The legal system is the most important part of the foundation of any state. Laws regulate the society and its functions and direct all residing within the state to live better lives. They set moral standards and allow for other institutions of the state to function properly.
But it is no secret that the legal profession in Pakistan is not a profession one would aspire to be part of. Legal academic institutes are not known as centres of academic excellence and their graduates do not fare well within the job market. Lawyers are notorious for incompetence and malpractice. Given the poor standards of behavior and quality of work by the members of the Pakistan bar councils, the Pakistan Bar Council, for the first time, filed a constitutional petition (Pakistan Bar Council Petitioner VERSUS The Federal Government & others Respondents, Const. Pet. 9/05) demanding a revamp of the system training lawyers in Pakistan and an improvement in the standards of legal education in the country.
There are only a few law degree awarding institutions in Pakistan (e.g. Punjab University, LUMS etc.). A multitude of colleges enroll students of law in Pakistan by being affiliates of these universities. While there were not many law colleges in the past, over the years their number has multiplied. These colleges were kept under minimal supervision by their affiliate universities and required to fulfill no qualitative training requirements to ensure the sustenance of their affiliation. As a result, while many students of law graduate with degrees of law, they were unable to be employed successfully or to score paid employment as they did not possess the necessary skills to be a productive member of a legal team. An important point of focus of the Bar Council’s petition was the unprecedented growth of law colleges in Pakistan which was blamed to be a primary reason for the poor training of lawyers.
The curriculum in place at the time of the petition allowed for those with a bachelors degree to be enrolled in a three years law degree programme. This required the student to complete all modules of the degree within a three-year period. This left students with not much time to conduct in depth study of their courses and left them not much choice besides cramming large portions of their course without gaining a working understanding of the content. It also forced many students to be selective in the courses they would study with an exam ended goal in mind. While this would help them clear their exams, it was not helpful when it came to gaining actual understanding of the law or to use it in practice.
There was no academic admission requirement which allowed any student who had completed their secondary education (A-levels/F.S.C.) with bare minimum marks to secure an admission in a law college. The Supreme Court in deciding the petition made major changes to the preexisting system of legal education in Pakistan. Primarily, it installed a requirement to pass the Law Admission Test (LAT) conducted by the Higher Education Commission (HEC), in order to enroll for the LLB degree. This will act as a quality control check on the students enrolling for the LLB degree programme and is likely to ensure that only those who score the highest marks can enroll for a law degree. It will make admissions for law harder to secure and will push those who are admitted, to value their admission and work harder for their degree.
The Court provided minimum requirements for the faculty members of law teaching institutions as there were none before. Heads of Law Departments and Deans of law colleges were required to either have a PHD (with a minimum of eight years of teaching experience or legal practice in the High Court), or a Masters Degree (with a minimum of fifteen years of teaching experience or practice in the High Court), or to be a retired judge of the Supreme Court, High Court or a retired District & sessions judge (with five years of judicial service to his credit). Further requirements were also provided for the permanent and temporary faculty members of law teaching institutes.
The three-year programme of the LLB was abolished to pave the way for the five-year programme. This along with additional restrictions of age and time have seriously limited the number of individuals who can be enrolled in any given year. While this might encourage law students to be serious about their admissions, it has also taken away the opportunity to earn a professional degree from countless people who wait to secure an LLB degree for personal or financial reasons.
With all these changes made to result in something positive for the lawyers of Pakistan, the court has not focused on the problems which continue to affect the standards of legal education in Pakistan. The most pressing of these is the lack of skills-based training in the curriculum of law degree programmes. The most popular misconception amongst lawyers is that you only memorize books during your degree as actual learning happens at work. While there is an element of truth to this that actual practical contours of legal practice are learnt at work, after graduation, this cannot be used as an excuse to allow for sole rote learning of books by students of law. They need to have basic drafting, researching, writing and speaking skills taught as part of their degree. This is a part of the law degree programmes in the best law schools around the world as globally, employers have no use for those who come to them to learn the very basic of skills with absolutely nothing to credit for in their CVs besides their academic qualifications. This acts as a prominent contributing factor why many if not most law graduates end up without jobs or paid employment after graduating with professional degrees. It seems then that the degrees are a waste of the student’s time and money as they are requirements of form and provide no substantial learning opportunities.
The HEC should look into mandating course work and skills training as part of the law degree programmes in Pakistan. Not only will this help raise the quality of the lawyers being produced by law teaching institutions but will also enable students to maximise their potential in the five years they spend earning a law degree.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of LEAP Pakistan or Pakistan College of Law.