Law and behold!

SEA-CHANGE: Shamnad Basheer: ‘Focus now on critical reasoning than mugging up'  

What makes a good lawyer? Mastery over random nuggets from history or geography, or a general aptitude for the subject of law? These questions are at the crux of what a team of academics at the National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), Kolkata, are doing to “reform” the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) this year.

The yardstick for admissions to the 11 elite National Law Schools, the high-profile examination has often drawn flak for inconsistencies in format.

Speaking to The Hindu, Shamnad Basheer, professor at NUJS (which is in-charge of the CLAT this year) and member of the internal CLAT committee, says it is time CLAT moved from testing knowledge to aptitude.

“An [informal] survey found that over 85 per cent of our students had gone to coaching centres,” says Prof. Basheer.

“This meant that we need a subtle shift in pattern. We need to stop testing their memory and move on to assessing critical thinking skills. That, we believe, is what makes a good lawyer,” he said. The general sections and the marking system have not changed. What has changed is the approach to these questions. In the first, the emphasis is more on current affairs (national and international) rather than “static GK”. So questions about Humayun's birthplace are out while the political situation in West Asia or the global recession are in. All these changes have been detailed on the CLAT website.

Prof. Basheer points out school examinations already test students' memory. “What we want to know is whether they sequence their thoughts logically, can they reason or think on their feet. Even the English section, for instance, required students to mug up words. Instead, the test will now emphasise on comprehension,” he said.

It is imperative that Law Schools come together to create a centre for CLAT. “The testing process needs to be made more scientific and consistent. A full-fledged team needs to work on this every year to ensure this,” he said.

Forms in post offices

Another major failing in the conducting of CLAT was the lack of a proper distribution system. Till last year, students had to travel long distances to buy the application forms. The CLAT committee has now entered into a memorandum of understanding with post offices for easy distribution of applications. “We hope to be able to reach out to more people this way,” he said.


CLAT is getting a major makeover