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Published on Dec 07, 2018
Indian law schools need to look at the positive aspects of the legal education systems in the US and UK and integrate them into their indigenous systems.
Why major overhaul is needed in India’s legal education assessment system

The legal education system in public universities in India has come under scrutiny of late at the hands of a group of law students of the University of Mumbai. The students filed a petition in the Bombay High Court against the revised assessment pattern for law colleges. The bone of contention was the notice issued by the Academic Council of the University on 24 August 2018, changing the evaluation pattern to 60:40. This meant that 60 marks out of 100 of their subject grade would be assessed through an end-term written examination, while the remaining 40 would be accounted for through continuous assessment in the form of regular assignments, presentations, classroom discussions and periodic tests.

The Bombay High Court then passed an interim order on 29 October 2018 staying the proposed changes in the grade pattern. The court held that though the proposed system of continuous assessment was a step in the right direction, its untimely implementation in the midst of the academic session, along with lack of trained faculty, was impractical. As a result, the 100: 0 assessment pattern for the students continues, wherein their entire grade is based on a single end-term examination in each course. This incident has drawn attention to the fact that the assessment pattern for legal education in India needs to be reviewed.

In the UK, students can pursue legal education right after high school and earn a law degree within three years. Upon the successful completion of six core courses in the first year, the students enter the vocational phase and must choose between a career as a solicitor or a barrister. This stage of legal education is further divided into a vocational training course and an apprenticeship with a practicing lawyer. In England, it is considered pragmatic to provide law students with practical skills which complement their legal knowledge and thereby provide them with a holistic understanding of the profession.

Legal education in the United States, on the other hand, begins at the graduate level. Since law students in the US must have an undergraduate degree, they generally have a more diverse and balanced education than British law students. Although most US law school graduates have a basic knowledge of the law, they are not very conversant with the practical aspects of the legal practice. The reason for this is that, the only hands-on exposure they receive is through the occasional summer internship, giving them lesser practical experience and leaving them unprepared for the workspace. Specialisation in a particular area of law can be obtained through graduate law degree programmes or continuing education of local bar associations. The English model of legal education, in contrast to the American system, gives weightage to apprenticeship and practical experience and places much less emphasis on pure academic learning.

However, the difference in the approach to legal education in the UK and the US is also displayed in their separate methods of academic learning. Classroom teaching in the UK primarily consists of lectures and tutorials with case studies seldom being used. This leads to British students being more passive. Alternatively, legal education in the United States is based mainly on case studies which require students to read and analyse cases and discuss them amongst their peers using the Socratic Method. This method of instruction engages the class in deep conversation and debate, involving spontaneous thinking, rather than resting upon rote learning. Therefore, law students in the US are constantly encouraged to think logically and analyse.

In India, law aspirants have the choice of pursuing an LLB either after high school for a period of five years or after graduation for a period of three years. A method of concurrent internal and external assessments is currently being followed by some private law schools such as Symbiosis and Jindal Global Law School as well as the National Law Universities (NLUs) and Delhi University. While the Delhi University follows a 75:25 pattern of external and internal assessments, Symbiosis follows the the ratio of 60:40 for core law courses. Internal evaluation consists of projects, case analysis, essays, presentations, quizzes, drafting, moot courts, learning logs/diaries and small class tests. The method of internal evaluation differs from college to college.

However, internships, though encouraged, are not mandatory and students undertake voluntary summer internships which are not regulated by any governing authority. In contrast, The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), regarded as one of the country’s best medical colleges, allocates an entire year of its programme for the students to intern in different branches of medicine on a rotating basis, emphasising the importance given to practical training during the academic session. Similarly, students pursuing Chartered Accountancy (CA) are required to complete an articleship over a period of three years between different stages of the CA exams, regulated by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). Hence, law, which is also a professional degree like CA and medicine, necessitates practical experience substantiated with theoretical knowledge.

The assessment pattern in India’s legal education system requires a major overhaul. Indian law schools need to look at the positive aspects of the legal education systems in the US and UK and integrate them into their indigenous systems. Case studies, continuous assessments, vocational training and mandatory apprenticeships should be incorporated into the assessment pattern with at least 40 percent weightage being given to these. To successfully implement this, law faculty needs to be trained and encouraged to conduct classroom debates and discussions. Students must be made to analyse, interpret and present their views and inputs on various landmark judgements to enhance their communication, analytical and interpersonal skills. Practical on-field learning, complementing classroom teaching must be advanced by colleges, allowing students to spend a significant amount of the academic year engaged in legal apprenticeships regulated by the Bar Council of India.

The above changes would not only increase the legal students’ employability but also facilitate a practical understanding of various theories imparted to them in the classroom. It is, therefore, essential for the country’s legal fraternity to step in and help facilitate quality legal education. This could be done by taking up teaching assignments and providing law students with ample apprenticeship opportunities, thereby helping to produce skilful and knowledgeable law graduates.

The writer is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai
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