by Manupatra & LawSkills

Plutarch said, “The correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.” And a flame once kindled cannot be sustained without a constant supply of good firewood. The firewood in question here is the intellectual stimulus provided through dynamic and evolving knowledge. Post college, India offers most technology, management and marketing professionals several avenues of learning, which allows them to update their skills regularly. Each year, 80,000 students graduate from law schools in India, and a majority of them appear for the All India Bar Examination. Once they clear the exam, throughout their long careers spanning thirty to fifty years, they need not ever undergo further training. India has over a million lawyers, the second largest number in the world. Law as a subject is as dynamic as it can get. Yet, when it comes to contemporary legal education and professional growth, there is no mandatory requirement which ensures that the legal fraternity keeps up with the times.

 The legal field is one of constant change and refinement. It deserves a knowledge system that matches its dynamism and spirit of perpetual reform. Advocates are the most significant stakeholders in the process of dispensing justice. They sit at the crossroads of social, economic, political and human rights. It is not only their prerogative but also their duty to keep themselves abreast of the latest developments across these diverse areas. How else are they to serve in the best interests of their clients? How else are they to uphold the highest standards that an impartial legal system demands of them? The answer to this dilemma is in Continuing Legal Education (CLE). 

CLE is any organised legal educational activity or courses which may be accredited by a regulatory body. The goal of CLE is to ensure that every member of the Bar pursues a designed and monitored plan of continuing knowledge and education throughout their career to remain relevant in the rapidly changing economy. CLE ensures that legal and judicial reforms are communicated to and help shape the attitudes and perspectives of legal experts and concerned citizens. It also helps create a platform for further debate and consensus for legislative reform. It allows legal professionals to expand the scope of professional development, which has so far been considered a one-time affair. CLE helps assure clients that the legal services they get are up-to-date, that their legal representatives are competent enough to represent them and safeguard their rights. 

 This need to equip legal practitioners with updated skill and expertise was articulated by the Apex court in the case of V. Sudeer v. Bar Council of India [MANU/SC/0167/1999].

In a survey conducted among legal profession members by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (part of a report1 presented to the Indian Law Ministry)

  • Over 93% supported the idea of introducing CLE in India.
  • About 69% said they had attended no programme that came close to a CLE.
  • The survey also found that 76% agreed that CLE would be an aid to their professional competency.
  • An overwhelming 73% said that CLE should be made mandatory.

The survey members consisted of junior, mid-level and senior advocates, judges, and academicians chosen across Ten Indian States. Implementing a CLE will not only address these concerns but will also put us on par with nations such as the US and the UK, where CLE is a mandatory requirement, failing which could lead to a suspension of the individual’s legal practice.

Of course, it is hard to picture a group of senior advocates sitting in a classroom listening to lectures. But this is not what the CLE entails. Based on international best practices followed across the globe, there are several diverse avenues of pursuing CLE, such as presentations, teaching seminars, published research, pro-bono services, mentoring, study groups, online tutorials, and self-learning. All of these can be deemed valid under the purview of a registered body. 

To present an international perspective, the US has mandatory twelve hours of CLE training annually for up to sixty-five years of age, accredited by the CLE Boards formed under the State Bar Associations. Canada has twelve hours of annual mandatory training for at least the first five years of practice, under the law society of each state. Australia has ten units of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) points to be earned annually for up to forty years of practice. The UK has sixteen hours per year, Germany has ten, and France has twenty-four credits annually – all lifelong. 

In comparison, the Indian position on CLE so far has been scant, despite the Bar Council of India framing provisions for the setting up of a Directorate of Legal Education. While the DLE has under its purview the task of organizing, running and conducting CLE programmes, there have been no concerted efforts to do so. A few scattered attempts have been made by universities such as NLSUI Bangalore and a few State Bar Associations who have periodically held training seminars. But as referenced in the survey, attendance for these has been poor and their impact has been minimal. In the absence of mandatory training and financial support, these efforts have petered out or been relegated to blips on the radar. 

It goes without saying that legal experts practicing today have many demands on their time, and it is of prime importance to ensure that no undue financial burden is placed upon them. But what we can surmise is that a central, organized effort to discuss the feasibility and implementation of CLE is the need of the hour. In the light of globalization, we can no longer afford to be complacent about the need for continuing legal education in India. In the words of Victor Hugo, “You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.” The time for proposing a way forward with CLE is now.

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