Why Kenya legal education is in crisis
Two Thursdays ago, I woke up to the pleasant message from a former student sharing the good news of having passed their Bar exams. These are examinations that every law student sits for after going through an instruction period at the Kenya School of Law. It is only those who pass those exams who qualify to be admitted to the roll of advocates and thus qualified to practise law. While one of my students was amongst those who was celebrating successful completion of the Advocates Training Programme, another was not so lucky. Over the last few years, there has been a lot of discussions about the exams at the end of the training programme.While initially going to the School of Law was not necessary for those who had studied locally in Kenyan universities, changes several years back made attendance at the school and sitting and passing an exam, a pre-condition for one to qualify as an advocate. These steps follow completion of a four-year university study.When I received a copy of the summary of the pass rate, it emerged that only 445 out of 1,991 had passed the exams. This is less than 25 percent pass rate. The Council of Legal Education, which regulates the examination process issued a notice summarising the passage per university. In the wake of that notice, debate started on what caused the high failure rate . Due to the fact the notice indicated the university where the students graduated from, naturally the first port of call was the quality of university teaching.Together with colleagues teaching law at the university, we engaged in a half-day online discussion on what ails university legal education. We did not reach a consensus on the cause of the problem.What is indisputable is that legal education is in a crisis. It cannot be that more than 75 per cent of those who sit examinations to qualify to practice law are unable to pass exams. While university of origin is an area of focus in seeking to find answers to the reasons for the low pass rate, a focus on it alone is simplistic and obfuscates the real problems.One should not forget that these students after graduating from the different universities go through an instruction process at the Kenya School of Law to prepare them for those exams. The first point of introspection must, consequently, be the school before the university. Are the training methodologies appropriate? Are the numbers too large and overwhelming for the school since the focus of the training is supposed to be on practical as opposed to the theory of law?One also needs to look at the examination process too. The primary and secondary school exams have undergone and continue to undergo a process of reforms to ensure that they are credible. With the results that are being realised through the process, it is important to have a thorough audit of the exams to determine whether the setting process, the moderation and the marking are up to required standards.
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Since we focus on practical aspects of the profession, do we have the experienced members of the profession in charge of these processes, or are there areas requiring improvement? Year in year out there are calls for financial support from students who are unable to raise the required sums of money for studying at the Kenya School of Law. When these students fail, they are required to pay more money to re-sit the exams.The question that requires interrogation is the cost of post-university instruction. This is especially important when one considers that a significant number of those who apply to the school have gone through public universities. It may be necessary to ask whether the fees being charged disadvantage these students.The recent results released by the Kenya School of Law are symptomatic of what ails legal education. It is easy to release results whose tenor is to cast blame on the universities where the students originally studied. But it is also simplistic.