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Interview: BCI chief Subramanium plans to consolidate 700+ law schools, overhaul ethics as part of 30-year-old reform dream

Gopal Subraniu - BCI chairman
Gopal Subraniu - BCI chairman
Bar Council of India (BCI) chairman Gopal Subramanium said in a Legally India interview that he wants to reduce the number of Indian law colleges from 913 to 175 within a year as part of an ambitious overhaul of the legal profession's regulation and education that will be announced this Thursday (15 July).

Subramanium (pictured) confirmed that one of his reform proposals was the "restructuring of law colleges from 930 to 175 only top quality institutions".

He told Legally India that the process would be carried out by in some cases forcing as many as eight existing law schools to consolidate into single institutions. "They will not be closed but merged – it will be a form of closure," Subramanium said.

"For all the managements of eight law colleges that merge, a representative of each law college gets a seat on the board of management [of the merged college]," he explained.

"I don't know the timeline, it is very contentious, very tough as well," he said, "but I would say a year would be a good time [to start implementing it]."

"I am beginning to see a lot of resistance but I've got the willpower to push it through," he noted. "This is going to involve a bit of both political and tactical persuasive ability – I can't do all this by myself. I put this in the hands of a few people."

"But it's a very good idea. If you have 175 law schools which are of the standard of Yale or Harvard you may actually see overseas students coming to study in Indian law schools."

"You need modern electronic connectivity, you need multiple things to make the law school work - you can't just be roaming around the shelves of American jurisprudence."

He added that the move "could be be facilitated by the Australian academic community, which has promised to cooperate with us very, very strongly".

Subramanium said that these proposals are part of his "vision strategy", which would be announced this week. "By 15 July you will get to see some major changes."

Dreaming of change

Unfurling his plans for reform in a telephone interview, he said: "Over the last 30 years of my practice, I've seen good lawyers, I've seen some bad lawyers, great judges, some bad judges, but I've seen that this profession can become an instrument to oppression through the cloak of legitimacy which this profession offers. For me, I walked my own path: I've never bargained or compromised so far."

"I realised that this profession had to be freed of its evils - the evils are largely internal – I wouldn’t like to use a word like evil – but what I mean is all the disabilities are internal and the more we free them of its disabilities the better it can become."

"The Advocates Act is a great law - I've never seen any regulations as multifarious under one head: legal aid, education, law reforms, everything is available to be done in the Bar Council," said Subramanium.

"When a statute empowers you in all this I would be a fool to let go of this opportunity to usher in all the changes I have been dreaming of for the last 30 years."

"I would say there must be a permanent change hopefully," said Subramanium. "I should be an instrument of permanent change and that is what I'm looking forward to."

"The change being from, should I say, old, obsolete practice to modern practices; the change from a non-transparent, non-accountable profession to a highly ethical profession capable of servicing all sectors of society without prejudice, without any kind of predilection. I would like to make it as professional as possible."

Subramanium was elected to a two-year term as chairman of the BCI in April 2010.

Implementing dreams

"One of the dreams I've had is a high quality judiciary and bar not based on a vertical structure," said Subramanium. He explained that he wanted lower courts to have more authority to deal with fundamental questions, rather than encouraging "this very unhealthy movement towards the high courts and Supreme Court by professionals to scrape out an existence".

He also said that as he also wanted to introduce rules for ethics "to bring it on par with ABA and South African bar guidelines".

Apart from introducing the bar exam, he said that he also had other changes for legal education. "I think that until now no one has ever notified standards to legal education. Many law schools have failed. I plan to put out by 15 July the intended standards which are equivalent to international standards."

Another head of reform, he added, was the "redesign of the curriculum". "I have a bee in my head that the curriculum is badly designed – we have to test law student and prospective practitioners very, very differently," Subramanium explained, adding that law students would also need a grounding in liberal arts, logic and philosophy alongside law.

"I am trying to combine a four-year major with a Juris doctor – I want to do it within five years, for which purpose I am in touch with academics. We are all working on it. This would replace the LLB [and would be] prospective from 2011."

Photo courtesy of Rainmaker

Read today's interview with Subramanium about the proposed bar exam and vested interests mean it would be "disastrous" to postpone it.

Also read Legally India's April 2010 interviews with Subramanium on legal education and the entry of foreign law firms following his election as BCI chairman.


Edited excerpt of Subramanium's 30 June comment on Legally India

Dear friend, […]

You will agree that there are a large number of lawyers in the country. We must know that litigation and professional opportunities don't multiply that way. We must be concerned at the lack of collectivity and absence of shared goals of professional excellence. I must share with you that the profession is actually sinking because of lack of modernity. We need to understand that to be a good professional you need skills at being able to act on someone else's behalf. You would have seen that there are no clear standards which have been formulated to ensure the best possible legal education in India. Everybody does not get into a national law school and it is disturbing that even national law schools do not have consistently high quality faculty.

