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BCI chair Gopal Subramaniam interview (part 1): We need continuing legal education

Solicitor General - Gopal Subramanium (KIIT)
Solicitor General - Gopal Subramanium (KIIT)

Solicitor general and newly elected Bar Council of India (BCI) chairman Gopal Subramaniam talks to Legally India about his top priorities, the need for a bar exam and continuing legal education, in this first part of a two-part interview.

Legally India (LI): What are your priorities at the BCI?
Gopal Subramaniam (GS): I think at the moment there are some overwhelming priorities which need to be addressed.

The first thing to do is to evolve various ways and techniques by which the self esteem of those who belong to the profession is raised and to understand their professional roles and changing society.

The second important priority is that we as the legal fraternity have to be connected with each other. We are not adequately connected with each other, we do not communicate with each other as a result of which there is fragmentation of the legal community based on region, based on locality and based on other factors.

We need to work together and for which purpose I think the Bar Council of India must act as a great connector by which we able to reach out to a lawyer who is practicing even in the most far-flung areas of the country.

The third priority is that we need to upgrade our own skills on account of competitive environment. Today, you have large number of people who enter the legal profession and it becomes necessary that we are efficient, competent and transparent so that we would be able to actually have both a prosperous community of the lawyers on the one hand, and at the same time we would be a community which would protect the under-privileged.

LI: Do you think that an entrance test or bar exam is necessary?
GS: I think as of today, the entrance test for becoming a lawyer is necessary. I think it is important that for the benefit of the person who is going to enter the legal profession, he must actually have some basic skills, fundamental knowledge and the ability to cope with other challenges of the modern Indian lawyer, whether he is in the rural area or whether he is in any other area.

We also planned to actually have a resource web in the Bar Council of India which will be a knowledge web where lawyers and law students will have continued access to resources including courses and continuing legal education.

I think continuing legal education along the entrance to the bar is very important. One is those who are going to enter the bar now will have at least an examination, but those who are practicing as a lawyer […] must be persuaded to opt for continuing legal education courses so that they are updated.  

One of the problems in the legal profession is that we are not updated with reference to the advances is in law, advances is in technology and advances is in science.

In today’s time, a lawyer has to be as inquisitives as a scientist, he has to discover the facts and for this purpose we want to develop the resource web through the medium of the Bar Council. I think it is a very ambitious project and I have received overwhelming offers of support from professors, academicians in India and overseas who think it is the most important for the Indian legal profession to have a resource web.

LI: Do you think the legal education system in India has failed? Is that why you are looking for an entrance test for lawyers?
GS: The legal education in India is not uniform. There are problems which are confronting our legal education today. There is a shortage of academicians, there are a shortage of people who actually want to teach law as a subject. Now we need to correct the distortion and we need to correct this imbalance.

Now one of the important considerations is that when you want to enter the professional course it is necessarily that you should have the adequate training. So we would like to develop our curriculum by which you have not only basic knowledge of law but you also have practical knowledge of law.

If your ability as commercial lawyer has to be tested, you have to have the skills for it. If you have to protect the fundamental rights of a person who is in the street, you must be able to protect it.

I regret to say that the role models who used to exist in the legal profession who have been able to also carry the momentum in the legal profession - their numbers have decreased.  Now to reenergise it is always not possible to only get role models but you will have to do it by means of support through information and through rational development for lawyers.

This is our agenda. This is our priority list, which is that we become a resource pool where people can actually come to us. As the Bar Council, we are also going to interact with sections of civil society because it is important that the legal profession is never perceived as a manipulator of the law and one of the reasons why there has been fall in the esteem of the legal profession is because law is viewed as an instrument of manipulation, an instrument of exploitation as an instrument of being able to harass citizens.

LI: What would be the necessary requirements a student needs to fulfill to become a lawyer? What do you propose to do?
GS: This is going to involve the same consultative process. We are beginning a transparent consultative process with lawyers, with law students and also with academicians, those who are in India and those who are abroad. And I am very happy to say that the community is offering completely free support for this particular movement and I think we should be able to seize these initiative and design the curriculum, make it contemporary, relevant and make it socially useful.

And I think that requires a two way traffic. This will involve a lawyer and it will also involve the support of the judiciary and I am very confident that the judiciary will support this initiative because this is the most dynamic moment of the legal profession.

LI: Can you elaborate on proposals that there may be a mandatory internship before becoming a lawyer?

GS: I personally believe that the apprenticeship and internship with the lawyer is necessary to know court procedure, to understand how to acquire confidence and to be able to know how to conduct oneself as a lawyer.

Now this needs training and commitment from the senior lawyers those who have years of experience to able to teach juniors. So we in the Bar Council are going to appeal to lawyers who have ten years experience to ask them to take juniors as a part of their service in return to the profession

We are also going to appeal the senior advocates to have not less than three to five juniors that are trained.  This will have two benefits: one that you train the juniors when they become lawyers, the other is you have mandatory training programs in the law course itself as part of the curriculum.

There I feel that training under the lawyer, preferably practicing with the trial court, should be made mandatory because there is where justice truly commences. And I think the success of any justice system will be always gazed at in terms of the ability of the primary tier to be able to fulfill the aspiration of people.

My dream as a lawyer is that one day in India, we will have a legal system where the competence of the lawyers as well as the judiciary in all the three limbs, whether it be primary, secondary or the appellate level would be equally compatible.

The second part of this interview is now published on Legally India and includes Subramaniam's views on the entry of foreign law firms, reciprocity.

Photo from KIIT

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