Comparing Experiential Legal Education in Canada and India

 The Asian Journal of Legal Education


Legal education has evolved over several centuries across the globe, and its effectiveness is a matter of significant concern not merely for legal practitioners but also for society in general. One approach that has been gaining considerable attention is the concept of experiential legal education, which is at different levels of implementation across the world. Countries such as the United States and Canada have been pioneers in implementing this form of legal education, which is also known as clinical legal education (CLE), whereas India is striving to catch up. This article attempts to inspect and compare the development and implementation of CLE in Canada and India. The findings from the comparison are then utilized to inform the way ahead for CLE in India. While pursuing this objective, the article also examines the concept of experiential education, in general, and in the context of legal education, in particular. Moreover, insights are provided regarding CLE. The status of experiential legal education in Canada is reviewed, and the author’s experience in Canada under the Shastri Research Student Fellowship (SRSF) is detailed to provide the author’s insights regarding the implementation of experiential legal education in Canada. The evolution of experiential legal education in India is also detailed, together with insights regarding the regulations of the Bar Council of India (BCI) as are relevant to CLE. Finally, the article compares the author’s opinion of the present status of CLE in Canada and India and provides recommendations to enhance the future implementation of CLE in India.

Over the past years, law schools have encountered considerable pressure to participate in grave self-examination regarding their effectiveness in helping their students and in undertaking significant changes to syllabus and pedagogy, especially with regard to offering opportunities for experiential learning and making sure that graduates are equipped for practice. In fact, a 2007 report by the Carnegie Foundation reported that ‘[t]he gap between learning how to think like a lawyer and being capable of acting like a lawyer, both clinically and morally is, if anything, greater than it has ever been before’. Furthermore, this report, in answer to this mismatch, advocated a substantial focus on skills concerned with practice and values intended to instil a ‘sense of professional identity and purpose’. The Carnegie Report concluded that legal education should endeavour to combine ‘in a single educational framework, the two sides of legal knowledge: (a) formal knowledge and (b) the experience of practice’. Another publication that called for similar reforms was Best Practices for Legal Education: A Vision and a Roadmap (‘Best Practices’). This report further detailed the elements, curricular and pedagogical, that most significantly impact the preparation of graduates to be professionals who are capable and compassionate. The response of institutes of legal education and related stakeholders to these, and other similar reports, has been to direct their attention to experiential legal education.

In this regard, Canada was among the first countries to experience a wave of experiential legal education. India is a later adopter of this concept of experiential legal education, which is referred to as clinical legal education (CLE) in the country. This article attempts to compare the present status of experiential legal education in Canada and India based on the author’s experiences in both countries. In doing so, it seeks to trace the evolution of experiential legal education in the two countries, together with their present status of implementation.


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