Sunday, February 12, 2017

Rethinking Law School

 February 10, 2017

Rethinking LAW SCHOOL

In my days at law School, we students were seen, but hardly heard. We disappeared as soon as the lecturers were within sight. We were not smart mouths that retorted back in class or sneered at the jokes of the one with the red pen.  In those days, we waited for the lecturer to finish his class and we followed him or her out of the classroom. We asked questions respectfully and tried not to over fraternize with the dispensers of knowledge. Lecturers were tough and in so doing, they garnered the respect (or terror) they deserved from their students. We never had the courage to park our vehicles next to theirs. We never had the audacity to challenge the marks we were given. Deceit and fraud on our part were never thought of or imagined. We hardly ever heard stories of the same.

Today, things are different. Social media, an increasing population of young dons, privatization of education, and many others, have all contributed to a new culture. While not everything about our age is wrong, the new culture has also brought quite a huge avalanche of problems. Students cheating in examinations, students using forged or expired examination permits, plagiarism of work, disrespect of lecturers, are all part of our story.

Much as one will long for certain aspects of the old era, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that the only constant thing is change. So, we are confronted with human beings who are more ICT savvy. New applications like WhatsApp and Twitter coupled with the various effects of globalization have not only closed the lecturer-student gap, but have, with it, brought unique challenges like disrespect, careless communication, inappropriate comments and so on. The student population generally has developed the habit of finding ways around failure to meet deadlines, ignoring to follow instructions, crossing the boundaries of professionalism, etc. Yes, lecturers have encouraged it in a material particular and they too are to blame for the new status quo. Yes, parents and the old generation have played their part in this malaise. However, it is time to stop the blame game and start seeking solutions. This is because our nation Uganda needs us. We are the change that our nation needs. We are the ones to help this nation move to a middle-income status. To do so, the change has to start with us.

If ever there was a time for mentorship, this is that time.  There is a Chinese proverb that states, The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now. While I must hasten to add that mentorship is not the silver bullet to address some of my concerns above, I think that it helps in producing a more respectful, no-excuse, hardworking and committed legal professional of the courts of law and justice. It will be these officers that will be the change makers within the Justice, Law and Order Sector, the nation, the region and the ever-shrinking world.

Those of us who have had the benefit of riding on the backs of giants agree that mentors help us along the journey of becoming professionals. The challenge is upon us  whether one is a lecturer, activist or a practitioner  to guide these youngsters (yes, I am aware some might be physically older than us) in the ways of professional ethics and good conduct. Guiding young law students in professional development, etiquette, presentation, skills building, character building, etc. has got to be a deliberate act. We have to be intentional about ensuring that the current and future law students are well-equipped to face the challenges of cross border legal practice and also deliver quality services if they are to survive and to excel.

As Uganda continues to train more lawyers, the nation is becoming more lawless: as our Roll of Advocates continues to grow, so do the number of cases before the disciplinary committee of the Uganda Law Council. Our adversarial system is becoming a battle of wits and unprofessional behaviour sometimes involving certain law clerks and allegedly, some judicial officers. While this might be easily explained as a result of numbers, I think we need to look deeper and query the culture in which our legal minds are nurtured.  I submit that some of these issues can be curtailed by intentional mentoring of young lawyers and students to become excellent professionals. In spite of its potential, a German Shepherd that is raised like a goat will never achieve its fullest potential unless there is purposeful mentorship. Potential without preparation is a failed dream.

These days, it is possible for a law student to pass his or her exams without reading cases or a legal or non-legal book, attending classes, participating in a debate on national issues, maintaining a blog or even submitting a 300-word article for publication in the local dailies, let alone watch a debate on television or even quote a philosophy in a social media post.   While I do concede that some of our law graduates might never have wanted to study the law but were cajoled to do so, the thought that someone is willing to throw away four or five years of their life without pursuing what builds their character for the next phase of life is frightening.

It is time for law students to move away from business as usual and start doing the uncomfortable: read law cases, consult, seek out mentors, develop social skills, practice emotional intelligence, read widely, take time to make serious reflections for the future (critical thinking), and forge partnerships or seek the company of people who challenge them to be better. Failure to do so, we shall continue to reproduce a crop of ill-prepared graduates and noneffective legal professionals.

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