It is in the public interest to ensure and maintain high standards of competence in the legal profession. A High Court ruling by Justice John Mativo directed the Council of the Law Society of Kenya to consider what might be behind the worrying trend of low pass rates for the Kenya School of Law Bar examinations. The Bar examinations are administered by the Council of Legal Education (CLE).
According to CLE, only 445 (22%) out of 1991 students passed all nine subjects in the November 2017 Bar examinations. It is time for the legal education sector to undergo major reforms for the good of law students and the general public. As various stakeholders point fingers at the Council of Legal Education, Kenya School of Law and Universities, the state of legal education in Kenya continues to deteriorate. While the blame cannot fall squarely on any one institution, there needs to be a collective effort to improve legal education in the country.
Currently, the Kenya School of Law (KSL) is the only academic institution which
undertakes an Advocates Training Programme. However, KSL is admitting over fifteen hundred students each year which means attempting to offer quality training with limited resources and overwhelming numbers.
Individual assignments cannot be given due to the sheer numbers at the School; they must be done in groups of 10 or more students. Universities ought to complement the work of the Kenya School of Law and offer this training programme to ease the burden off of the School. This would help to raise the standard of training of future advocates. An alternative would be for each law school to train students for five years instead of the usual four years, with the fifth year committed to advocacy training. The students could then proceed to pupillage at various law firms directly from the individual law schools. The Bar examinations would still be administered by the Council of Legal Education to ensure quality in setting, marking and moderation of examinations. This would contribute to raising the alarming pass rates.
The selection criteria for admission to law schools need to be reviewed. There is
increased commercialization of legal education with law schools admitting students with very low cut-off grades. A student who wishes to undertake a law degree programme should ideally have a good academic record, a good grasp of the English language and the ability and competence to appreciate the technical nature of the substance and procedure of the law.
Law Schools need to endeavour to offer quality training to students to prepare them to be good lawyers. The lecture method of learning where lecturers dictate to their students is increasingly outdated. Global best practices reveal that it is advisable to complement lectures with tutorials, cold calling, the Socratic modes of learning, group activities and other innovations to have active learning in the classroom. Guest lectures by practitioners largely enrich learning as well and bring much needed practical perspectives to the classroom. When lawyers have a good foundation from the individual law schools, they are better placed to grasp the Bar curriculum which would raise the pass rates.
While these reflections are not exhaustive nor the end-all solutions to the problem, attempts to reform the legal sector will maintain the much-needed standards of competence of the profession. As Albert Einstein once stated: You cannot solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.