Legal education must change with the law

Friday October 30 2015

The legal profession is changing fast and so will legal education.

A recently released futuristic Hollywood film portrays a world with no lawyers. That world has dispensed with lawyers thanks to justice accelerators, which make justice achievable without intermediaries in accurate, fast and cheap fashion.

I left Nairobi last Sunday with the first batch of 60 law students who will visit international courts and tribunals in The Hague and Nuremberg, and hold seminars and lectures organised by the universities of Cologne, Amsterdam, Leiden and the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons).

A second batch of 60 more second-year finalists will join the learning experience next Sunday. These trips are part of the academic programme.

All students, regardless of their background and status, participate. It is part of their international public law subject here at Strathmore Law School.

The idea of these "academic" trips was inspired by an innovative approach to learning: to make students touch and feel the institutions they have been reading so much about, to interrogate their work and question how and if they serve justice and the nation, and to meet their judges and prosecutors.


They have been scrutinising these very same people through their exams and moot court competitions.

Truth be told, travelling is not essential to education. A short trip to Europe will not make anyone cleverer. In fact, we all know many obtuse people who travel far and wide for pure leisure.

They get tired by going far and spending many hours doing nothing. Sometimes they even need an extra holiday to get some rest from their holidays.

Academic trips are not leisure trips. But they are not only academic, for books are only a small portion of our lives. These trips have a hidden agenda. 90 per cent of the participants have never travelled abroad; they have never seen JKIA from within, and they have never experienced a big city where the rule of law is observed, where public transport works, drivers follow rules, and where they stop at a red light when it is red.

It is awesome to see their reactions, which I wrote about last year. It is also amazing to see how they change the distorted image that many ignorant people have about Africans.

The students are good-looking, smart thinkers. They engage with post-doctoral fellows and doctoral students.

They challenge judges, prosecutors, professors, are intellectually alive and curious, and make me tremendously proud. Kenya is rising and there is a bright future ahead of us.

They will form part of a generation of lawyers that have learnt first-hand about the International Court of Justice, the ICC and other international tribunals, not just through the media or political discourse, but by themselves.

They have formed their own judgments and they have seen, touched, smelled and heard. This exposure is invaluable, priceless and precious.

There is no secret funding agent or hidden moneybag. There is only one secret: to keep the critical mass critical, without falling into the appealing financial temptation to massify legal education.

As soon as the numbers in the classroom swell, any such dream is gone, because any trip or extra expense becomes an unattainable goal.

Legal education is changing. Students need global exposure, and the world needs exposure to a different Africa, to that face of Africa beyond the wars and election chaos.

Africa is a hotbed of opportunities, of clever and wonderful youngsters and home to seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. But (there is always a ‘but’) we need to be aware of the critical changes the world of technology and science are bringing into education.

Technology is not asking us for permission and we cannot afford to be left behind. Technology is changing education at large, and specifically, legal education.

Blended learning, case studies, anti-plagiarism software, experiential sessions, cybercrime, social media, real-time learning and legal clinics are just a few of the emerging realities and challenges in front of the modern teacher.

Law does not operate in a vacuum or isolation. For example, scientists have discovered powerful genetic material inside the umbilical cord. Who is its owner? Who owns the umbilical cord? The mother, the baby…or the father?

In some countries, umbilical cords are deposited in genetic banks and used for specific purposes. Who should be the beneficiary of any financial or material gain?

Some experts say that 70 percent of the jobs up for grabs in 2050 have not yet been created. Five years ago no one would have dreamt of hiring a social media manager. Nowadays, this is practically a requirement in corporate communications. Some companies are now training employees on drone operations and robotics. In fact, I have already seen a robotics law journal

Education is no longer the same; legal education needs to take a turn to comply. According to Antonio Garriguez Walker, one of the most seasoned, successful and prominent Spanish lawyers today, the centre revolves around the Anglo-Saxon world, which we are part of.

The Anglo-Saxon world hosts the two most prominent financial centres in the world: London and New York. Financial power is followed by military power, technological power and finally legal power.

The most important language in today’s world is English, and the second most important is badly spoken English.

Legal education is no longer a chalk and blackboard affair. Complicated realities need comprehensive solutions, and we cannot adapt to change but must admire and love it because change is an opportunity.

It is a paradox. Training good lawyers may make lawyers disappear, where good lawyers accelerate justice to the point of making themselves irrelevant. This may be a utopia, but for this to happen we have to start somewhere.

Will this ever happen? We don’t know. Things have changed and nothing is what it used to be.

Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected], Twitter: @lgfranceschi