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Interview Of The Month  

This month, ILJ’s Aditya Shivkumar & Vikrant Pachnanda spoke to Gopal Subramaniam, Solicitor General of India & Chairman, Bar Council of India about various legal education reforms which are currently being undertaken under his able guidance.

Ques: The Centre has proposed a new legislation namely the ‘Legal Practitioners (Regulations and Maintenance of Standards in Professions, Protecting the Interest of Clients and Promoting the Rule of Law) Act, 2000 which aims to control the conduct of legal professionals as well protect the clients from harassment from the hands of those legal professionals who are not covered under the Advocates Act, 1961 since they are not registered with their respective state bar councils. Since, the Bar Council of India is presently, the sole regulatory body for advocates in India, don’t you think that this legislation could clip the wings of the BCI?

Ans: The Bar Council of India has not formally received a copy of this proposed legislation and hence, I will not be able to comment on it until I see it.

Ques: Don’t you think that there has to be impartment of ethical values in the lawyers from the ground level itself i.e. while they are studying at law school by including legal ethics as part of legal education itself rather than waiting for them to enter the legal profession and then adhere to the same?

Ans:Yes, indeed. The Bar Council of India is coming out with a revised curriculum from 2011-2012 onwards for law schools which are recognised by the Bar Council of India. Law students in various jurisdictions like the United States, United Kingdom and Australia to name a few are undertaking courses in clinical legal education projects as these projects are structured to address a broad array of issues which once faces when he/she joins the legal profession. Legal ethics will then be a compulsory paper in the revised law school curriculum carrying a large number of marks in the evaluation report of the student. This course will engage law students in observing how to retain ethical values and professional responsibility once they begin enter the profession after passing out from law school.

Ques: The Bar Council is conducting the first All India Bar Council Exam in December this year under your able guidance. This is seen as a welcome move to improve the quality of lawyers in the country. However, there was also a plan to make legal aids and trial court internships compulsory in law schools. Can you tell us about the status of these recommendations?

Ans: Once the revised curriculum as I have mentioned earlier comes into effect next year, rural internships will become compulsory for students and they would have to go to rural areas and assist in legal aid. Since knowledge of the procedures and functioning of the trial court is one of the basic foundations when one enters the legal profession, it will be mandatory for students while at law school to undergo three months of compulsory internship.

Ques: Don’t you feel that if the Bar Council of India comes out with a uniform system of ranking law schools in India, it will assist prospective candidates in referring to it before they actually apply to a particular law school and clear doubts in people’s mind about their reputation for various law schools which is often misguided by different ranking lists being taken out by various organizations? India Law Journal has also prepared a draft methodology for ranking law schools in the country and would like to assist the BCI in this regard.

Ans: Yes, ranking of law schools in India is important and we shall be appointing an accreditation agency before the 2011-2012 academic calendar starts. While ranking law schools, we shall consider several aspects such as the quality of teaching in law schools and other performance standards. We shall notify the same shortly. Also, we do appreciate the assistance that India Law Journal wishes to extend in this regard. We shall look into the proposal given to us by your organization and shall also get India Law Journal involved in the same. We are working closely with are counterparts in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia to reform the legal education standards in the country. In fact, one member of our UK counterpart is working with us in this very office.

Ques: There was a proposal to make the Indian LLM a one year course from the present two years. Can you kindly update us on this move?

Ans: Yes, we are working in this regard. We are also undertaking an overhaul in the 5 year L.L.B degree which is presently being undertaken by law students. The five year course will consist of a two year graduation course followed by the three year L.L.B course which shall be the four year Juris Doctorate degree converted into a three year course. This integrated course will be internationally accepted in all universal jurisdictions. We will also be introducing the ‘Pick your LLM on the way’ in law schools which means that bright students would be offered a chance to teach alongside faculties which would be adjusted against their classes and towards the end of their law school curriculum, they would be awarded with an LLM degree. The BCI has tiled up with Yale and Harvard law schools and also with a university in Australia in trying to achieve a multi country set up for Indian lawyers. I have gone ‘insane’ in trying to achieve this and we are working very hard to ensure that India’s legal education system is globally accepted.

Ques: Are there any other moves that the BCI plans to make in order to improve the legal education system in India?

Ans: Clinical legal education is constituted by three key elements: professional skills training, learning through experience and imparting professional and ethical values. We shall be working to ensure that the students do achieve these skills while at law school. We will also be implementing a method in order to track the health and well being of the lawyers and shall be taking the assistance of the Unique Identification Number programme (UIN) in this. The new ethics guidelines will be introduced by the BCI on 14th November this year and one of the important clauses in these guidelines is that if any senior advocate cannot appear for his client in a hearing, then he/she would have to refund the client’s fees.

Ques: The national law schools were set up with the hope that the quality of lawyers at the bar would increase thereby leading to better quality of judges. However, majority of the students who pass out of these elite national law schools opt for cushy jobs at law firms or multinational companies. What according to you can help solve this problem of attracting more people to the bar?

Ans: You both are absolutely correct that the national law schools were set up with the hope that the quality of lawyers at the bar would increase thereby leading to better quality of judges. We need to stress and emphasize on the merits of litigation. The judiciary is working closely with the Bar Council of India in this regard and we are trying to ensure that both the bar reforms as well as the judicial reforms take place side by side since the two are interlinked. This reformation process consists of three steps namely (a) legal education reforms, (b) professional reforms and (c) judicial reforms.

Ques: Can you give us your opinion on the entry of foreign law firms in India?

Ans: We should not be afraid for foreign law firms to enter India. But this should only happen once we have enhanced are own skills and have optimum experience. Regarding the foreign law firms writ which is presently going on in the Madras High Court, the BCI will meet and discuss the same shortly.

Ques: The Tamil Nadu Advocate General P S Raman appeared for Bhutan lottery in the lottery case prompting Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan to write to his Tamil Nadu counterpart, M Karunanidhi. Can you give us your opinion on this since as advocate general of Tamil Nadu, Mr. Raman is debarred from advising or holding briefs against the state of Tamil Nadu or its instrumentalities?

Ans: In my opinion, what Mr. Raman has done is unexceptional. In the present case, Raman has appeared in his capacity as senior counsel and not as advocate general of Tamil Nadu. Therefore, there is no legal bar in his having done so. It also clearly affects his professional privileges as well as amounts to interfering with an individual litigant's right to have a counsel of his choice which is a fundamental right under our Constitution. Mr. P.S. Raman is one of the best advocates in the country today and is a role model for all those who aspire to become successful lawyers.

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