Well, the first step was to ensure that academics are not exploited. So a 3 member committee of which I happened to be a member recommended that the salary and emoluments which should be paid must be at the very minimum equal UGC payscales. This recommendation was accepted by the bar council and now all recognitions are subject to payment of UGC payscales. I know that many private managements are annoyed at this.

The next step is that law teaching is a process which requires skill and training. Do we have an academic community which can service 913(I hope that the figure is right) law colleges?

We, therefore, need to construct a national academy for training law teachers. That will be set up in consultation with leading academics both national and international scholars.
We need to frame standards for legal education. Personally they should be based on the outcomes model and that will require a future redesignment of the curriculum. The bar council will act as a forward progressive facilitator to achieve this goal.

I have read all the reports on legal education including the recommendations of the knowledge commission and others. But I hate to tell you that we are lagging behind in fields of specialisation and articulating technical processes involved in lawyering. In some jurisdictions even the style of advocacy in the court has changed. In international arbitrations you are expected to be brief and attentive and the entire ethic of closure of a dispute and case has come to stay. We do not seem to be closing the cases in a scientific and professional way.

That calls for review of ethics guidelines and a modern effective approach to cases.

The bar exam is a very major step to bring in a measure of equal respect for professionals amongst themselves and a level playing field that people who have passed the bar exam will be looked upon with added respect. The image of the profession needs to be upped because we have unwittingly lost commercial business to overseas lawyers for failure to modernise and be forward looking. I also feel that everyone cannot afford an llm, but yet people with llm are getting better offers. So I want to move in the direction of propounding a world class education in India which would be (this is my silly little dream)where we can have a major plus juris doctor in 5 years and an option to get an llm in an area of specialisation in 9 months. Therefore we at the bar council are commencing the dialogue how to achieve the goal posts. […]

Warm regards and best wishes to each one of you,
Gopal

Dear friend, […]

 

I am not in the least intending to harm anyone's professional career. On the contrary I need to tell you the truth about the exam and I have done so in a webcast which appears in the Bar Council website.

 

You will agree that there are a large number of lawyers in the country. We must know that litigation and professional opportunities don't multiply that way. We must be concerned at the lack of collectivity and absence of shared goals of professional excellence. I must share with you that the profession is actually sinking because of lack of modernity. We need to understand that to be a good professional you need skills at being able to act on someone else's behalf. You would have seen that there are no clear standards which have been formulated to ensure the best possible legal education in India. Everybody does not get into a national law school and it is disturbing that even national law schools do not have consistently high quality faculty.

 

Well, the first step was to ensure that academics are not exploited. So a 3 member committee of which I happened to be a member recommended that the salary and emoluments which should be paid must be at the very minimum equal UGC payscales. This recommendation was accepted by the bar council and now all recognitions are subject to payment of UGC payscales. I know that many private managements are annoyed at this.

 

The next step is that law teaching is a process which requires skill and training. Do we have an academic community which can service 913(I hope that the figure is right) law colleges?

 

We, therefore, need to construct a national academy for training law teachers. That will be set up in consultation with leading academics both national and international scholars.

We need to frame standards for legal education. Personally they should be based on the outcomes model and that will require a future redesignment of the curriculum. The bar council will act as a forward progressive facilitator to achieve this goal.

 

I have read all the reports on legal education including the recommendations of the knowledge commission and others. But I hate to tell you that we are lagging behind in fields of specialisation and articulating technical processes involved in lawyering. In some jurisdictions even the style of advocacy in the court has changed. In international arbitrations you are expected to be brief and attentive and the entire ethic of closure of a dispute and case has come to stay. We do not seem to be closing the cases in a scientific and professional way.

 

That calls for review of ethics guidelines and a modern effective approach to cases.

 

The bar exam is a very major step to bring in a measure of equal respect for professionals amongst themselves and a level playing field that people who have passed the bar exam will be looked upon with added respect. The image of the profession needs to be upped because we have unwittingly lost commercial business to overseas lawyers for failure to modernise and be forward looking. I also feel that everyone cannot afford an llm, but yet people with llm are getting better offers. So I want to move in the direction of propounding a world class education in India which would be (this is my silly little dream)where we can have a major plus juris doctor in 5 years and an option to get an llm in an area of specialisation in 9 months. Therefore we at the bar council are commencing the dialogue how to achieve the goal posts.

 

[…]

 

Warm regards and best wishes to each one of you,

Gopal

 

[…]

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