Legal Education in Transition: Trends and Implications
Over the last twenty years, the practice of law in India has changed more rapidly and comprehensively than in any comparable period in history. Technological advancements and globalisation have changed what it means to be a successful lawyer and what it takes to become one. Today, clients expect attorneys to be tech-savvy, specialized and prompt. They also require lawyers to be more geographically diverse, with either the ability to work on matters across state and national borders or the professional contacts to get the job done. In these times of change, Indian law schools and legal educators face an uphill battle to instil in graduates the skills and acumen needed to succeed in this dynamic environment. Colleges and universities have responded to this challenge by implementing a whole host of measures, some familiar and others novel, to compliment traditional forms of classroom teaching.
Measures for Practical Skill Development
Several law colleges now prescribe client counselling, mediation and conciliation courses for final year law students. These clinical courses expose students to real world scenarios and, through simulated exercises, help them hone their skills in client handling, relationship building and dispute resolution. The long term aim of these programs is to produce graduates that possess the soft skills of ‘lawyering’ that lawyers previously learned ‘on the job’. Colleges also require their students to complete internships during semester breaks. Some, for instance, mandate five to eight internships during the five-year law course. These internships give students a chance to learn the nuances of legal research and drafting in a practical setting, while simultaneously preparing them for the rigors of professional life. During these internships, students interact with prospective employers and their clients, and may also have the opportunity of attending court hearings and arbitration proceedings.
Technology Enabled and Technology Educated
Educators and students are increasingly aware of the inevitable clash of technology with traditional legal practice. With this awareness grows the demand for a more technology-immersive law school experience. Universities have met this demand by introducing specialised and technology focussed subjects to the curriculum. These include elective or diploma courses on cyber security law, data protection, artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology. These courses allow colleges to collaborate with each other as well as with foreign institutions to offer students a diverse array of technical courses and materials. Colleges are also integrating technology into the everyday lives of students, requiring them to use proprietary software to collect reading material, submit assignments, undertake research and (much to students’ dismay) even record attendance. They are also launching tech-focussed research centres, clinics and programs, with the aim of encouraging curiosity and multi-disciplinary study in these fields.
Adopt & Adapt or Perish
Law schools are today at an inflection point, where they can either choose to embrace the transformation that is taking over the legal profession or continue with traditional modes and practices that no longer fit the shifting needs of the Indian market. By making the right choice, these institutions can open a world of possibilities to their students.