Challenges to Legal Education – Bhutanese Perspectives

On 28-29th March 2015, I was bestowed with an opportunity to attend the SAARC Law Summit on Legal Education vis-a-vis social development in the Indian Institute of Legal studies (IILS), Siliguri. Indian Institute of Legal Studies is a private law school affiliated with the University of North Bengal. Located in Siliguri, the conference was first of its kind in the IILS or perhaps in the District of Darjeeling. The Summit was graced by the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, Chief Justice of Afghanistan, Justice of the Supreme Court of India, Justice from Bhutan, Professors, and Academicians, legal scholars, media and many other prominent dignitaries. The summit received great applause.

However I am not writing the Report of the Summit. Since the Summit is on the Legal Education vis-à-vis Social development in SAARC region, I seriously intend to write few challenges that the Bhutanese lawyer face in the market. This writing however is not research orient but purely my personal opinions.

Placement

Recognizing the importance of legal education, hundred of students are pursuing legal studies abroad. In the IILS itself there are 57 Bhutanese students pursuing legal studies. In Bangalore, I overheard that almost more than 100 students pursue law. In Hyderabad and Pune together at least 20 students must be pursuing law. This is evidencing the recognition of the importance of legal education by the Bhutanese.

I joined my career as a lawyer not because I wanted to become a prominent lawyer but because I was told that the country (specially the Judiciary) is facing acute shortage of legal professionals. However, when I graduated, not all of us were recruited, and in fact many are left on their peril looking for job by themselves. Same story is being shared by my junior batches, and already Bhutan have a quite number of lawyers unemployed. And I firmly believe that those students studying law overseas must have chosen to study law not because of their interest but because they were informed of the acute shortage of legal professionals in the Kingdom. The situation however is completely different than what we have heard few years ago.

Although every law student’s goal is to get suitable placement offer, sadly it is not the case in Bhutan. We don’t have multi-national companies, we don’t have well established law firms, and our judicial system does allow litigants to represent the courts themselves which ultimately provide less market for the lawyers to practice. The only employer for the Bhutanese law graduate is the Royal Government of Bhutan. When the government cannot afford to recruit all law graduates, and with very limited private and corporate employers offering the suitable job, there is a big reason to concern for the future.

Communication Wall – Dzongkha

Bhutan’s Court language is Dzongkha and those who are practicing law need to be acquainted with this language. I hear law graduate saying “I want to practice but I don’t know Dzongkha”. Where this formidable problem does originate from? Certainly it may not be completely a personal problem, and some part of accusation goes to the educational system. At pre-primary level, Dzonkha is one of the main subjects, and if we don’t excel in it, then we are not promoted. However, later in the High School, Dzonkha is just an ancillary subject; you don’t have to excel to get admission for the colleges. There is seemingly a system failure where we need to strengthen.

Whatever said and done, everyone knows that the Judiciary is the only institution that promote Dzongkha. Every law graduates are expected to appear the court with good written plaint in Dzongkha. You are also expected to argue in fluent Dzongkha. Therefore, at an individual level, lawyers need to do almost perfection in our national language. Therefore, I would like to see every law student to keep constant touch with our national language Dzongkha.

Practicing is difficult

First of all, let me put this question: when does Law Graduate become a lawyer? The system is similar across the globe. For instance, in many jurisdictions, a person becomes a lawyer upon his enrolment with the Bar Council. One cannot practice law without passing the Bar Exam. Similarly in Bhutan, you have to pass the Bar Selection Examination and enroll with the Jabmi Tshogdey in order to practice before any Court of Law in the Kingdom of Bhutan [See Chapter 3 of Jabmi Act]. The Jabmi Act provides that “in order to practice before any Court of law in the Kingdom of Bhutan, every Jabmi need to enroll with the Jami Tshogdey” [S.19 of the Jabmi Act]. In the absence of Jabmi Tshogdey, we become a certified lawyer upon completion of the Postgraduate Diploma in National Law (PGDNL). We shall assume that the PGDNL certificate provide license for every law graduate to practice in any court across the Kingdom.

When the government cannot afford to recruit every law graduate, many would wanted to practice of their own. However, in reality, simply having the PGDNL certificate does not provide license for you to practice. You have to obtain business license from the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Thus, legal profession in Bhutan is like any other businessmen and any income that you generate is subject to business tax. Under such system, new law graduates cannot practice but to wait for their luck to click the job vacancy. This is high time that we need to clearly define taxable legal service giving exemption for the new practicing lawyers for certain number of years.

Placing in good Colleges produce quality lawyer?

People say that the success of student depends upon individual hard work and college and faculty play very limited role in it. Although that is true to the some extent, however I also believe that the faculty and college matters a lot in the student’s professional development. Law students are completely new in the area of law and lacks so many information. Students can learn so many things from faculty which otherwise is not possible. And I feel student learn more from the experience of the faculty than what is written in the legal text books.

After plus twelve, the Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) does selection interview. Those who excel in English and Dzongkha get to choose legal profession. After chosen to study the law, every law student would wish to study in best national universities and colleges abroad. However, this is not the case for Bhutanese students. Whose responsibility is this? The DAHE choose the universities and send students across the globe. Since LL.B students are funded entirely by the Government of India, DAHE is required to send to study in India. But it is their duty to ensure that the students are send to good law universities, for students would build for their future through effective learning. For instance, I have seen few Indian law colleges where students are provided with options to attend or not to attend the normal classes. Class attendance is not mandatory, and whether student attend the classes or not does not really matter. In such system, students hardly attend the classes, and thereby learning nothing. Therefore, it is important that DAHE choose reputed law colleges. Good college is one foundation to produce a quality lawyer.

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