Improving Legal Education In Pakistan with Online Platforms
The Supreme Court of Pakistan in Constitution Petition No.134 of 2012 provided detailed reasons for its short order dated 31 August 2018 regarding the issue of the standard of legal education in the country. From abolishing the three-year LL.B programme to replacing it with a five-year programme, the order also restored the bar entrance examination or the Law Graduate Assessment Test (LAW GAT), along with making other changes. However, it is submitted that merely improving technicalities is not going to not improve the standard of legal education which needs to be more substantive given students aspiring to be lawyers suffering a great deal upon leaving law school and entering into professional practice.
Earlier, during the course of formal legal education, apprenticeship with a legal practitioner had been a necessary requirement to gain a licence to practice. The evolution of this process now allows a licence to be granted to fresh graduates as well, which has led to a tremendous increase in the number of students opting for law as a career. This in turn demands that the institutions impart practical legal training alongside legal education to all aspiring lawyers because a law degree alone will not suffice the criteria to become a skillful lawyer. Professional training and upskilling in both academic and vocational disciplines will ensure good advocacy.
American Judge, Diane S. Sykes has correctly pointed out that, “The practice of law requires both continuity and growth – a deep understanding of legal principles born of reason, tradition, and experience and tested by time, but also a mind alert to present needs and the future consequences of public and private legal decisions.”
Unfortunately, the legal education system in Pakistan does not fill the wide gap that exists between theory and practice. This is because it fails to expose law students to legal practice which prevents them from engaging with it fully or understanding various aspects of it which are necessary to prepare them for future legal practice.
The curriculum mainly focuses on discussing the theoretical aspects of law. Failure to cover the operational side of Pakistani courts makes law students and potential young lawyers face several problems. It leaves them blank about career opportunities as they are not fully equipped to understand the practical aspects of the profession. Some may prefer a teaching career over practising in courts while others keep trying their luck in limited places for a very long time. There are even instances of young lawyers falling prey to those involved in dirty bar council politics, which tends to compromise ethics and skill development of junior lawyers.
On the bright side, modern times have brought with them modern facilities accessible through the use of technology. It is proposed that a freely accessible online portal for aspiring lawyers be developed to help them acquire in-depth knowledge of different areas of law including commercial law, corporate law, criminal law, family law, public law, etc. It could also provide practical information regarding all branches of law, such as where and how to file a writ petition, how to get dates for cases, which court to go to for which case, etc. Such a portal could further assist in recruiting fresh graduates and lawyers by providing them with an option to upload their CV in a standardized format. Developing such a program could be of great help to aspiring lawyers and likely to improve the standard of legal practice in Pakistan.
Furthermore, the portal could primarily work towards helping law students streamline areas they want to practice in, guide them about career prospects apart from litigation and assist them in finding institutions best suited to their interests and caliber. The portal could also give a list of various law journals around the world that accept submissions from students, along with important dates and deadlines so that law students could hone their research and writing skills even before entering into the practical field. Legal education should not only meet the needs of students who want to pursue law as a career but also be able to help those who aim to become researchers or academics in the domain of law. Thus, both law students and graduates could benefit from modern tools.
Before law graduates start to practice, they must have a versatile academic base. One should also have sound language skills for speaking, reading, writing and communicating. To strengthen communication skills, the proposed portal could provide options to organize moot court competitions and mock trials as well so that law students could get an equal chance to improve their skills irrespective of the college or university to which they belong. It could also link internships and apprenticeships and consolidate information regarding government-sponsored national moot court competitions and mock trials.
A necessary tenet of staying at the top of the legal profession is to keep up with global current affairs with legal dimensions. For this purpose, the portal could also share recent developments in international law, law of of arbitration, intellectual property laws, environmental laws and copyright laws, etc. in order to ensure that law students and graduates remain up-to-date with national and international developments.
Another important feature of the portal could be to have a separate section for students to have access to relevant academic journals and cases from different jurisdictions without subscription charges. If trials can observed by anyone present in the courtroom then access to the court’s judgments should also be easily available to all and not limited to only those who can pay.
The need for professional development and continuing legal education cannot be over-emphasized. The US Chief Justice also highlighted the importance of legal education while addressing the American College of Trial Lawyers in the following words:
“…in some jurisdictions up to half of the lawyers who appear in courts are so poorly trained that they are not properly performing their job and that their manners and their professional performance, their professional ethics offend a great many people. They are engaging in on-the-job training at the expense of their clients’ interests and the public.”
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.