This article examines the push towards online legal education during COVID-19 and the mandatory role it has taken for the survival of the academia or every field that involves communication. It also analyses the impact of COVID-19 on the future of legal education. It further takes note of the advantages as well as disadvantages of providing legal education through online means.
After the onset of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns, many universities and colleges have switched to the online mode of education. Legal education is a skill-based education and online mode does not provide the proper requisites and knowledge to employ a budding lawyer.
COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives significantly in various ways. One of the major impacts of COVID-19 is its effect on legal education and education, in general. Most universities and colleges have been forced to switch to online education due to the pandemic and the lockdowns. If you have been experiencing heightened stress or anxiety due to the pandemic and the lockdowns, you can reach out to the mental health professionals at BetterHelp.
Impact of COVID-19 on Legal education
This comes both as a boon and a curse to the legal system. While establishing online mechanisms to curb this adverse situation is a boon, the effectiveness of online legal education is questionable. For e.g., the courts in India have implemented e-filing as well as hearings through online conferences.
But the arguments made in online courts are nowhere as effective as those made in an offline setting. Similarly, while setting up online classes and creating a database online is useful in many ways, the same is not very efficient in retaining the knowledge of students.
This entire pandemic and the closing down of physical classes in colleges has led to various issues with the completion of the curriculum and the modes of assessment. The Bar Council of India has directed the universities to conduct online classes to ensure that students are not at a disadvantage and don’t lose an entire semester as a result of the lockdown.
But many universities don’t have the infrastructure to conduct online classes, neither do the students have the facilities to attend such classes. This creates a divide between the rich and the poor in obtaining legal education as those with a financially weak background don’t have the resources to attend online classes and are, therefore, deprived of a valid education.
Even conducting exams poses a significant issue for such universities as it is difficult to maintain student integrity in online examinations. The guidelines of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and Bar Council of India (BCI) on this issue are quite confusing as well as non-enforceable in certain cases. For e.g., the BCI has directed universities to promote students to the next semester based on their internal grades, and then conduct the examinations post-re-opening of colleges.
However, if a university has already promoted the students, the purpose of examinations is frustrated. Furthermore, there is no clarity on the examinations and promotion of students who are in their final year. The Bar Council of India had allowed universities to conduct online examinations for final year students vide a notification dated 27.05.2020.
However, the UGC and BCI have kept changing their stance on the same, by either directing the universities to conduct online examinations or by cancelling all exams. This has created a lot of ambiguity in the minds of final year students and has also subjected them to severe stress in relation to their future and career.
Foreign University Students
There has been a delirious effect on the people pursuing higher education in the law field from foreign universities. Due to the shutdown of international flights, many students are stuck abroad or are unable to go to the university. The main benefit of pursuing a foreign higher education is the exposure it provides the students with.
However, due to the present situation, the degree of many students is now equal to distance education, which does not provide the proper exposure required. This has led to a financial loss as many of these students have already paid the fees.
The Customary Cost of Education
Another issue that is being faced by the students is the cost of education. The universities are still demanding full fees, however, not providing the facilities for which such fees are accorded to. For e.g., fees are still being taken in relation to infrastructural facilities, library, mess, housing, etc. even though these facilities are not being utilized by the students.
Since it is important for the universities to pay its administrative and teaching staff and incidental expenses, the fees should be reduced to include only such facilities as are being provided by the universities in the current situation.
Legal Association of Online education
One of the primary issues that presents itself for online education, is that it is not recognized by the Bar Council of India. As per Rule 4 of the Bar Council of India Rules for Legal Education, 2008, only two types of courses are recognized- the 3-year law courses and the 5-year integrated law courses.
It does not recognize online courses that are offered on various websites. Furthermore, the definition of ‘Centres for Legal Education’ does not cover correspondence courses through distance education under Rule 2(iv)(a) of the Rules of Legal Education-2008, i.e. online education.
Therefore, a person who obtains education online but is not affiliated to any approved centre of legal education, cannot practice law in India. The reason for the same is that the legal profession is practice-oriented and students need an all-round development to maintain proper standards in the legal field.
These clauses, however, pose an interference possibility due to the advent of the Covid-19 situation, wherein the only source of legal education is online. The education being offered online in the present situation, in essence, equivalent to distance education.
