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Litigation, Irritation

One of the significant problems that law graduates face today is their utter inability to make head or tail out of what they see going on in courts for the first few months of their practice. They might have studied the subject that is being discussed by lawyers and judges in the courtrooms and conducted legal research but despite that, there is a chasm between what gets argued/discussed and what an average fresh law graduate understands. There are multiple causes behind this.

The first amongst them is that a lot of what goes on in courts are discussions on procedural law – something that’s never really taught in any law school in India (there are classes, but they’re pretty much pointless). The procedures are anyway too complex, to begin with. What’s more, they are in great multitude and scattered across various subordinate legislations in addition to the two central legislations specifically meant to deal with procedural laws (Civil Procedure Code for civil suits and the Code of Criminal Procedure for criminal trials). For example, there is a certain type of (complex) procedure followed when there is a dispute about a land’s ownership and another type of (complex) procedure when there is a violent crime that is being tried. And, there are dozens of such divisions when it comes to types of cases. Various areas of law – tax, corporate, labour, environment, administrative, etc. – have their own courts (sometimes even tribunals), all of them with a procedure of their own. As of now, there isn’t an effective method that any law school in India knows of to teach all of this within a time period of five years; this could make for one of the many interesting legal research topics that students can explore for their legal writing.

The other cause is that the lower courts manage their affairs in the local language in question, whereas all the major legislations are drafted in English. The legal writing in law schools is different. Moreover, throughout the course of the five-year program, students are generally taught in English. Most students in National Law Universities (NLUs) are familiar with their local languages but not to the extent that they can comfortably use it in the courtrooms to draft their legal documents. And, almost all documents submitted by local authorities are in the respective local languages. So, it takes a while to get used to that (at least a few months).

Then, there is also a general lack of actual mentors, who have practical experience (with litigation), who teach students on a regular basis, consistently, across time. Sometimes, a rare faculty appears who has had an experience of having practised law for a few years in their past. Unfortunately, most of what they have learnt is never taught to students since they have a prescribed textbook to stick to and a time limit within which to finish off the syllabus. At the end of compulsory court internships (done during vacations), students are often left with a lot of unanswered questions in their minds regarding what they saw (which could make for interesting research topics in law). This could be ascribed to the lack of a faculty who specialises/has an expertise in litigation within universities.

In fact, even the idea of month-long internships at courts are largely ineffective. Most students anyway only know bits and pieces (at best) of procedural law at any given point of time. During court internships, if they are extremely lucky, they get to watch procedure that they have studied about. And one might argue that they should read about what’s going on in the court and conduct their own legal research. But, by the time an average student starts understanding the concept after reading about it, the court has moved on ahead with the next step of the suit/trial that again involves something unheard of; the cycle never ends and one can never catch up. What’s worse, most lawyers just make it seem like they were born with it! Some lawyers get annoyed when an intern/junior asks a lot of questions, while some deign showing the subordinates where to find answers. The best a fresh law graduate or an intern can do is work with lawyers over long periods of time (a few months, at least) to even begin getting the hang of what’s going on. And while they are at it, they are more like a burden on the lawyer (since they’re not of much use), which is why the juniors also don’t get paid much. So, an average fresh graduate isn’t just losing a lot of time because of the lack of procedural knowledge but is also incapable of earning much when they’re starting off. Figuring out a way to successfully teach procedural laws to law school students is, hence, a need of the hour, if we want them to have a smooth start to their litigation careers. Legal essay writing and legal assignments on them may not be very successful methods without such pedagogy.

-Siddhant Parikh