Law is one of the most sought-after subjects in universities. By studying law, one can become a lawyer, law-trained and above all a good citizen rich in legal knowledge. In addition to many other things that can be done by studying other subjects, learning the law will prepare a person for advocacy, judgeship, and the law officer position in various organisations. If one wants to practise law among them, he has to learn legal practice skills. Furthermore, in order to act as judge and law officer, the regulatory and employing authorities train them for judicial and respective procedures. Therefore, it can be said that it is not necessary for everyone studying law to learn the legal practice skills. Some people might argue for learning practice skills in student life, but many people are found saying that these skills are forgotten if such are not used for a long time.
Now let us see what is taught in the law department of the universities in the country and abroad. In the United States, for example, those who come to study law with the Law School Admission Test have already completed a bachelor's degree in any subject satisfactorily. Law schools then train such mature students through JD courses on how to 'think like a lawyer'. Their curriculum is designed with several objectives in mind; these include: (1) developing critical thinking; (2) teaching theoretical law using the Socratic method; (3) providing the technique of 'legal' writing and fluency in the 'language of law'; (4) developing improved oral advocacy and presentation skills; (5) avoiding risk and encouraging avoidance of mistakes; (6) identifying issues and finding out what could be the alternatives and (6) teaching legal ethics. They have full-time and part-time teachers to fulfill these objectives. All the part-time teachers practise law as lawyers; in addition, many full-time teachers are involved in law practice. As a result, they can teach legal philosophy and jurisprudence with theoretical and practical knowledge. If students want to become lawyers, they can then learn the legal practice skill during the client-subsidised licence period as part of job training or during a postgraduate degree.
In the United Kingdom, there are two types of lawyers - barristers and solicitors. They require to obtain an LLB degree from any university or an equivalent law degree or an equivalent qualification. Courses offered to obtain this degree give students a general idea of the law, legal system, and legal policy. The Bar Standards Board-run Post-Graduate Diploma equivalent Bar Course for barristers and the Law Society-controlled Post-Graduate Diploma-equivalent Legal Practice Course for solicitors are then completed. The Bar Course emphasises barristers learning through practical work to facilitate litigation in court; as part of the practice skills, students are given a lot of practice based on the briefs barristers receive in the early stages of their career. Such course also includes a number of compulsory subjects, including: advocacy, civil litigation, evidence and remedy, conference skills, criminal litigation, evidence and sentencing, drafting, out-of-court dispute resolution, opinion writing, and professional ethics.
The goal of the Legal Practice Course is to bridge the gap between theory and practice, to provide the necessary practical skills in business law and practice, property law and practice, and litigation including civil and criminal law, to be successful as a solicitor. Such skills include client contacting, interviewing and consulting, advocacy, legal research, writing, and drafting, solicitor's account, professional conduct and regulation, property wills and administration, and taxation. Both full-time and part-time teachers conduct Bar Courses and Legal Practice Courses; all such teachers are associated with practice. In Australia, New Zealand and Canada, too, one law graduate from any recognised university requires to undertake a legal practice skill training run under the bar authority to get enrolled as a barrister and solicitor.
Bangladesh's legal system and law education follow the United Kingdom. However, if a student wants to practise law here, he does not have to do any course like Bar Course or Legal Practice Course as he does in the United Kingdom. According to the post-independence Bangladesh Legal Practitioners and Bar Council Order 1972, there is now a single class of lawyers in the country called Advocates. According to this law, in order to get the advocacy certificate here, one has to obtain a local LLB degree or an equivalent degree from an institution recognsed by the Bangladesh Bar Council and have to pass an examination conducted by the Bangladesh Bar Council. As a result, many here have completed the applicable bar course for barristers in the United Kingdom, but they have to pass the exam conducted by the Bangladesh Bar Council to be involved in law practice.
Law is taught in the law departments of the universities of Bangladesh and in the law colleges under the National University. Although there are no full-time teachers in law colleges, law is taught by full-time faculties comprising about 100 per cent in public universities and about 90 per cent in private universities. Although some full-time teachers have advocacy certificate obtained at the end of their student life, they cannot be in two full-time professions at the same time as per the employment rules of their respective institutions and the Bangladesh Bar Council Rules and Canons of Professional Conduct and Etiquette. As a result, even if they can impart theoretical knowledge of law, it is not possible for them to impart practical knowledge. As a result, many students go to law chambers and courts with advocacy certificates and sometimes fall short of required competence in some practical matters as new lawyers and hence law teachers are often criticised for their students' lack of skill. Although law teachers have some failures as human beings, they have various limitations; in addition, due to the lack of direct dialogue between the bars, benches and universities, teachers do not have the opportunity to defend themselves in certain cases and often cannot present their recommendations.
It is not at all true that law students don't learn practical knowledge at universities; each university now offers a course called Drafting and Conveyancing. In addition, in some universities, Law Clinics are used to teach civil and criminal cases from the beginning to the end. The Law Clinic also teaches them how to move a case in the High Court Division through 'Learning by Doing' and there is also a mock trial of civil and criminal cases. In addition, each university now operates the Moot Court following the High Court model.
In addition, students who wish to obtain an advocacy certificate at the end of the LLB degree are required to undergo a mandatory six-month pupilage under a lawyer with ten years of experience in practice as directed by the Bangladesh Bar Council; there they can learn practice skills from the seniors in civil and criminal cases. So, if a student sincerely wants to learn the practice skill before going to the law chamber and the court, he can learn it in many ways.
Moreover, legal steps may also be taken to bring teachers working in autonomous public universities into law practice as is done in the United States, United Kingdom and other parts of the world. Although not directly related to teachers, the Bangladesh Bar Council did not see any problem with the practice of a full-time lawyer cum staff of a legal aid non-government organisation several years ago when the question arose as to whether the staff lawyer, not holding any government position could practise in court. In another recent case, the Appellate Division has urged the Bar Council and law faculties to find ways enabling university teachers to come into law practice and 'reshape our collective conscience of jurisprudence capable of catering to new legal challenges due to rapid change in local and global economy and cutting-edge technology.' As a result, if the universities and the Bangladesh Bar Council take an appropriate action in the light of these issues, teachers can join the practice of law and teach practice skills to the students.
Also, the Bangladesh Bar Council may revive their previously announced Bar Vocational Course. However, in this case, they can encourage the big universities located in the former four divisional cities of the country to introduce this course. In this regard, with the logistics support of the Bangladesh Bar Council, universities can help the students who are willing to take the advocacy certificate to become skilled lawyers.
Dr Mohammad Towhidul Islam is a Professor of Law, University of Dhaka.