Reforming Legal Education
The legal system of Bangladesh is being called upon to develop tools to compel the state to abide by the social justice mandate of the constitution and to promote the human rights of the underprivileged section of the society. The new statute book is rich in progressive laws but lacks a method of translating those laws into real benefits to the millions of people who most need the legal system’s support. Misgovernance and corruption eat into every department of the government, making the life of the marginalised even more difficult. Implementation of laws in Bangladesh is unimaginative, unequal, indifferent, and unjust. The resulting climate is one of the disillusionment, frustration, and violence, which are fast threatening the very foundations of the Republic.
Legal education in Bangladesh regularly resists change of any sort. If the rule of law is to be part of democratic culture and if human rights and social justice as envisioned in our constitution are to be respected there is no alternative except to abandon inappropriate methods of teaching law. It is in the classrooms of the law faculties and law colleges that the future lawyers, judges, and legislators, human rights activists and social reforms are nurtured and groomed.
A change in the quality, content, and complexions of legal education is an urgent social necessity.
Until recently, legal education in Bangladesh was not perceived as an educational and intellectual pursuit but only as a means of imparting certain principles and provisions of law to enable students upon graduation to become juniors to ‘senior lawyers’.
At present legal education is imparted and law degrees are awarded in three channels.
Four public universities — the University of Chittagong, Dhaka , and Rajshahi, and the Islamic University of Kushitia — now offer full-time four-year undergraduate LL.B (Hons) courses and one year Master of Laws (LLM) courses. In addition, some private universities established under the Private University Act 1992 have a significant number of law students in their undergraduate LL.B (Hons) course. Pre-qualification to admission in the LL.B (Hons) course in the universities requires completing Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exams with fairly good grades and passing the admission test. Competition for admission to the public universities is stiff while that for private universities is less so.
Law colleges are the biggest source of lawyers in Bangladesh . At present around one hundred law colleges affiliated with the National University of Bangladesh offer part-time two-year LL.B (Pass) courses. One can pursue study in law colleges after graduating from secondary school, without any requirement of examination and the like. Law college students are usually unemployed ordinary graduates having nothing else to do, and occasionally people spending their leisure time. Today this kind of legal education adds little to the society.
Local campuses of overseas universities award foreign law degrees in Bangladesh . These institutions have no connection with the changing needs of the legal system of Bangladesh ; they merely provide a shortcut to become a barrister. Many practising advocates, retired police and army officers, and persons from other professions attend these centres to obtain an overseas law degree and then become a barrister.
In the remainder of this article I do not discuss overseas distance programs but the government should scrutinise the quality, contents, and degrees offered by them.
Selecting students via written test in the universities and without any admission test in the law colleges is not satisfactory as there is no option to examine the applicant’s analytical skill, writing ability, attitude, and vision to study law. In the end, law degrees are conferred upon students who are not qualified to receive them and are not committed to use the law as a tool for social justice and reforms. The use of law colleges as a part-time leisure place without any vision should be stopped immediately for the nation’s good.
Lacking proper facilities and support, research facilities and teaching materials are a major impediment to improving the quality of law teaching in Bangladesh . The country also lacks mechanisms to ensure accountability and motivation for teachers to strive for teaching excellence. In addition, appointment of law teachers is flawed.
It is apparent that legal education in Bangladesh has little practical orientation. Apprenticeship in a senior lawyer’s chamber for six months before the Bar examination is not enough to equip graduates with the necessary skills and knowledge.
The curriculum followed in the public universities and law colleges is too traditional, archaic, and to a certain extent obsolete.
The traditional method of teaching law does not adequately prepare a law graduate to practice law and to understand the role of a lawyer in the society in a developing country like ours.
The predominant assessment technique employed in Bangladesh bears little relationship to the qualities and skills required to become a sensible lawyer and innovative legal researcher. The evaluation process discourages innovation, critical thinking, and an interdisciplinary approach to learning law.
The student can achieve ‘brilliant results’ without reading a law journal and making no connection to recent legal developments.
