Revitalizing clinical legal education

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Clinical legal education is to a law student what a session in the laboratory is to a science student. Clinical legal education serves as the critical link between theory and practice.

The global movement on clinical legal education has achieved great success, especially in the US, yet legal clinics in India are still at an initial stage. Clinical legal work here is mostly done by a few social activists, and at a handful of progressive law schools.

At the forefront of legal clinics in India are legal literacy programmes organized by the National Legal Services Authority and the State Legal Services Authority. The majority of the funding being spent on these projects comes from the government, but new sources of finance need to be explored through focus on market research and greater industry sponsorship.

What is more concerning about legal clinics in India is the lack of relevance of the clinical education being imparted. In the words of [legal educator] N R Madhava Menon, “The beauty of clinical education as a pedagogic technique is its focus on the learner and the process of learning”. This focus, however, seems to be shifting. According to Menon, “This, in turn, compels the law teacher to look at educational psychology and to evaluate different methods of teaching.” Ironically, that compulsion is exactly what seems to be lacking.

In most places, practical subjects have been reduced to their theoretical components. Court visits, client counselling, mediation and negotiation, role-play and simulation, internship and community service have been replaced with the conventional lecture-based approach.

The whole structure, right from the choice of topics for the legal paper to the teaching methodology has turned into a rigid mass, leaving little space for ingenuity and innovation.

While many law schools have superficially adopted clinical legal education, they lack the spirit to pursue it with the required passion. There is a lack of purpose on the part of the teachers and a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the students.

Further, law teachers continue to remain isolated from the practical legal world, and therefore there continues to be a strict separation between theory and practice.

The overall quality of legal education seems to have taken a plunge, which is a matter of concern, and corrective measures are needed. Subjects need a fresh approach and teaching methods need an overhaul. There is also a need for stringent regulation by a panel of academics and jurists to ensure the quality of practical education.

Aditya Gaggar
Supreme Court lawyer
New Delhi

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