Problems With Legal Education In Pakistan: Are Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules 2015 Enough?

Problems With Legal Education In Pakistan: Are Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules 2015 Enough?

Legal education plays a vital role in any society. It is essential in promoting awareness about the rights and obligations of citizens and public institutions. It must be conducive to identification and reform of social problems, while providing tools to inculcate democratic ideals in its students. It should examine and study social and legal standards and provide for means to ensure legal and democratic accountability of government and its various institutions. Law schools and their classes are responsible for shaping the next generation of jurists, lawyer, judges, legislators, human rights activists and social reformers, and it is essential that what they are taught in the classroom will train and groom them for the responsibility that lies ahead.

The legal profession in Pakistan is facing a number of crises, many of which can trace their origin to a great extent to the steady decline in the standard of legal education and its inability to fulfill the purpose of legal education. Corruption, gender disparity, violence, disregard of the rule of law, difficulty in the enforcement of contracts (Pakistan ranks 151 out of 189 countries in terms of enforcement of contracts), and delay in legal proceedings – these are just a few major problems that our legal system has failed to address. The severity of need for legal educational reforms can be gauged from the number of strikes by lawyers and incidents of violence that lawyers are involved in on the premises of various courtrooms in Pakistan, especially those against judges. Therefore, it is essential that the legal education system of Pakistan be of a quality that can produce law graduates equipped with the tools to address these problems.

The problem associated with the legal education system are linked to the wider problems associated with the primary and higher educational systems in Pakistan, which have been unable to fulfill the educational needs of the current millennium.

The education system places almost the entirety of its emphasis on rote learning, scoring marks and spewing facts without engaging with them, while systematically destroying creativity – a system that is so shallow that it relies on memorizing what the teacher has presented and woe betide a student who dares questions the teacher. There is no emphasis on critical and analytical skills and no emphasis on critically analyzing the reasons behind rules and policies.

There is very little emphasis on literature, sociology, religious studies and philosophy. All of which are required if one wants to train a generation capable of tolerance and open discussion and has the ability to engage in comparative and critical analysis to resolve the problems they may face.

The role of education should be to encourage the natural curiosity of children and to train them to ask one of the most important questions: “WHY?” “Kyun”. What we have instead is a system that believes in “kyun na pucho, kyun se larayi hoti hai”.

Our students, instead of formalizing and using their own opinions, rely on copying and pasting stuff, especially from the internet, which has resulted in an era of unbridled plagiarism. This practice of following an authority without questioning is inimical to not only progress, but to what lawyering means.

The work of a lawyer in and outside of a courtroom revolves around identifying, following, distinguishing and challenging precedents, something that the current system does not train for. There is no meaningful discussion in Pakistani classrooms, no analysis of the context of legal rules, the purpose they were supposed to fulfill, the mischief they were supposed to overcome, the reasons for their adaptation, especially why another rule was not adopted, whether the rule achieved its objectives, whether it still remains relevant and whether another rule may be needed to fulfill current needs. Our classrooms are devoid of such discussion and also fail to properly train students in the art of applying legal rules to facts to arrive at legal consequences. There is no emphasis on legal theory, jurisprudence, or on the science of law and no attempt is made to understand and evaluate the legal system in a rational and systematic way.

This can be easily observed by a cursory examination of exams conducted by most law colleges and universities in Pakistan and the answers provided by students.

These problems are compounded by the system’s inability to train students in the English language, which will remain the medium of instruction for law colleges, and it is important it remains so since our entire jurisprudence is informed by reference to foreign sources (especially UK, US and India), it being a norm to cite foreign judgments by Pakistani courts, especially the Supreme Court. Apart from students from a handful of private schools and universities, the majority of students have below-par command over English. This is unacceptable. Law degrees throughout the world are renowned for the amount of readings that they require of students and command over drafting that they require, something that our system fails to deliver.

