Covid-19 Pandemic

, ,

Extended National Lock Down and its Ramifications on Indian Legal Professionals

I never thought I would live long enough to see the legal profession change to the extent it has”.

 Constance Baker Motley

The World is reeling under the COVID 19 pandemic in an unprecedented manner. India has reached a critical stage as the spike of COVID 19 cases being reported every passing day. In light of the above, our life is increasingly at stake. The question of the uncertainty of life pops up in our minds every now and then. A surge of despair, gloom, and pessimism is in the air. To contain the spread of the epidemic, there is an enforcement of recurrent national lockdown though the restrictions have been eased out at present. In general, our everyday life has come to a standstill as we are in enforced seclusion.

 The extended lockdown has stifled the economic growth and development of the country. The impact of a pandemic can be felt by all walks of life.  The legal profession is not an exception. As reported by the Times of India recently, the lockdown hits Rs.20,000 crore legal practice industry. Legal professionals are witnessing the consequences of the lockdown, as the Indian judiciary has been under the extended national lockdown since March 24, 2020. Access to justice has become limited in this challenging time. Given this context, the Indian legal system seems to be in jeopardy.

In the present circumstances, the physical hearing has come to a grinding halt at all types of courts across the country, barring the Supreme Court, high courts, and trial courts where virtual hearing is underway only for extremely urgent and important cases.  So, ‘work from home’ has become a vogue statement among the Indian legal professionals now.

Be that as it may, the extended national lockdown has brought to the fore the glaring class inequality among the Indian legal professionals.  The successful senior counsels- a well-paid small minority are in demand for arguing for the listed urgent or important cases at the above-mentioned courts amidst lockdown. They are in demand for arbitration to seal the pending cases too.

In contrast, the moderate lawyers closed their legal firms as they could not afford to pay their employees, and even some announced layoffs of employees because of the non-availability of cases.  In the case of ordinary lawyers, generally, most of them lead a life of hand to mouth existence as the income of these lawyers is generally based on a case-to-case basis.  In view of a prolonged shut down of the courts, the ordinary lawyers are left to fend themselves as there is no income coupled with no social security measures in place.

Amongst all, the novice or young lawyers have been hit hard because of a lack of work, and also, they miss their practical training to enhance their professional skills.  Under this scenario, they are deprived of training under a senior advocate or established lawyer at legal firms. In view of new work culture ‘work from home’, they feel alienated as they have not been directly inducted in the work. Physical presence in the legal firms is imperative to imbibe the professional skills.

Besides, the prowess of the legal profession can be learned or nurtured in a systematic manner gradually with the valuable guidance of senior lawyers. As lawyers are not born; they are produced through constant training at legal firms over a period of time. Thus, the virtual training cannot substitute the physical training of young lawyers to equip themselves. Even though the situation is grim overall, the silver lining is that the technically empowered lawyers or legal firms are doing well in this critical time.

Last but not the least, the freshly passed out law graduates are in limbo. Neither employed nor in training. Further, conversion to a virtual court or E-court is causing an inconvenience to judges and senior advocates given the poor digital infrastructure in our country. To sum up, the business is as usual for the successful senior advocates, the rest is left in the lurch. So, the scourge of class inequality has widened among the legal professionals during the extended national lockdown period. As the national lockdown has a strong bearing on the lives of ordinary lawyers, they are keenly looking forward to the functioning of the courts. Nevertheless, it is not feasible to open the courts in the coming months due to the escalation of COVID 19 cases.

Dr. Mahalingam M
Associate Professor
Faculty of Law
SGT University

Read More

The COVID-19 Lockdown Period and the Faculty of Law: A Report Card

The Covid-19 Pandemic forced Universities across the world as well as in India to suspend on-campus teaching and learning and shift to online classes. Online teaching and learning is an ideal method as it enforces social distancing and physical distancing to resist the spread of the epidemic. As soon as the Covid-19 crisis broke out in India, SGT University shifted to the online mode from Mid –March and as such remained unaffected by the extended national lockdown until now. The faculty members of the Faculty of Law started giving lectures online (on Zoom, Webex, etc). Study materials and assignments were shared on Google Class Room for the finished topics.  During the transitional period,  there were some technical glitches, but soon, both, the students, as well as the faculty members of the Faculty of Law, adapted to the online mode at ease.  As the online mode allows innovative methods of teaching with the help of technology and online tools, the teachers have been very enthusiastic about delivering their lectures by using the available online tools. As a consequence, the students have found it very convenient to access lectures, study materials, and assignments.  Even a shy or reticent student has participated in the class discussion with teachers through online mode by using chat options. There is a sense of feel-good factor among the students as they have been kept busy through this lockdown period with the scholastic activities, instead of sitting idle.

Shubhangee Sinha, a first-year student of BA., LLB  explains the merits of the online mode classes by saying that “I have been taking the online classes of the  Faculty of Law on Zoom every day ever since the lockdown happened due to the Corona outbreak. The student continued saying that, “The online classes are interesting because the teachers are helping me to understand the concept better with the help of different pedagogic tools available online”.

Nayan Dhari Singh, a first-year student highlights the advantages of online classes by stating that, “I appreciate the Faculty of Law for opting the online mode in the alarming situation like COVID-19…… I found the lectures very interesting because we all tend to lose our concentration while a lecture is going on in the regular classroom but in the case of online mode, I  could review my teacher’s lecture at any point in time by rewinding the audio or video of the lecture”.

Rohan Yadav, a first-year student says,I have been hooked up to  Zoom for a couple of hours to join the online lectures during this lockdown period. It is a novel initiative of the Faculty of Law to complete the syllabus on time.  I have been kept tight by the faculty members with assignments and study materials throughout this break”

However, some students faced problems because of poor internet connectivity and audio issues. Vanshika Sharma, a first-year student points out that the issue of internet connectivity is a key challenge for most students as “many students have the 1GB or 2GB daily data plans on their phones — not everyone has WiFi at home — and they have to manage classes on that” which becomes difficult. In general, the online classes were well-received and attended by the students.

Apart from online classes, the students were informed about the availability of diverse online study materials related to their course work in various platforms so that they could access those materials.  For example, the students can avail of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) of the National Law University of Delhi. The online materials of e-PG Pathshala, SWAYAM, the National Project on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), National Knowledge Network, (NKN), and National Academic Depository (NAD) can be accessed by the students. Further, the students were asked to register for free online courses of more than 3,800 courses and 400 specializations being offered by Coursera until July 31, 2020.

In addition to this,  the online Mid-Sem Test was conducted from 8th April to 14th April 2020 to evaluate the academic progress of the students.  Further,  as there is a surge of webinars in this crisis period, the students of the Faculty of Law have been asked to attend virtual talks or panel discussions or conversations about the different dimensions of law. They were asked to enroll for online internships to enhance their professional skills as well as to enrich their profile as they have lots of time at their disposal now. The faculty members have been consistently informing the students about such activities regularly. The Faculty of Law recently organized an online legal quiz for the students in which the students participated in large numbers.

 In a nutshell, the academic activities were kept at its pace as planned in the academic calendar at the Faculty of Law despite the unprecedented health crisis that has unfolded. The online classes are off as the syllabus has been through now.  Yet,  the faculty members are in touch with their respective classes to clear doubts of the students and provide them updates about the academic events. The students are preparing for the forthcoming end semester exam with full confidence and are looking forward to a brighter next academic year.

Dr. Mahalingam M
Associate Professor
Faculty of Law
SGT University

Read More