Justice UU Lalit, executive chairman of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), has stated that, similar to how MBBS students receive hands-on internships, final year law students will be persuaded to act as paralegal volunteers in the hinterland to make the less privileged more aware of their rights to free legal aid. According to NALSA, the Bar Council of India (BCI) – the regulatory organization that awards recognition to law colleges and dictates its curriculum for the UG LLB degree – has decided to modify the curriculum and allow final year law students to serve as paralegals for a minimum of six months.
Faizan Mustafa, vice chancellor, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, and president of the Consortium of National Law Universities while welcoming the idea of Justice Lalit says, the proposed move will produce socially relevant lawyers who are more empathetic to the needs of the poor. “But to achieve the fruits of this proposal, it is important to have the right infrastructure in place, to help students – many of whom are from the metropolitan cities – to have places to stay and eat. There must be seniors who are competent enough to train these budding youngsters. Effective communicators in the native tongue and/local dialects can also help the interns overcome the language barrier,” he adds. Mere flying visits to villages will not help.
He explains that the proposal is best implemented in traditional law colleges located in small towns, where regular commute to the nearby villages would pose less of a challenge. “At the National Law Universities (NLUs), students undergo internship training at district and high courts, corporate law firms, NGOs etc right from the first semester itself. Traditional law colleges, on the other hand, may not have proper internship schemes. They should seize this opportunity, more so, if the final year students plan to set up legal practice in the villages and small towns,” Mustafa says. He adds that if the aim of internships is to enable students to provide quality legal aid, that can only come when the quality of legal education in the law colleges drastically improves. Law teachers, according to him, have the central role in producing competent lawyers and efficient judges. “Due to huge disparities in the infrastructure and the quality of intake between NLUs and other law colleges, uniform curriculum for all types of institutions will not be a great idea. NLUs must do hand holding of law colleges in their states,” he adds.
“Such a move was long overdue both in terms of UG law curriculum and access to free legal aid for the less privileged. Although the BCI Rules provide for compulsory internship opportunities for law students, an institutional framework needs to be designed for law students to assist in legal aid as part of their curriculum. This will not only help students understand ground-level problems in justice dispensation but also help the legal service authorities in getting help for the needy,” says Murari Tiwari, advocate member, Bar Council of Delhi.
C Raj Kumar, founding vice-chancellor of OP Jindal Global University, while analysing the proposed initiative says, that the idea behind clinical legal education, and the community outreach through it, is to give students a sense of community and life therein. “It is a way to bridge the proverbial gap between theory and reality. The Legal Aid Cell/Clinic, which the BCI has made mandatory for every law school is a step in the above said direction. Through participation in the activities of the cell, law students have been engaging in legal aid programmes of law schools. Further, the BCI has defined four courses — ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’, ‘Moot Court and Trial Advocacy’, ‘Professional Ethics’, and ‘Drafting Pleading and Conveyancing’— as clinical courses, giving law schools the freedom to teach these courses through clinical pedagogies. However, these courses do not have the full potential to provide clinical experience as clinical work can,” he adds, stressing that the suggestion by the executive chairman of NALSA is noteworthy, for it aims to integrate community service through legal aid programs in the law school curriculum in particular, and legal education in general.
“Apart from exploring the possibilities created by the BCI, many law schools have given the emphasis on clinical legal education through social justice projects, and through clinical elective courses on rural governance, health law, hate crimes, and the death penalty. Hence, the recommendation in question can be seen as an institutionalization of ongoing efforts,” Raj Kumar says.
The rural stint, according to him should not be relayed as an additional requirement to obtain the law degree or to enter legal practice, but students should be able to see it as an extension of legal education and a necessary enabling to become lawyers. “Communities should be seen as the testing grounds of the law they learned and the sense of justice they earned through legal education. Communities are also sites of learning social values and public mores, both of which are essential for lawyers to connect with society,” Raj Kumar affirms.