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Valedictory Address of Hon'ble Mr Justice R.C. Lahoti, Judge, Supreme Court of India at M.M. Singhvi Memorial All-India Moot Court Competition*

Cite as : (2002) 4 SCC (Jour) 1

I am thankful to National Law University, Jodhpur, the Moot Court Committee and the organizers of the Fifth All-India M.M. Singhvi Moot Court Competition for giving me this opportunity. Any opportunity of visiting an educational institution, and meeting with young law students — who are the future of the legal profession, is always welcome.

This day I pay homage to late Shri M.M. Singhvi — a stalwart of the legal profession. He practised law for almost half a century. He was well versed in civil and criminal law and handled ticklish matters of election disputes and matrimonial causes. Hard work, sincerity, deep intellect and adherence to professional ethics were hallmarks of his personality. He trained many a junior who are in practice. He left behind a well-settled and illuminating family. Amongst his sons are a brilliant Judge, a brilliant lawyer and a brilliant engineer. His memory continues to live amongst us through this Memorial Competition.

I take this opportunity for putting forth a few random thoughts on legal education before my young friends.

I congratulate my young friends, the students who have been lucky enough to enter into the portals of this great institution, National Law University of Jodhpur, with a desire of learning the law. Shri M.N. Venkatachaliah, the former Chief Justice of India, told me during a personal discussion that next to the study of religion and philosophy, if there is anything worth studying, it is the law. Nothing strengthens the intellect of a seeker of knowledge more than the learning of law. There is no other learning under the sun which puts the wits of a man to test more challengingly than the legal profession. Once a person earns a qualification in law so as to claim himself to be a professional, his time, his intellect, his words and wisdom, his competence and capability become saleable commodities in the market. They are displayed on the counter like the latest arrivals and are purchased by anyone who can afford to pay the price. A wise man once told me in a lighter vein that a lawyer cannot afford to eat two square meals a day. The reason: if he fails to pick up, he is possessed of hardly anything to eat; if he picks up, there is hardly any time available when he can peacefully eat. The saner advice given to young lawyers is that while learning the law itself the young lawyers must develop an interest in a faculty other than law. Justice Frankfurter's advice to a young man who wanted to join the legal profession was that the best way to prepare for law is to be a well-read person and by cultivation of the imaginative faculties like reading poetry and listening to great music. Homi Seervai, the great constitutional lawyer had a love for literature and philosophy apart from the law and he also enjoyed good music. Readings in classical literature widen the vision and develop faculties of imagination — both indispensable to the success of a man of law. Music enables concentration and diving deep into introverted process of thinking. I have watched some of the eminent Judges and lawyers closely. In their study or inner chambers, they have a music system on their work-table. They listen to music when they study in solitude.

Chief Justice Hidayatullah said in one of his talks relayed from All-India Radio, Nagpur thus:

"The study of law has two aspects. Firstly, you study the law for its own sake as you study philosophy and, secondly, you study it to make a living. In the English universities this distinction between the intellectual and professional study of the subject is well recognised and maintained. In our universities this is not done. It is not realized that the study of the law can be an intellectual occupation and that law is a branch of learning. Dr Johnson said, 'the law is the last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public'. It is the crystallisation of the thought and habits of the society. There is a philosophy of the law and there are no limits to it. It is as one eminent thinker said 'a bottomless pit'."

The traditional learning of law probably did not have the requisite intensity and charm. The legal profession travelled not beyond holding of a brief and pleading a cause in the court of law. Mostly the profession was considered to be hereditary — a son of a lawyer would choose the law as a profession. Some of the lawyers were chosen for appointment as Judges. Mostly it was a matter of prestige and recognition to be a Judge. Law schooling was a part-time activity confined by and large to evening classes where regular attendance was not insisted and very often the requirement of attendance was completed by good friends obliging the absentees by answering the roll-call on their behalf. Law class was a branch of education with no practicals and no practical experience. Law graduates were churned out ill-equipped in the art of advocacy and naive in professional ethics and values. A committee headed by Setalvad in 1958 painted a very dismal picture of legal education by observing thus:

"... the main purpose of university legal education seems hitherto to have been not the teaching of law as a science or as a branch of learning but merely imparting to students a knowledge of certain principles and provisions of law to enable them to enter the legal profession."

Radha Krishnan Commission on University Education stated in its report in the year 1962 thus:

"Colleges of law do not hold a place of high esteem either at home or abroad nor has law become an area of profound scholarship and enlightened research."

Throughout the country varying durations of the course of study in law, two years or three years, were being followed. There was no entrance test. Often a candidate having failed in securing admission to any other course would find himself in law classes with no aptitude or inclination for law. There were only part-time teachers in law schools or colleges with no building of their own and no libraries, also no regular classes. One or two classrooms in any educational institution were spared in the evening for law classes and a corner or an almirah in the library was set apart for a few books on law.

