A virtual academic conference hosted by the law college recently to coincide with Constitution Day discussed the future of legal education and the role of law schools. A host of eminent speakers from the legal fraternity addressed the topic and raised some important issues.
By Abhilash Kumar Singh
The Jindal Global Law School hosted a virtual conference from November 25-27, 2020, on the theme “Reimagining & Transforming the Future of Law Schools and Legal Education: Confluence of Ideas During & Beyond COVID-19”. The theme was based on the current reality that law schools around the world have had to react swiftly to minimise disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in the last few months. Educational leaders, faced with multiple challenges, had to simultaneously cater to the needs of their stakeholders and show immense resilience during this unprecedented crisis.
The speakers ranged from the Union law minister to several prominent judges and lawyers. Here’s what they had to say:
Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union minister for law and justice, focussed on the role of technology. He said: “Technology is going to play a very crucial role in the future of law education and India must play a leading role in the international legal system. During the pandemic, it was the digital ecosystem which kept the world together. Be it the Internet, IT-enabled platforms or mobile phones to make digital connectivity simpler and effective, we continued to function in India through these digital systems.
“The global pandemic has created havoc with the lives, health and safety of people but it has also given us a lot of opportunity. It has created many challenges which require legal solutions. Though this transformation is important in the digital ecosystem, the future of legal education must focus on technology. Technology creates opportunity but it also poses challenges especially for regulation.
“Law Schools need more adoption of technology related legal education to prepare students for a successful career. It is very important that these challenges must be taught in law schools. Indian students are second to none but they also need proper exposure in global platforms. Understanding of technology related laws is a very important aspect which law schools must focus on.”
Justice UU Lalit, judge, Supreme Court of India, who delivered the presidential address, also used technology as his theme. He said: “Unprecedented circumstances posed by Covid-19 have 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”.
Justice Gita Mittal, chief justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, spoke about the space for women in the legal profession. She said: “While the number of women graduating from leading law schools and working at junior levels in the legal profession is equal to their male counterparts, this does not translate to equal representation at workplace or later at higher positions. Their upward mobility is hampered by systemic discrimination.
“Gender diversity is particularly significant in the legal profession where the presence of women plays a critical role in upholding the ideal of equality, fairness and impartiality of the justice system especially amongst disadvantaged groups.
“Out of the 673 sitting judges of the High Courts in India, only 73 are women. I happen to be the only chief justice amongst the 28 High Courts of India. In the 70 years since the Supreme Court was established, only eight women have been appointed as judges. Currently, out of the 30 judges in the Supreme Court, only two are women. Gender biases are widely prevalent in law firms as well. Clearly women remain severely under-represented in the legal profession.”
Cyril Shroff, managing partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, which is one of India’s leading law firms, spoke on the contemporary skills required in the legal profession. He said: “Modern legal education must incorporate emotional intelligence along with legal knowledge and skills with personal effectiveness and an entrepreneurial mindset.
“Law education must also focus on technology, social media skills, data analytics, data security and design thinking. The pre-pandemic model of law education is no longer the default position but will evolve into a hybrid system where faculty and students will become a borderless community.”
Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, senior advocate, Supreme Court of India, and member of parliament, called for transformation of legal education in India. He said: “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.
“The gap in India has always been between promise and implementation. There is a need for democratisation of law schools and 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.”
There was no better way to sum up the conference and its theme on the state of legal education in India than in the words of Justice Gita Mittal. She said: “Students studying law today are torchbearers and represent the future generation of lawyers who would contribute to the strengthening of legal systems around the world. Their role in shaping and improving society is crucial, thus, comprehensive training is required.”
“A lawyer is not only looked up to by the members of the society as a bridge between them and justice delivery mechanism but also as an idol who leads the society towards prosperity and peace,” she added.
—The author is Advocate, Supreme Court of India