To accommodate the challenges posed by the ICT and utilisation of ICT for legal education like video conferencing, online live class web-based legal research is yet to be placed in legal education in Bangladesh .
Again, most of the law students are not in a position to utilise the resources available in English, and at the same time instruction in English is very scarce and not satisfactory.
A sound system of legal education able to challenge injustice is a sina qua non for establishing social justice and social reform. If there is any area in which reform is badly needed, if there is any subject which has a strategic role to play in the development of the country, if there is any discipline which needs urgent radicalisation, it is law and legal education.
The lack of social relevancy and a humanistic approach in the curriculum alienates and suppresses various values, ethics, gender perspectives, and views of minority students. Courses should be added that address the issues of gender, cultural migration, and minority and indigenous people. By allowing the students to work with people of other cultures, we can equip them to revisit their responsibilities to serve the marginalised section of the society.
A new law curriculum should be integrated with other disciplines. It is time to appreciate that economics, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, literature, and psychology are essential to the education of the future law graduates. At a minimum, budding lawyers must be taught economics of law lawsuits, and lawyering.
Law faculties may also include the perspectives of other academic disciplines by offering joint degree programs with other faculties like joint LL.B (Hons)/M.B.A or LL.B (Hons)/M.A.
Another important feature of a change in curriculum would be creating links between the study of domestic law and international law. And in this respect international human rights law and obligations should be associated with all subject areas of law as a system of values, not just a system of abstract rights. Law faculties must also offer courses in comparative legal systems and international conflicts of law to give students an understanding of legal traditions other than common law such as civil law, religious law, customary law, and mixed legal systems.
There are several teaching methods and no single method may be sufficient.
Hence, without a change in the students’ selection and teachers’ appointment procedures, mere changes in teaching method would not be successful. In this respect, our law faculties may introduce rigorous tests like the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in the United States to select students. For teachers’ appointment, teaching ability and research quality should be the prime concern; otherwise a bleak future is awaiting for our law faculties.
Mandatory practical skills training under the umbrella of the clinical method should be introduced in legal education. The training would cover following broad objectives: (1) cultivate the ‘legal mind’ of each student by increasing a student’s ability to analyse issues from a legal perspective to simply develop the ability to ‘think like a lawyer.’ This involves developing the capacity to analyse complex facts, recognise fine distinctions and identify the legal principles applicable to a situation to get the essence of legal problems; (2) acquaint the students with the lawyer process and develop skills of advocacy; (3) expose students to the social reality and instil a sense of societal responsibility in professional work; (4) make one aware of the limits of legal system and appreciate alternative lawyering skills and; (5) develop a sense of professional ethics.
Law teachers should be permitted to participate in some amount of research, counselling at chambers, or acting as a consultant to senior counsel. Similarly, senior lawyers having academic aptitude should join the law faculty to conduct the practical classes.
Traditional assessment techniques should be changed by introduction of the problem/case-orientated question, the open-book brain-storming question, and the analytical and innovative factual question with legal problems, along with constant evaluation by regular class tests, tutorial, assignment, and short papers on critical issues of law.
Students should be encouraged to engage in field studies and research on communities so they may understand the problems faced by the communities and propose legal solutions. Students should also be encouraged to develop alternative strategies to serve the community and humanity at large.
Legal education must be diversified enough to accommodate a wide range of cultural views and thereby ensure a balanced representation of various minority groups.
In this age of globalisation, new challenges have emerged concerning security, the environment, health, labour protection, and governance.
As legal educators, we have the responsibility to prepare our student to participate in this process, to solve the global problems facing the global community. Providing opportunities for experimental learning, such as clinics and externships, with international human rights organisation like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations specialised agencies that offer hands-on experience in cases involving both domestic and international issues is essential to prepare students for the reality of an interconnected world.
Comparative legal systems, the regional and international law on global problems, and ethical, human rights, and humanitarian law should be reflected in legal education. Whether we can change the process or not, what is needed is a profoundly different approach, one that advocates a qualitative change rather than a quantitative change in legal education.