Advantages of Online Legal Education
There are various advantages of online legal education, as follows-
- In the present situation, in relation to Covid-19, the only solution to continuing education is through online mode, thereby making it as the only source of education for many individuals.
- Many people who don’t have access to legal education are able to access education through free courses that are offered online. Hence, anyone can gain access to such education through the comfort of their homes.
- There are many resources that are available online, which offer full insight into a particular subject along with visual stimulation. This creates a better understanding of many topics which are otherwise not covered in the university curriculum.
- Students who do not have access to books can also refer to various e-books and credible articles offered online at a much lesser or free of cost scheme.
- Many law professionals, such as senior lawyers, judges and professors are indulging in online webinars after the commencement of the lockdowns due to Covid-19, many of these webinars are open to everyone and therefore, students and other law professionals can gain knowledge on a particular law topic or legal issue by attending these online webinars. In such cases, the credibility of legal education is also there as it is being imparted by top leaders in the law field.
- Any person, who is not even belonging to the legal field, can take up online courses and gain basic knowledge about the law to help in their daily life.
- Many students are benefitted through online courses as they are able to take the course at their own pace.
Drawbacks of Online Legal Education
Legal education which is conducted online can have a lot of disadvantages as well:
- Many individuals who emerge from a financially weak background do not have access to online resources and as a result struggle with the switch to online education.
- Even if they have access to online resources, they may face network irregularities, leading to a less efficient flow of communication and ambiguity in concepts of law.
- The output produced by online education is far less efficient than the one produced with offline education.
- The teachers don’t have the requisite knowledge and experience to conduct online classes, with many of such teachers facing technical issues. This leads to a lack of efficiency or the cancellation of classes in various situations.
- Sitting in front of a screen for long hours also impacts the physical and mental health of both students as well as the teachers.
- Students are not able to focus due to a lack of visual stimulation in many cases. Since many online classes are conducted in which only the teacher’s video is on, many students are distracted and do not gain any knowledge in online sessions.
- Online class sessions are not as interactive as offline classes and do not lead to an all-round development of the personality of students.
- Many students are chasing online certification courses just for the ‘certificate’ and in order to add something to their resume. They are not using online resources to actually gain an in-depth insight into a particular subject.
- Many of these online certification courses offered by various websites do not have a proper mechanism to evaluate a student’s knowledge on the completion of the course. Furthermore, students cannot even clear doubts as compared to a one-on-one interaction with a professor in an offline setting.
- Various websites are offering e-certificates for attending webinars on paying a fee. These certificates are being used to make money from vulnerable students as most of these certificates do not carry much value if such student has not actually listened and learnt from the webinar.
- Online education through websites like YouTube can be imparted by anyone, regardless of their credentials. Therefore, such person imparting education to the young impressionable people may not have the merit or knowledge to impart legal education.
- Since such sites do not regulate legal education or content of any kind, the information is not reliable in many cases.
- In various situations, the content’s credibility is judged on the number of views of a particular video imparting such education. This factor is not reliable and can lead viewers to misleading content.
- The Bar Council of India should regulate legal education, by ensuring that the courses offered online are certified and follow a proper curriculum.
- The Bar Council of India should recognize online internships as well as courses, although keep a regular check at frivolous certifications.
- The prices of online courses should also be regulated and should not be excessive.
- There should be a proper mechanism and guidelines in place for conducting online classes, for e.g. mandatory video conferencing to ensure visual stimulation or the mandatory use of power-point presentations to ensure clarity of concepts.
- The quality of legal education imparted online should be maintained through a series of checks and balances and by giving students analytical assignments which require proper research and not just memory-based assignments.
- As long as online classes are being conducted, only tuition fees should be taken by the colleges.
- The teachers should be trained in conducting online classes and ensuring the effective flow of information in the classes.
While online education can supplement offline legal education, it certainly cannot replace it. However, due to the situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the only solution is to continue education through online resources. However, there is a need to regulate online legal education and to ensure that quality is maintained throughout, no matter what the mode of education remains. Proper infrastructure has to be created for conducting online classes. More uniformity should be provided throughout universities with regard to online education.
Authored by: Vanya Agarwal
BBA LLB Corporate Laws, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies