‘Problems and Challenges before Law Teachers in India’
A law teacher plays a vital role in establishing sound legal education system in a country. The law education did not receive much needed support from the policy makers of India in the post-independence era. It is high time to ponder over the present problems and challenges of legal education. In the light of global competition, the existing legal education system needs to be revamped. The focus of the paper is on the challenges faced in the teaching and learning process in the Law Colleges/Schools. So far the Law Colleges/Schools have not emphasized on educating the practical skills of the students. There is a trend to increase teaching practical skills to law students. The important skill necessary for the students is to enhance the ability to learn new knowledge. The Law Teachers tend to focus on assessing a final product instead of focusing on ‘how do they’ get to end product. The Law Colleges/Schools could improve their students’ learning by implementing good practices to assess that learning. The Law Colleges/ Schools can do this by critiquing students and providing them feedback through effective assessment methods. Introducing self assessment techniques can help the students to improve their skills and at the same time it can provide the teacher with more information to assess their students’ learning. By introducing and continuing the students with training in skills and using more effective assessment techniques, the teacher will improve the life long learning skills of law students and make them expert learners. The main focus of a legal education should be to make the students expert learners.
There is a general feeling that legal education is in peril and law teachers have failed to focus on adequately preparing the students for the practice of law and the lawyer’s role in society. Indian Legal Education system has not focused on practical skills and effective assessment models to make law students better prepared for the practice of law. In this context, this article tries to analyze the problems and challenges before law teachers in India. The legal education in India is regulated by various authorities namely: Bar Council of India, affiliating university, State Government, and University Grants Commission. The problems and challenges facing law teacher in India have been time and again studied. Law Commission of India 14th Report (1958) and 184th Report (2002), National Knowledge Commission Report in 2007 and National Legal Knowledge Council (NLKC) and the observation of Supreme Court in BAR COUNCIL OF INDIA v BONNIE FOI LAW COLLEGE & ORS, apart from other decisions, have some relevance on the problems and challenges of law teachers. There are various institutions imparting legal education in India namely: private law colleges, private law colleges coming under grant-in-aid, government law colleges, National Law Universities, Deemed Universities, private universities, Global Universities etc. I have rendered service as a whole time law teacher in a Private Law College and National Law University and now serving in a Government Law College. In my personal experience, the problems of law teachers can be broadly divided into two groups namely; one relating to service conditions and other benefits, and other relating to teaching and learning focusing on the role of legal education in improving, legal profession, legal system, and society.
The social setting for law teaching and research in India
According to Prof, Upendra Baxi, the generally known facts concerning legal education are these. First, there has been a phenomenal quantitative expansion of entrants to legal education. Second, the bulk of LL.B and LL.M education is not whole-time but part-time. Third, the bulk of LL.B education is imparted by law colleges, with poor teaching and library resources. Fourth, the number of university departments in law, although on the increase, is comparatively smaller than in other social science fields, and the law departments are generally low-priority items for funding. Fifth, mass education in law has meant decline over control of admissions, decline in standards of teaching and evaluation, and a pervasive demoralization of full-time law teachers, whose number is still smaller than that of part-time law teachers. Sixth, the expansion of legal education has brought with it the adoption of regional languages as medium of instruction and examination in the LL.B and even LL.M level. In the present context, some of these facts have changed. Most of the law teachers complain that substantial time is spent on class preparation and other administrative works and they do not get adequate quality time for research to do publication which is essential for promotion, if already appointed and if not, for appointment as whole time teacher. According to Prof,Upendra Baxi, the role of law teachers in India are,
i) A group of law teachers feels that the primary role obligation of an academic lawyer is to renovate and restructure Indian legal education.
ii) Some law teachers feel that their primary vocation is to teach well, to be good teachers.
iii) A section of law teachers includes those who believe that good teaching entails research and writing effort. Teachers who so believe combine teaching with research by writing treatises and papers in the field of their teaching.
iv) There are a few law teachers who feel their primary role obligation is to specialize in one subject-area, and to contribute substantially to scholarly literature in their subjects over time.
v) A handful of law teachers exposed to overseas influence, especially American law schools and scholarship, believe their role requires pedagogic innovation as well as off beat, non-traditional legal writing.
Making law students expert learners
The law colleges have failed to train students to be expert learners. In order to better prepare students for the practice of law, a more effective formative assessment in doctrinal courses, lawyering skills courses and clinics may be used. A law teacher can use the formative assessment process to improve the meta-cognitive skills of law students so they can transfer their learning to the new and novel situations they face in the practice of law. The goal of formative assessment should be to move legal education away from a focus on an end product to the underlying process of developing these products.
To make law students practice-ready, most law teachers would agree that graduates need to leave law colleges with some minimal competencies, including critical thinking, problem solving, legal analysis, legal research, writing, and communication. The students come from a wide range of learning experiences and educational backgrounds, with most having little or no experience or skills in those minimum competencies. Law colleges need to teach them how to continue to draw upon their learning experiences during the practice of law to new situations they will certainly encounter. This requires that law colleges move the students from novice learners to expert learners.
For lawyers and law students, being an expert learner require that they know what knowledge they have, what knowledge they lack, what they will need to learn, how to obtain that knowledge, how to apply that knowledge, and how to know that they are getting the right knowledge. These are all meta-cognitive skills. It is the process of "thinking about thinking" and the ability to self-regulate one's learning with the goal of transferring learned skills to new situations.
The Carnegie Report emphasizes the need to make students better self-regulated learners and suggests improving teaching of metacognitive skills
when it states:[P]rofessional schools cannot directly teach students to be competent in any and all situations; rather, the essential goal of professional schools must be to form practitioners who are aware of what it takes to become competent in their chosen domain and to equip them with the reflective capacity and motivation to pursue genuine expertise. They must become "meta-cognitive" about their own learning. One way to improve the meta-cognitive strategies of students is to attack and critique their learning processes instead of simply assessing the end product. The most effective way to attack the process is through the formative assessment process.
In doctrinal classes, many professors use some form of what is known as the Socratic Method or Case Method with the hope that the students will eventually mimic the reasoning and analytical skills developed through the questioning inherent in this method. The students frequently do not know that the questioning is meant to develop their synthesis, analogical, inductive, and deductive reasoning skills. Because professors do not usually detail or explicitly discuss the goals of this method, they are engaging in implicit teaching-the students are simply expected to understand the types of reasoning without the professor ever telling them what they are doing.
Formative assessment is specifically intended to provide feedback during the learning process to improve the students' learning. Formative assessment tools used in law colleges/schools include mid-term exams, feedback on drafts of student papers, and short reflective papers throughout the course. No assessment is beneficial to the student without quality feedback from the professor. Simply stating that something is correct or incorrect is insufficient without providing some information on how to correct the mistake, the reason for the mistake, or a good example of what was expected. Research suggests that feedback should be given in a timely manner, detail the strengths and weaknesses of the students' work, offer suggestions for improvement, and involve praise and constructive criticism. Law teachers can use the information taken from the formative assessment to self-reflect and self-assess their own teaching. If students successfully complete an assignment but arrive at the end product improperly, the students are not likely to correct the learning process that led to successful completion. Without understanding the internal thinking of the students, the professor is unable to correct any process errors. One way to understand students' thought processes is to ask process questions as part of the assignment. These formative assessments of students should be made throughout the year.
In traditional law colleges this kind of continuous evaluation is hardly done. But in National Law Universities this kind of assessment is carried out effectively. In conducting such assessments the teacher has to face some kind of unwanted influences.
The legal research and writing instructions and technology
The course called ‘Legal Method’ is not introduced in 3 year law course in some of the universities. But in all the 5 year integrated law courses, this course is compulsorily taught. This course instruction needs to be improved. The changes in legal research methods and instruction will certainly come with the increasingly rapid acceleration in the amount and kinds of legal research materials being produced. Another reason to anticipate significant changes in the way legal research and writing will be taught is, of course, the development of computerized legal research such as LEXIS and WEST LAW. A number of law colleges have obtained access to LEXIS, and this has already substantially altered their research and writing programmes. In majority of the private law colleges, access to such paid online legal data base is not available. But now it is compulsory for all colleges to have internet connectivity under the scheme provided by the government in association with BSNL.
Should law teachers be allowed to practice?
This question is still a controversial one. There are arguments which support and oppose this demand. Some literature is also available on this debate. One group argues that law teachers should be allowed to practice so they can better prepare the students for law practice. A whole time law teacher with law practice is better equipped to train the students. Other group argues that the whole time teachers may not be interested or comfortable with law practice that is why they have joined teaching profession. But it is high time to think over this issue and arrive at right decision for the establishment of quality bar and bench. It is submitted that a law teacher may not be forced to practice but at least he should be allowed to carry out some kind of alternative practice engagements like legal consultancy and clinical practice.
It is generally believed that the law colleges and law teachers have failed to better prepare the students for law practice. Some have questioned the role of law colleges in the sense that the law colleges are not confined to prepare students for law practice. The main aim of the legal education is to spread legal awareness and establish sound legal system along with quality bar and bench. The law teachers have been neglected by not even giving benefits on par with teachers belonging to other subjects. National Knowledge Commission has recommended for improvement of service conditions of law teachers. The authorities have to seriously implement these recommendations. The law teachers can positively respond to the general criticism by improving teaching and learning process. By making the law students life long expert learners, teachers can help students to transfer learning experience to face new and novel situations. In the end one should keep in mind the statement of Dr Radhakrishnan that ‘one who dares to teach shall never cease to learn.’
*** Dr Rajendrakumar Hittanagi, Assistant Professor of Law, Government Law College, Hassan, Karnataka - firstname.lastname@example.org
Baxi Upendra, Socio-legal Research in India-A Programschrift, 2nd Edn, ILI, New Delhi, 2001, at p.644.
ANTHONY NIEDWIECKI, TEACHING FOR LIFELONG LEARNING: IMPROVING THE METACOGNITIVE SKILLS OF LAW STUDENTS THROUGH MORE EFFECTIVE FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT TECHNIQUES (available at (http://heinonline.org)
EMILY ZIMMERMAN SHOULD LAW PROFESSORS HAVE A CONTINUING PRACTICE EXPERIENCE (CPE) REQUIREMENT? ( available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2165551
Robin K Mills, Legal Research Instruction In Law Schools the State of the Art, 2nd Edn, ILI, New Delhi, 2001, at p. 633.
# Paper presented by the author at ‘International Conference on International Environmental Law, Trade Law, Information Technology Law and Legal Education’ on March 2-3,2013, organized by Faculty of Law, BHU,Varanasi.
# Special Leave Petition (NO.) 22337 OF 2008
The author can be reached at: email@example.com