Strangely enough, while in the fields of medical science, engineering, architecture, accounts and audit and similar other disciplines, the student, conferred with a graduate degree is not only entitled but is also well versed to embark upon practice on professional basis and with confidence. But so was not the case with law. While a fresh medical graduate could examine a patient, prescribe a medicine and perform a surgery, a young lawyer, though conferred with a degree in law — maybe with merit, would fumble while handling his first brief and dealing with his first client.

A few important events took place in the latter part of the previous century. The Advocates Act, 1961 assigned a prominent role, to the Bar Council of India, to play in the field of legal education. The Chief Justices' Conference appointed a Committee headed by Mr Justice A.M. Ahmadi (later the Chief Justice of India) with two other members, Mr Justice B.N. Kirpal and Mr Justice M. Jagannadha Rao (the Chief Justices of the Gujarat and Delhi High Courts) which strongly recommended for a five-year law course to be gone through by anyone to earn a degree entitling to practise in law. In 1988, came into being the National Law School at Bangalore, set up on the lines of American law schools, which has now become a model for law schools to emulate.

Standing at the entry of the next millennium it would be very interesting to note the changes in the legal profession which are visible and perceptible. The traditional lawyer stands uprooted. There used to be civil and criminal lawyers or the trial and the appellate lawyers. This branding is vanishing. The changes in the delivery of legal services are not to be confined to right of audience merely; they encompass legal education, the problems posed for legal resolutions and the organisation of court hearings. There are employed and self-employed lawyers; there are advocates and non-advocates; general practitioners and specialists. There are lawyers engaged in drafting work only, there are consultants and there are assisting advocates confined to table work only, none of whom appears in courts. They need not learn the arts of oratory, persuasion, court craft and manners pleasing to Judges, which need to be found only in the arguing counsel, or the counsel engaged for examining or cross-examining witnesses. The mode of practice would determine the learning and training which a legal practitioner should undergo.

The recent decades have witnessed introduction of hitherto unknown controversies being posed by legal brains for judicial resolution and the Judges enlarging their jurisdictional net touching new vistas. The Supreme Court of India can legitimately feel proud of innovating some such jurisprudential concepts and setting an example before the adjudicatory fora of the world. Basic structure theory of constitution which has put a few provisions of the Constitution beyond the scope of amendment even by Parliament — the supreme creator of the law, awarding compensation in exercise of writ jurisdiction to the victims for violation of their fundamental rights, bidding goodbye to the principle of locus standi for seeking relief to a person or class of persons who cannot plead their own cause, letter petitions and public interest litigations are a few examples. Look at the mind-boggling exercises and law suits which the courts are inviting unto themselves and undertaking resolution with pleasure: (i) sustainable development — enforcement of rights of a future generation which is yet to come in existence as against the present-day generation; (ii) right of a newly born baby to mother's milk; (iii) renting out of the womb by mother and disputes as to paternity, motherhood, guardianship and custody of the baby born or yet to be delivered; (iv) human cloning and intricate questions as to privacy, secrecy, copyright and frauds related thereto; (v) intellectual property and software if can be called "goods", so as to attract incidence of taxation on transactions relating thereto; (vi) whether time is property; and so on.

Modern concept of legal education is to learn by bringing about proportionate admixture of reading, observation, participation and practice. No one can learn playing cricket merely by reading a book on cricket. He has to get out on the field, wield a bat and hit a ball. He has also to learn to throw the ball and also to do the fielding. Legal education must have such scholars as students who do not act merely as disciples but start thinking and behaving like a lawyer in the school itself. Though the subject of law is the human being, however, the law education so far has been dealing with a two-dimensional projection of subject like a print on the page. The modern legal education proposes to accept its subject in its three-dimensional form, with flesh and blood and with emotions and difficulty. Law teaching and learning is not purely doctrinal; clinical experiences, extra-curricular activities, skill courses and integration courses have to be a part of graduate learning. The law students must learn the substantive law, the procedural law and also lawyer skills. An ideal course of studying in law is a combination of theory and practice, substance and processes, knowledge and technique. Of necessity the legal education has to intermingle moral and ethical issues with legal issues so as to answer the needs of a vibrant society. The traditional client used to accept the traditional lawyers as his friend, philosopher and guide but that would not be enough and the modern lawyer has to be a technician, endowed with the capacity to translate the myriad problems of his client into the language of law and then apply his technical expertise associated with practical wisdom to legally resolve the legally translated problem of his client. Moot courts is one of the methodology which seeks to achieve transformation of a theoretically well-versed lawyer into a practical professional.

Mooting and mock trials have been emphasized by the legal educationist, as capable of inculcating in the future lawyers the art of being articulate, developing fluency and clear enunciation of thought, learning the art of persuasion and making a succinct and intelligible putting up of a case. Moots are legal problems in the form of imaginary cases argued by two students or two groups of students acting as counsel for each side with a bench of Judges or a bench presided over by a Judge. The purpose achieved by moots and mock trials is beautifully highlighted with a sense of humour by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland in the following stanza:

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,

And argued each case with my wife;

And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw

Has lasted the rest of my life."