Problems faced by legal education in Pakistan have been worsened by the fact that unlike other subjects in the field of humanities, Pakistani law schools have been unable to promote and establish legal academics and scholars whose primary role include legal research and teaching, with the result that majority of these law schools/colleges rely upon practicing lawyers to fulfill their teaching needs, people who have neither the time nor are trained in the art of teaching and academic research. One symptom of this problem is the scarcity of quality local textbooks on law, a fact apparent in the recommended textbook sections of the current Higher Education Commission Pakistan (HEC) Curriculum of Law for 5-Year LLB Programme (2011), where greater emphasis is placed on foreign rather than local textbooks. Additionally many locally produced books on law fail to adequately comment on and analyze the legal principles and rules. The rigor of analysis present in most local textbooks compared to foreign law books is quite regretful, while some local books go so far that they are mainly plagiarized versions of relevant statutes with very little in the way of commentary. The amount of quality research coming out of Pakistani law schools is so small as to be negligible, a symptom of which is that at present there is only one local law journal recognized by HEC: Journal of Law and Society of the Law College University, University of Peshawar. This is unfortunate since legal research provides much needed critical discourse and evaluation of legal rules, which most practicing lawyers do not have the time to conduct, but is important to ensure the development of law in the right direction.

The problems above have been a cause of great concern for more than two decades, and though piecemeal efforts have been initiated to deal with these problems, they have not been successful. Finally at the end of 2015 the Pakistan Bar Council adapted the Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules 2015, accepting that the Legal Education Rules of 1978 no longer catered to present needs and that because of “constant deterioration of standard and quality of legal education because of mushroom growth of law colleges and even the universities, in private sector, necessitates strict check and control over the universities and degree awarding institutions imparting legal education, and the private law colleges” a new set of rules was required to ameliorate the dire problem that the country’s legal education now faces.

When the new Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules of 2015 are kept side by side with the old 1978 Rules and the old Affiliation of Law Colleges Rules and compared, it becomes clear that they are not that different, with many parts of the new Rules copied verbatim from the older ones.

The differences and innovations introduced under the 2015 Rules are discussed below:

The first deals with the discontinuation of the 3 years LLB program after three years of the enforcement of the 2015 Rules. The Rules have failed to take into account those students who decide to enter the legal education system after completing a four years bachelor’s degree. Requiring them to study for five years and thus repeating general bachelor’s courses is not only wasteful and unfair, it will also prevent students from other disciple to switch to law, a switch which has the advantage of enriching the classroom and legal fraternity with cross disciplinary knowledge.

Second, the five percent seats reserved for sons/daughters of Advocates for admission in law colleges and universities (decreased from 10% under the old Rules) is a self-serving provision, one that should not have been promoted by the elected representatives of the legal profession, a profession that is supposed to act as a bulwark against discrimination and as the custodians of the rule of law. Such provisions not only fall foul of non-discrimination requirements of the law, but are unique in the sense that no other respectable profession in Pakistan requires it, e.g. neither the medical associations nor the engineering associations of Pakistan have any such requirement of reserved seats for practicing doctors and engineers and their children.

Some changes have been made under the new rules, though welcome, primarily remain cosmetic in nature. So for example certain additional requirements as to library have been introduced (dealing with the minimum number of books and costs of books, minimum yearly budget for new books, minimum computer requirements and access to law journals). A cap of 100 students on new admissions, and a maximum class size of 35. It is difficult to see how putting a cap on new admissions and class size will overcome the problems identified above. Leading law schools throughout the world do not rely on such rules to ensure quality.

Apparently the pass criteria is the same as under the old 1978 Rules: 40% in individual exams and 50% aggregate; which does not point towards much real concern for quality.

Similarly the inspection requirements to gauge the quality of education being provided and criteria for affiliation of colleges is very similar under both the new 2015 Rules and the older Rules. Some changes as to wording can be observed, but the major requirements remain the same.

