Many students protested, filed writ petitions, and in Chennai, even disrupted the Bar Exam repeatedly. Bar Council of India stuck to its guns though, and held the Bar Exam twice a year despite many hiccups and teething problems since 2010.
The efficiency of the exam is quite suspect , due to many hitches. Pages can be filled with the sufferings that law graduates have faced which include initial pass results later on being converted to fail. The whole process is a huge bureaucratic hurdle for fresh graduates. Just registering for the bar exam takes weeks; and to be eligible for it one has to enroll with a state bar council first which takes a lot of time in most states. The costs of registering with a bar and then writing the AIBE often runs into ten to twenty thousand rupees – not considering the time spent running around to deal with the very slow and bureaucratic process.
However, the Bar Exam is clearly here to stay. Why?
A good bar exam is really needed in India
No one wants to talk about it in public but some lawyers in India, especially at the lower courts, just work as agents of other better lawyers. They don’t have the skills or ability to run a law practice. All they can do to earn a livelihood is finding a client and often overcharging poor litigants. They are the ambulance-chasers of India and you can find them outside each jail, when family members of arrested folks come to meet them. You can find them attached to each police station and they are conduits of corruption. They take money and pass on a cut to the administration. Sometimes they are given access to police station, courts and other bastions of criminal justice system through which they can walk in, get copies of confidential documents for a few thousands, they get cases ‘settled’ and claim that they can get you a bail in 2 days if the right amount is paid.
There are other lawyers who are completely clueless as to how they can earn a living. There is tremendous hidden unemployment in the world of lawyers. The degree doesn’t come to rescue unless you can find clients and know how to get things done for them. They try to find good seniors who will give them an opportunity to learn because they are terribly under-prepared to start a legal career. Slowly they realize that years in law college has not at all prepared them for the challenges they face as lawyers.
The terrible state of things
Basically, hundreds of law colleges are producing tens of thousands of incompetent lawyers every year who do not know how to find their place in the legal economy. However, this is not very obvious to everyone except those who get to see the profession from close quarters through experience.
Over the years, the reputation of lawyers as people have plummeted as a result. In common people’s mind, a lawyer is not the image of famous lawyers and statesmen like Palkhivala or Fali Nariman, they think of lawyers as over-promising, corrupt, incompetent tricksters. You can hardly blame them because the lawyers they are dealing with at the bottom of the pyramid very often turn out to be exactly that, incompetent tricksters.
Here comes the Bar Exam
If you realize that hundreds of law colleges are merely working as degree awarding mills – how will you deal with the situation? How do you stop the thousands of incompetent lawyers flooding the legal profession every year and dragging down its standards?
You impose a bar exam on them.
How are the law graduates faring with the current bar exam?
Despite abysmally low standards of questions, and mass cheating reported by examinees in these exams – more than 1 in 3 lawyers appearing for the bar exam fails. This should speak volumes about the state of legal education in India.It is high time that the BCI starts identifying the colleges from which too many graduates are failing in the bar exam, and start to penalize those colleges. Perhaps prevent them from taking more students. At least announce their names in the public so that law aspirants can avoid those colleges.
What can the Bar Exam achieve?
1. It can set a standard for colleges and for law students.
If the colleges’ fate will be tied to the performance of its students in a bar exam – they are much likely to put in some effort in direction of training the students in the right way. Even the law students will have insight as to what are the skills and knowledge they need to acquire to call themselves lawyers – and will make concerted effort towards that goal from the beginning. However, it is crucial that Bar Exam would point them in the right direction by testing the right kind of skills and knowledge. A namesake AIBE like the one we have in the present cannot achieve this purpose. The syllabus and the exam pattern must be thought through very carefully (constituting a ornamental body consisting of judges and senior lawyers doesn’t help – real hardcore research by legal education experts will be needed).
2. It can improve the quality of legal education imparted at law colleges
Most degree awarding law colleges barely teach anything useful to law students. Learning involves memorizing notes and writing exams that test your ability for rote learning. Most of them do not teach anything remotely practical. Law students are not taught to think, write, speak or analyze. They can’t understand provisions of law, let alone apply them. The standard of faculty is a joke in most colleges. Private colleges have mushroomed all over which overcharge students for the most mediocre legal education possible. However, what is worst? None of them can be caught on what they are doing. As there is hidden unemployment (no lawyer will come forward and confess that they are unemployed) – we don’t have any statistics to nail these legal degree mills that hand out useless empty LLB degrees every year. If we track which college is doing well and doing very badly in the bar exam, we will know for sure which ones are the worst perpetrators of the crime described above. This is can go a long, long way is improving the quality of the legal education in the country, of course, provided that the quality of the bar exam itself is improved.
3. It can help to recover the lost respect for legal profession
The public perception of the legal profession is directly proportionate to the quality of lawyers who are allowed to join the practice. The Chartered Accountants, for instance, are very protective of their profession and strictly regulate how many people of what quality get to become chartered accountants. The lawyers have completely failed to protect the profession in this way. The profession is now overrun with people with unacceptably low level of legal skills. The Bar Exam could reform this situation.
4. It can save the people from terrible lawyers
It is understandable that not all lawyers will be of the same caliber. However, people without having minimum legal skills required to justifiably serve a client should not be licensed to practice as lawyers. If such people are given license to practice, they harm the interests of common people. High net worth individuals or big corporations know who are the right lawyers to hire but the common people suffer terribly from these bad quality lawyers. The experience of the common people is so bitter with lawyers, that it has been reflected in popular culture like in movies, literature, lyrics of pop songs.
It is high time to change things for once and all. And a well conducted Bar Exam that properly sets out the minimum expertise level required to practice law can make a major difference to the entire legal system.