if good teachers and well designed courses are not taught and administrative control is lacking, then how can the quality of morning sessions even be guaranteed? So the issue is not one of morning or evening, but rather one of exercising effective administrative control and management over the programme, well designed courses and off course able faculty members.

Another rather whimsical observation to make while going through the 2015 Rules is that it requires the medium of instruction of LL.B courses to be in English. While this may be desirable in the context of the global world that we live in, it does seem to stand out in the wake of the recent Supreme Court judgment that vehemently advocated the adoption of Urdu as the official language.[8] This raises a lot of practical problems for the local law students who in their primary years study in Urdu and then in LL.B are to cope up with English and then, in practice, have to understand and work amidst the anachronistic legal jargon in Urdu language. The last bit may even be problematic for the foreign law graduates so basically, we serve no end and just make our students go round in circles simply coming to terms with language!

My point is this: if you wish to improve the quality of legal education, you will need to take into consideration the ground realities of the profession and cater to those realities keeping that context alive in your minds at all times for we don’t live nor do we operate in a vacuum. A concerted, consolidated, innovative and coordinated effort at all levels is needed for any real improvement to ensue.

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References:

[1] Rule 5 (i) (ii) Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules, 2015

[2] Rule 10 (i) Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules, 2015

[3] http://www.hec.gov.pk/insidehec/divisions/aeca/curriculumrevision/documents/law-2010.pdf

[4] Almost all developed and even some of the developing countries have in a place some form of CPD regime. The USA, Canada, Australia, UK and even India has a well established trend for continuing legal education.

[5] Rule 5 (i) (ii) Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules, 2015

[6] Rule10 (i) Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules, 2015

[7] First Schedule of Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules, 2015

[8] Constitution Petition No 56 of 2003

 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which she might be associated.

Nida Usman Chaudhary

The writer is the founder of Lahore Education and Research Network and can be reached at nida@learnpak.com.pk



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