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Quest For 'Relevance' In Legal Education
by I.P. Massey *

Cite as : (1971) 2 SCC (Jour) 17

Today there is a feeling world over and India is no exception to it that the legal education is not 'meaningful' and 'relevant'. A student during his three years stay in a law school finds the present law studies utterly meaningless, irrelevant and boring. In America there is a saying: 'in the first year we are scared to death, in the second year we are laboured to death and in the third year we are bored to death.' This may perhaps be one of the main factors responsible for student unrest in law schools. Howsoever, we may condemn law students for their so-called indisciplined behaviour, one thing is certain that in the world of today no one can be compelled to accept anything which is 'meaningless' and 'irrelevant' to him.

'Meaninglessness' or 'irrelevancy' in legal education refers to the objects which the legal education in India seek to accomplish. The legal education, if it has to be meaningful, must provide direction in all areas of personal conflict inherent in a complex society and economy. Students must be trained to take up challenges as advisors, negotiators, judges, advocates, arbitrators and frequently administrators. It must train students not merely for solving the problems of their clients but of the society in which they live. The law schools must provide a centre of research, criticism and better understanding of law. Needless to say that law schools terribly lag behind in giving 'meaning' to education which they impart. Perhaps the sole aim of legal education in India is to provide a student with a knowledge of few provisions of Acts which he may need in catering to the needs of his client. We cannot dismiss a student who demands 'charm of relevance' in legal education by saying: 'if you are seeking charm you have come to a wrong place.'

The meaning of 'relevance' in legal education means that the legal education must be such that gives a student a sense of 'involvement' in the society in which he lives and this involvement must form the basis for his training which may equip him to take various challenges in life not necessarily as a professional lawyer. The 'relevance' in legal education gives student a feeling that he is not simply a drain on public purse but is doing something creative for the society.

In the United States, in order to give 'meaning' and 'relevance' to legal education, the law schools have launched many programmes which they call by various names, i.e. clinical programmes or performance courses or vista programmes or community programmes. These programmes by and large include:

(1) criminal law project;

(2) community education project;

(3) draft information project;

(4) welfare appeals project;

(5) legal switchboard;

(6) tenant union project, etc.

The criminal law project works in two areas: (1) research for court-appointed attorneys for the poor; (2) research on behalf of State and federal prisoners filing the writ of habeas corpus.

The community education programme involves law students in explaining to the people especially the students the operation of legal process which generally affects them, such as, the legal process relating to traffic, juveniles, narcotics and legal alternatives to violence.

The draft information project enables persons with questions about selective service system to obtain vital information needed in order to protect their rights and to understand their obligations under law.

The welfare appeal project involves law students in efforts to solve difficulties which welfare recipients encounter in dealing with welfare department. The students do research necessary to prepare for the administrative hearing in which the decision of the welfare board is involved.

In legal switchboard programmes the students receive telephone calls and make contacts for people in legal distress and arrange for pre-arrest representation, bail contacts and other emergency relief.

In tenants' union project, the law students help tenants in facing legal complications with their landlords.

All these programmes which take different shapes according to the need and capacity of a law school in America are designed with the chief aim of giving a student a sense of involvement in the society which in turn forms as basis of his practical experience and training.

I have no intention to suggest that law schools in India can profitably use all or any of these programmes as such. On the other hand my reaction is to the contrary because law schools in India are differently situated if compared with their counterparts in America because of their resources, capacities and limitation. But this does not suggest that within our own limitations and capacities we cannot find any plan and programme to give 'relevance' to our legal education. It is discouraging that in our law school there exists not even a valid thinking in this direction. It has become a fashion to talk of wider social, economic and political limitations in order to cover up our own lack of initiative. In the beginning our efforts may be just a straw in the air but satisfaction would lie in the fact that it will be floating in the right direction.

I do not intend to suggest any master plan. Every law school has to devise its own plan according to its need and capacity. 'Legal aid to poor' may be such a programme which can be profitably used by almost all the law schools in India. A start has been made in India in this direction with the establishment of National Legal Aid Association in 1970. The success of this association lies among other things, on how law schools take benefit of it in drawing their own aid programmes.

* LL.M. (Luck), LL.M. (Calif., Berkeley), Lecturer in Law, University of Gorakhpur, Gorakhpur. Return to Text

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