The legal profession in India is a substantial profession and one that is consistently growing. The body that regulates lawyers, and also represents the interests of the lawyers is the Bar Council of India (BCI), supported by various state Bar Councils.
The BCI, under the Advocates Act of 1961, is also entrusted with the task of regulating the entry and right to practice of lawyers. Some of the basic requirements include Indian citizenship (or reciprocal allowing of practice), educational qualifications, and more recently, the requirement to clear the All India Bar Examination.
The BCI has also prohibited some categories from practice as lawyers. An advocate, for instance, cannot be an employee if she is to be able to practice. This provision ensures avoidance of an obvious conflict of interest and enables lawyers to represent clients without any prejudice.
More recently, some gray areas have emerged. One of these, which recently came under the consideration of the BCI, was the question of whether elected Members of Parliament could practice as advocates simultaneously. It was decided that they could. The position is the same in many other countries. In the United Kingdom for instance, MPs are allowed to work as barristers and solicitors.
What is perhaps interesting is the situation with regard to academics. In the UK, many practicing lawyers also teach at various universities. In India, the situation is somewhat different. The Advocates (Right to Take up Law Teaching) Rules, 1979 allow for lawyers to teach. Rule 3 states that an advocate employed in an educational institution for the teaching of law may do so as long as she teaches only for three hours in a day.
The engagement in the other direction is still limited. Most academics who hold full time positions are unable to appear in court.
Law is traditionally considered a profession that is heavily intellectual. Interpretation, reinterpretation, policy inputs, impact of laws and jurisprudential questions are as academic as they are practical. In fact, many times, academics from various National Law Schools have been of great assistance to courts in dispensing justice in practical matters. A recent example is that of the National Law University, Delhi assisting the Delhi High Court in some cases. There are other judgments, both in India and in the UK, where the courts have heavily relied on academic publications and observations as well.
Additionally, the legal profession is one that is also extremely collegiate. Perhaps the most insightful of knowledge as well as skill is learnt by discussing, debating and observing seniors. The Inns of courts of the UK are testimony to this – all students who want to be called to the Bar must attend qualifying sessions with senior practitioners and lawyers.
A substantial portion of the management or ‘benchers’ comprise academics. Academia is similarly an engaging profession in the collegial sense.
Law is certainly also an onerous profession. India’s lawyers and judges, for decades have shown great skill as well as extraordinary intellectual flair. The courts certainly deserve the best knowledge and understanding of the law. Academics are in an excellent situation to facilitate that. They are also in a position to enhance student experience in places of learning, thereby producing better advocates.
The Bar Council, as well as the courts, should perhaps consider ways to facilitate this engagement by drafting appropriate rules.
The author is a Barrister-at-Law, currently working as an Assistant Professor & Assistant Director of the Centre for Penology, Criminal Justice and Police Studies at OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat.