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Raising the Bar

Content editor Durba Basu had always wanted to study law but life led her down a different path. The English literature graduate planned to retire at 45 and get her LLB degree. She wanted to then work full-time with the women’s rights non-governmental organisation (NGO) she is associated with. Unfortunately, the Bar Council of India (BCI), an apex body that governs legal education, has thrown a spanner in the works. Last September, the BCI passed a rule that from the current academic year, law schools will not admit students older than 20 years to the five-year LLB course while the age of students opting for the three-year course should not be more than 30.

Of course, not everyone is pleased with the change. Law colleges cried foul. “Everyone has the right to know the law of the land. The BCI cannot impose age restrictions on legal education,” says K.B. Kempegowda, principal of the Vivekananda College of Law, Bangalore. He, along with colleagues of the Karnataka State Private Law College Association (KSPLCA), filed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition in the Karnataka High Court, which issued a stay order on the BCI ruling earlier this month. But things got murky. “The BCI has written to us saying that it will not reconsider the rule and will challenge the stay order in the Supreme Court,” says Kempegowda. The KSPLCA is now bracing itself for a legal battle.

In Delhi, M.D. Joshi, secretary, BCI, is also getting his act together. “The decision to impose an age restriction on legal education was taken after high level deliberation. We will stick to it,” he says.

Clat cues

Clat is the common entrance exam for admission to all 11 national law universities. Till 2007, each of these had its own entrance test but decided to have a common test from 2008. The universities will conduct Clat in rotation, based on seniority. So Clat 2008 was conducted by the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore, while Clat 2009 was conducted by the Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad. For more details, check www.clat.ac.in.

Issue of application forms start in January and the last date for submission is in the first week of April. Forms are available at all national law schools as well as from Indian Bank and SBI branches. The exam is held in May and results are declared after a fortnight. The new session starts in the second week of July.

The two-hour Clat is in the objective format, comprising five sections: English (40 marks), general knowledge (50 marks), basic mathematics (20 marks), legal aptitude (40 marks) and logical reasoning (50 marks). There is no negative marking.

Two years ago, the BCI set up a committee under Justice A.P. Mishra, which prepared a draft to change law education in the country. “The committee prescribed a new course curriculum for law colleges and also recommended an age restriction for admission,” says Joshi. The draft was passed in September last year and was made applicable from the current academic year.

Last resort?

The age rule, says Joshi, is an attempt to streamline law education in the country. “Law has become the last option for many students who do not qualify other professional courses. The age rule will check this,” he says.

The BCI secretary also feels that the rule will check fly-by-night law colleges. “Starting a law college has become a sound business proposition. But many colleges don’t have the required infrastructure and faculty,” he says.

Moreover, law has become more technical now — with subjects like cyber law and fighting online court cases being added to it. “These subjects can only be tackled by quality colleges,” says Joshi. He hopes that once the age rule is applied, sub-standard institutions will get weeded out.

V. Nagaraj, registrar, National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore, seconds Joshi on the numbers front. “Karnataka has 60 law colleges. Many of these do not offer up to-the-mark education facilities,” he says. But Nagaraj is sceptical about the age restriction. “Law education can be viewed in two ways — as a subject of general interest and also as a source of livelihood. In a democracy, everyone requires knowledge of the law. It is not right to put age restrictions on studying law,” he says.

Stringent rules

The NLSIU, however, follows a stringent age regulation while admitting students. “We have an independent selection criterion and have been following the age rule much before the BCI began applying it,” says Nagaraj. That is because the national law schools prepare students to take up law as a profession, not as a subject of general interest.

QUICK LOOK

LLB is the bachelors degree. It can be a three-year or a five-year course. The masters degree is called LLM and the doctorate degree LLD

For the five-year LLB, candidates need to have passed Plus Two with at least 50 per cent while for the three-year one candidates should be graduates in any stream. For the two-year LLM, candidates should have an LLB degree with 55 per cent marks

Universities and law colleges usually hold objective-type entrance exams for both the five-year and three-year LLB courses. The questions cover areas such as reasoning, general awareness, numerical aptitude, legal aptitude and preliminary political science. Admission to the 11 national law schools is, of course, through the Common Law Admission Test or Clat. A few institutes, such as the department of law, Calcutta University, admit students based on their percentage in Plus Two

A lawyer can join the legal department of a public or private sector organisation, or set up an independent practice after training under a senior lawyer for some time. Lawyers specialising in corporate law, arbitration, tax law, patent law, cyber law and intellectual property law are in great demand. There is also scope for young lawyers in legal process outsourcing firms

“The move to restrict the upper age limit of applicants is to check the number of students enrolling in the 900-odd law colleges, excluding the 13 National Law Colleges. This huge intake of students was actually diluting the quality of law graduates,” says Faizan Mustafa, vice-chancellor of the National Law University, Orissa. “It’s a professional course, so those interested in making a career in law would want to crack the Common Law Admission Test (Clat) just like a science student would want to crack the JEE.”

The age bar is followed by most colleges in spirit, believes V.G. Joshi, principal, ILS Law College, Pune. “Less than 0.1 per cent of students in our college has sought admission at a late age. The age bar is followed by default. So why deprive a few older students,” asks Joshi. She believes that the BCI should focus on maintaining the standards and quality of law education, instead of imposing an age bar.

B.T. Venkatesh, a Bangalore-based human rights lawyer, agrees. “There are a number of run-of-the-mill law colleges across India. The BCI should have more stringent rules about starting colleges. Also, it should improve the quality of education and curriculum, rather than impose age restrictions on students,” he says.

Student support

Unexpectedly, the BCI move has found support among students. “I think it will improve the quality of students taking up law. Those who opt for law later (after graduation) take it up to resurrect their career. It’s not for love of the subject,” says a student from the department of law, Hoogly Mohsin College, Burdwan.

This is not the first time that the BCI has tried to improve the quality of lawyers entering the profession. “A few years ago, the BCI put an age restriction on the registration of lawyers. But this rule was challenged and struck down by the Supreme Court,” says Nagaraj.

“None of the professional courses has an upper age limit, then why law,” asks Prem Kumar Agarwal, head of the department of law, Hoogly Mohsin College. “Look at the irony, the bar council has no upper age limit for enrolling lawyers. So why fix an age limit for law students? In the recent past we have had several IPS officers as students in the evening college that offers a three-year LLB degree. But with the age bar it will become difficult for such people. When the law of the land doesn’t fix any upper age limit for a professional course then why is the bar council doing so?”

“The BCI could place an age restriction on entry to the bar. But it should not stop people’s — whatever their age — access to legal education,” agrees Kempegowda. The Indian legal community wants the BCI to regulate the quality of lawyers at a professional, rather than at an educational, level. But the jury is still out on that one.

Curriculum changes

Recommendations by the National Knowledge Commission

Autonomy should be granted to universities, national law schools and other law schools to decide the core and optional courses to be offered. This is a departure from current practice where the BCI largely determines curricula and syllabi.

Law teaching must be interwoven with contemporary issues, including international and comparative law perspectives. The curricula and syllabi must be based in a multidisciplinary body of social science and scientific knowledge.

Curriculum development should include expanding the domain of optional courses, providing deeper understanding of professional ethics, modernising clinic courses, mainstreaming legal aid programmes and developing innovative pedagogic methods. Legal education must also be socially engaged and sensitise students to issues of social justice.

Source: www.knowledgecommission. gov.in/recommendations/legaleducation .asp


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