At the moment the curriculum for the LLB program and syllabus is still the one provided by HEC and Pakistan Bar Council in 2011. A new curriculum is under development and it remains to be seen whether it will provide a new direction, or will it like the new 2015 Rules be substantially a copy of the old Rules.

The 2015 Rules despite all their aspirations fail to address some very important questions: how to improve the quality of legal scholarship offered in the local LLB programs, how to produce good quality legal research, how to attract the best students to law programs and how to produce law graduates equipped with the requisite skills that can play a pivotal role in the uplifting of the Pakistani society in general and the legal profession in particular. The changes in curriculum design and inclusion of HEC will not be sufficient to raise education standards. It will require a radical overhaul of the current attitude of the Bar Councils to legal education, with greater emphasis placed on developing a cadre of legal academics with the required teaching and research expertise.

Greater emphasis would need to be placed on examinations being conducted by both the universities and for admittance to Bar Council membership. There should be a shift to exams that compel students to apply their knowledge to legal scenarios in a manner that develops reasoning and argumentative skills.

Though the efforts of the various Pakistani bar councils, especially PBC, to improve legal education are laudable in so far as they are attempted, and it cannot be denied that the bar councils have a stake in legal education, it is respectfully submitted that such efforts will remain in vain, for the simple reason that the reform process is dominated by lawyers who lack sufficient expertise to provide for an all-encompassing legal educational reform.

More importantly due to the particular way in which the bar councils work and have elections requirements for office holders, it would be unreasonable to expect such educational expertise from them. Therefore the need for legal academic experts in curriculum development, who can collaborate with bar councils, is very acute. This will not be easy to achieve and will take time, but for starters there is a need for the bar councils to accept the importance of legal academics and take steps to promote it.

This is especially important considering that legal education is not just about training lawyers, but is used by people who will go on to become social reformers, political leaders, human right activist, legislators legal drafters, jurists, etc. and the system of education dominated by bar councils will fail such students.

Similarly because of constraints faced by bar councils (especially time and money) it is not reasonable to expect them to keep a constant check on the standard of legal education being imparted in local universities, nor would it be advisable to leave this entirely in the hands of local universities and the HEC, which have not been completely successful in improving the standard of higher education generally.

What the bar councils can achieve, however, is to require local universities to conduct rigorous law school entrance tests. Similarly the current bar entrance exams, introduced recently, need to be overhauled. A pass rate of almost 100 percent is evidence of its lack of sufficient rigor. The bar councils may not be able to directly control the quality of university education, but can control the quality of students admitted to law colleges/universities and quality of law graduates admitted to its membership. Lessons in this regards can be learned from the rigor of Legal Practitioner Course (LPC) and Bar-at-Law exams of England, and state bar exams and LSAT exams in the USA. Attention should also be made to continuing legal education.

Just increasing the rigor of exam will not be sufficient. Rigor without potential earnings and career development will lead to a situation where Pakistani law colleges/universities will be unable to attract sufficient number of students. In this regard if we as a profession want to attract the brightest Pakistani minds, the bar councils will need to take active steps for improvement of remuneration of fresh law graduates and career development in terms of possibility of becoming future partners in law firms. It is embarrassing, to say the least, that a profession which is supposed to help people in protecting their basic rights fails even to guarantee its own fresh graduates the minimum wage.

Without taking concrete steps, some of which have been mentioned above, we as a profession will be unable to achieve quality legal education and it will take more than just cosmetic changes to Legal Education Rules to bring about the desired change, a change that will not be meteoric but will require patience and constant vigilance, discarding short term benefits in favor of long term returns.


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

Umar Rashid

Author: Umar Rashid

The writer is an advocate of the High Court and holds an LL.B degree from the University of London and an LL.M degree from New York University School of Law, where he was a Fulbright Scholar and Mamdouha Bobst Global Scholar. At present he is an Assistant Professor and Chairperson at the University of Management and Technology (UMT), Lahore.