I would like to tender a word of counsel to my young friends. Law, as a profession, is a very satisfying one. It fulfils your intellectual lust and at the same time provides immense opportunities of earning and elevating your status to the topmost of the society. However, your motto must be to earn by serving and not to serve by earning. My late father, an example of living idealism in the legal profession, used to say—

"Having chosen law as a professional career, if in the beginning the entrant does not run after money, the day is not far off when money runs after the professional and the professional does not bother to count the wads earned during the day."

In whichever field of law you may go, your motto should be "service". Remember, anyone who approaches a lawyer with a problem is an unfortunate person, a victim of circumstances and at times an outcome of his own folly. He needs to be helped rather than be exploited. If you believe in spiritualism and teachings of Gita, there are two professions — the doctor's and the lawyer's, where you can earn punya while earning money and book a seat in heaven too, without going to the temple or performing puja. Here work itself can be worship. If you are honest in your dealings and aim high, there would be no end to achievements. The profession is crowded undoubtedly. But there is always room vacant at the top. The crowd is only at the bottom. Therefore, aim high.

A reading of the prospectus of National Law University, Jodhpur, and specially the foreword thereof contributed by Shri N.L. Mitra, the Vice-Chancellor, has left me more than satisfied but at the same time, heightened my hopes. I am happy to note that this institution is a third-generation experiment of integrated legal education. Here education in law is treated as a branch of philosophy and aims at achieving not only the enquiry and learning objectives but also the use of law as professional skills. Here law is not a logic merely; it is life's experience. The course of study has been so designed as to have the goal, objective, method and ability to totally integrate multi-disciplinary undergraduate educational disciplines with the legal education so that law and legal education usefully serve all branches of knowledge. The institution has realized the need of producing a technology lawyer, a nuclear lawyer, an infrastructural lawyer, a space lawyer, an IPR lawyer, a biotech and agricultural lawyer side by side a constitutional or a criminal or a corporate lawyer so also an instrumentation lawyer and a medical lawyer. The institution aims at not only satisfying the needs of education and research in the field of law but also meeting the needs of advanced training and applied research for economists, administrators, parliamentarians and advocates of the 21st century.

The turning of the millennium has entrusted on the shoulders of law schools the responsibility of imparting such legal education as can shape lawyers fit to assume additional roles as arbitrator, conciliator, mediator, who can plan the policies, advise the businessmen, negotiate settlements, act as reformers and interact on intricate questions of science and technology, if need be. The curriculum in law schools has to be so devised as can imbibe specialized knowledge and skills hitherto not contemplated for legal profession. I would end by quoting Shri N.R. Madhava Menon, Vice-Chancellor, West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences from one of his recent articles (appearing in The Hindu). He says:

"... the law curriculum for the future must provide integrated knowledge of a whole range of physical and natural science subjects on which legal policies are now being formulated. These areas include biodiversity, biotechnology, information technology, environmental sciences, air and space technologies, ocean and marine sciences, forensic sciences, public health, petroleum and minerals-related subjects etc. Lawyers will be naturally called upon to specialize in assorted branches of legal practice as it is impossible to be a practitioner in all emerging areas of legal practice.

The image of a lawyer in society as well as the self-image of the profession is not what it ought to have been given the diverse roles as stipulated above. A change is needed and it is important that the profession exists for the people and not the other way round. The way the profession is organized today also requires change to let a more rational distribution of work and to promote standards of efficiency and accountability. The way a lawyer thinks, acts and conducts himself will have to change if legal services have to be a powerful tool for justice in an unequal society/world. It is here that legal education has to take its lesson on value addition. Justice must become central to the law curriculum and community-based learning must give the desired value orientation in the making of a lawyer. To give a recent example, one can say that the young law students who went to the earthquake-affected districts of Gujarat seeking to carry legal services to the victims came back with impressions and experiences which would no doubt influence their professional life and shape their approach to justice. The idea being canvassed here is that professional education will have to be imbued with a spirit of social service and there is no better way of inculcating it except to expose them while studying law to real life experiences crying out for justice. The politics of legal education and the economics of legal practice should be subjected to academic scrutiny if the professional has to be saved from the practitioners themselves!"

I end with an interesting anecdote. As a young deputy district attorney in Kern County, California, in 1973, H. Dennis Beaver was trying a consumer fraud case before Judge Walter Conley. But the Judge rapidly grew exasperated with the rookie lawyer's line of questioning: "If you keep on asking these idiotic questions, I am going to send you some place where you have never been," the Judge warned Beaver. "You mean jail, Your Honour?" Beaver asked. "No," replied the Judge, "Law School!"

I wish my young friends Godspeed and ahead a very bright career in law.

*   Organised by National Law University, Jodhpur on 9-12-2001 Return to Text

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