Date:06/08/2007 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2007/08/06/stories/2007080650041000.htm
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Opinion - Leader Page Articles

Globalisation and legal education

C. Raj Kumar

Globalisation has posed multiple challenges to the future of legal education in India butit has provided an opportunity to challenge the status quo, which is an essential condition for reform.

Globalisation has been a subject of debates and discussions from numerous perspectives. There is no doubt that globalisation has profound implications for the future of higher education worldwide. While the debate relating to foreign universities coming into India or private investment in higher education is very important, it is critical to examine how India as a country will face up to the competition posed by institutions worldwide in attracting Indian students for purs uing educational opportunities abroad. Inevitably, the need for raising academic standards, creating a better research environment, developing sound infrastructure, formulating good governance models, creating better career opportunities, and promoting professional advancement of academics are all central issues for formulating the necessary policies for higher education.

Within this larger debate relating to reform of the higher education sector in India, there is an urgent need to examine the situation with regard to legal education and how globalisation is going to impact the agenda for it. There are four important consequences for legal education: global curriculum, global faculty, global degrees, and global interaction. These deserve public attention.

A few decades back, law schools in India could do well as long as their curriculum was focussed on Indian law and issues relating to the country’s legal system. While there was some limited impetus to the study of international and comparative law, the larger focus was primarily on issues relating to the Indian legal system. This was, of course, necessary and ought to have been the approach. There is indeed greater scope for improvement in promoting excellence in teaching and research relating to Indian law and to addressing the challenges facing the legal system, including the need for establishing a society that respects the rule of law and meets the challenges of globalisation.

However, new and emerging law schools cannot afford to limit their focus to teaching and research on issues relating to Indian law. In fact, the appetite of Indian law students for understanding international and comparative law has significantly increased over the years, given their participation in international moot competitions that range from issues such as maritime law to humanitarian law to dispute resolution. The most challenging task is to strike a proper balance to ensure that students are taught a fair mix of courses that give them knowledge and training in Indian law, but at the same time prepare them for facing the challenges of globalisation, whereby domestic legal mechanisms interact with both international and foreign legal systems. This interaction is going to deepen in the years to come and our law schools must prepare themselves to face this challenge posed by globalisation.

Hiring of good faculty has been a challenge in law schools in India and abroad. Generally, the financial incentives offered by the private sector both in India and abroad are far more attractive than those available in the public sector, including law schools, for good lawyers to make a commitment to academia. But it is possible to attract good lawyers to academia by promoting a range of educational reforms and institutional initiatives, including better financial incentives. Globalisation has indeed provided new opportunities to address some of the challenges in this regard. Issues relating to the Indian legal system are not only taught and researched in India but also in many other parts of the world. Growing numbers of Indian lawyers and scholars are involved in this effort. There is need for having a global focus in hiring faculty for Indian law schools. Of course, success will depend on the schools’ ability to provide the right kind of intellectual environment and financial and other incentives for Indian or foreign scholars to teach and pursue research in India and to contribute to its growth story.

Indian law schools need to consider innovation when it comes to the degree programmes offered by them. At present, there are two models: the three-year Bachelor of Law (LLB) programme offered by many universities in India; and the five-year integrated B.A. (Hons)-cum-LLB programmes offered by the National Law Schools in India starting with the one in Bangalore. It will be useful to look at the experience of the United States and others in examining whether Indian law schools should consider offering the Juris Doctor (JD) programme. The starting of the JD programme in the U.S. is largely credited to Christopher Columbus Langdell when he was Dean of Harvard Law School during 1870-95, although the University of Chicago was the first law school to offer a JD degree. Increasingly, many parts of the common law world are beginning to offer JD programmes; law schools in Australia, Canada, and Hong Kong are in the forefront. Obviously, there is an emerging trend in favour of JD programmes.

There could be many sound justifications for offering a JD programme in India. One of the important reasons for starting an integrated B.A. LLB programme was to attract some of the brightest school leavers to the legal profession and to raise the standards of the Bar by providing sound legal education. This objective was indeed achieved to some extent, but the context and circumstances have changed. Law is increasingly becoming a preferred career not only among school leavers, but also among students holding other professional degrees. For example, there is a growing interest among engineers to study law and this is likely to increase over the years. There is also a growing interest among students who have pursued a liberal arts undergraduate education in history, sociology, economics, political science, and other disciplines in pursuing legal studies. Under the existing five-year integrated law programme in the National Law Schools, it will be a long term commitment (3+5 years) on the part of other degree holders to study law, unless they decide to enter one of the three-year LLB programmes offered by many universities. In this context, it will be useful to examine whether a graduate entry JD programme can be established in India. It is relevant to note that starting 2008, Melbourne Law School, one of Australia’s oldest and most reputed law schools will offer only a graduate entry JD programme because it scrapped its LLB programme last year. The rationale for this has been articulated thus: “The School firmly believes that the Melbourne JD, as designed and taught by the School, represents the right response to the challenge of providing the highest quality legal education in the demanding and competitive international environment of the 21st century.”

The law schools of the future ought to provide academic space for engaging in teaching and cutting edge research on issues of global significance. The institutions ought to constantly reinvent themselves for facing the challenges of globalisation through exchange and collaboration programmes. This has different implications for faculty, students, and for the development of teaching and research programmes. In this regard, it is important to note that token arrangements of collaboration may not be helpful to the institutions involved. There is a need to develop a shared understanding of the nature of exchange and collaborative programmes being established for them to be effective and beneficial for all the parties concerned. Globalisation has posed multiple challenges to the future of legal education in India but it has provided an opportunity to challenge the status quo, which is an essential condition for seeking any reform.

(The writer is Associate Professor of Law at City University of Hong Kong and Chief Executive Officer of Legal Education and Research Society. www.jgls.org)

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