Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Hon’ble Justice UU Lalit Call for Substantive Reforms in Legal Education

Sonipat:”There are a small number of outstanding and dynamic law schools in India, but they remain islands of excellence in a sea of institutionalised mediocrity. In the important task of nation building, all efforts in the field of legal education should contribute to “Gross National Mind” (GNM), as the character of law schools determines the character of the Bar and indeed of the Bench”, said, Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India & Member of Parliament, at the Valedictory Session of the Global Virtual Conference on “Reimagining & Transforming the Future of Law Schools and Legal Education”, held recently under the aegis of Jindal Global Law School., O.P. Jindal Global University. Dr. Singhvi was joined by Hon’ble Mr. Justice U.U. Lalit, Judge, Supreme Court of India at the Valedictory Session who delivered the Presidential Address.

Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi congratulated the Jindal Global Law School of O.P. Jindal Global University for organising a truly global virtual conference on legal education and the future of law schools. Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, “Jindal Global Law School has provided institutional leadership by organising this important global conference with over 175 global thought leaders, which has witnessed the participation of over 125 Deans of law schools and vice chancellors from India and from around the world in 31 thematic sessions with speeches and lectures by academics, lawyers, judges representing over 35 countries. This is a remarkable achievement and congratulations to Jindal Global Law School.”

Laying out a detailed road map for the transformation of legal education in India with a 14-point reform agenda, Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi said “The gap in India has always been between promise and implementation. There is a need for democratisation of law schools and of legal education. We need to make the legal education curriculum multi-disciplinary, creative and flexible, which is currently rigid, inflexible, pedantic and stereotypical. There is an urgent need to integrate these and other areas into a national and uniform course module.”

Of the many recommendations, Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi particularly emphasised about the stratification of law colleges and its adverse impact on learning ecosystem. “There is institutionalised mediocrity and a dilution of academic standards manifested in many of the law schools, not having adequate and qualified faculty, law libraries, lack of e-resources, even the lack of conduct of regular classes and examinations. Mushrooming of law schools leading to mass production of incompetent lawyers across the country has contributed to the dilution of standards both in the legal education and profession.”

In this regard, he emphasised on the urgent need to close down such law colleges so as to maintain minimum standards. There are around 500 such law schools, which are profit-making business endeavours and are mediocre, dubious, and sub-standard. In fact, the Bar Council of India has been taking efforts to raise the quality of legal education by precisely recognising the importance of ensuring accountability of the law schools when it comes to ensuring quality, while promoting excellence.

Mr. Justice U.U. Lalit, Judge, Supreme Court of India, delivered the Presidential Address, in which he pointed out, “The unprecedented circumstances posed by COVID-19 has prompted change across the legal profession and legal scholars. The biggest transformation the pandemic has led to is in the significant increase in the use of technology. The Pandemic made us improve our digital acumen and adapt in terms of virtual hearings, e-fines and e-conferences. For students digitisation has made it possible to receive knowledge, imparted by renowned academicians globally. It had bridged the gap posed by geographic constraints by altering the mode through which education has traditionally been imparted”.

Hon’ble Mr. Justice U.U. Lalit further underlined the significance of technology and said, “Law schools should enable the students of today and professionals of tomorrow to adapt, master and enhance the manner in which they can use technology. The theory of law is empty without the practice of it. Law schools must be able to bridge the gap between academics and practical application of the law by inviting practicing lawyers to take courses, increase the engagement with the Bar and the Bench and move a step closer towards a holistic engagement of academia and practice. Members of the Bar and the Bench should involve in teaching to refresh their own concepts and in giving back to educational institutions. For students, learning from legal luminaries provides an invaluable insight into legal principles and practical know how.”

Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi also expressed the concern that there is a lack of law teachers, which should be addressed by the public-private institutions by hiring highly qualified and well-published faculty members. He noted that internships and placements have to be part of a national scheme rather than being ad hoc as they are today. “What is needed is an organised, computerised national plan with a systematic and objective evaluation scheme.” Talking about reform, he added that members of the legal profession, including the judges, as part of their social responsibility and commitment, must take certain number of classes in law schools, physically or virtually, which will reduce the distance between law in books and law in practice. The Bar Council’s role in Legal Education has also to be reimagined and restructured. The Bar Council must consult a broad-based legal education committee constituted together by the UGC and the Bar Council. The Bar Council must set up a separate and an independent National Council for legal education, he said.

Mr. Justice U.U. Lalit also added that students of this generation have the opportunity to embrace technology at a young age, which helps them reap the best in terms of knowledge, be that in obtaining the finest of insights or the strongest of the conceptual foundations. “It is only when students have clear conceptual clarity, the academic freedom to interpret those concepts and practical wisdom to apply those concepts to changing times, that we will have a strong Bar and Bench,” he added.

Professor (Dr.) C. Raj Kumar, Founding Vice Chancellor, O.P. Jindal Global University and Founding Dean of Jindal Global Law School said, “Jindal Global Law School of O.P. Jindal Global University strongly believes in the need for reimagining and transforming the future of law schools and legal education. But this reimagination and transformation has to happen based upon the shared understanding and appreciation of global issues that law schools face in the context of COVID-19. Many of the issues faced by legal education and the legal profession in India resonate with the issues and concerns all over the world. It is these common challenges, which made this Conference a highly appropriate forum for over 170 thought-leaders from 35 counties and 6 continents to join hands and deliberate on the present and future of legal education. The future of the legal profession including the quality of lawyers and judges will depend on the foundations of learning that will be established by law schools. All of us need to have a strong stake in ensuring the quality of legal education, which will shape the future of the legal profession.”

Professor (Dr.) S.G. Sreejith, Executive Dean, Jindal Global Law School said in his concluding address, “The Conference has taught us many things. First, that technology is a means to achieve human excellence and that we should explore the possibilities of this human artifact. Second, in crises like the Pandemic, state becomes—the Ark of Noah—the essential sanctuary, and its machineries a means for our “soul-force”. Third, In the darkness of deprivations, which can be widespread during a crisis like the Pandemic, constitutional guarantees become the torch light for the people and judiciary their protector”.

The Valedictory Session was held as part of the Global Virtual Conference, “Reimagining & Transforming the Future of Law Schools and Legal Education: Confluence of Ideas During & Beyond COVID-19” organized by the Jindal Global Law School of O.P. Jindal Global University during 25-27 November, 2020.