Aspiring legal professionals are struggling. This is what the examiners of the Council for Vocational and Legal Education for 2023 have found, given the alarming level of performance in the bar exams. How can we reverse this ongoing situation? Three legal professionals provide an update.

Mr. Sanjay Bhuckory,
Senior Counsel.

The Council for Vocational and Legal Education (CVLE) examiners' report for 2023 once again sounds the alarm. The findings of the level of candidates for the bar exams are overwhelming. Can we talk about a decline in the general level?

“That is the clear impression that emerges, unfortunately, from the report,” says Me Sanjay Bhuckory, Senior Counsel. He says he made the same observation during the 25 years he worked as a lecturer in criminal law and examiner at the CVLE. “I have not been one for a few years, but it is clear that from year to year, the level of candidates continues to drop drastically,” he says.

Me Bibi Nazeeda Dookhee, a notary, goes further. The results are a reflection of the “deterioration” of the level of education as a whole, she believes. “In my time, education was a luxury. When I was studying law at the University of Mauritius, we would queue up at the bookstore to be able to consult a law book. Photocopies were not as accessible to everyone. So, we took notes by hand. We discussed them, which allowed us to develop a critical mind,” she explains.

But, she says, these days, courses are accessible online, on cell phones, tablets and computers. And with artificial intelligence, pre-generated messages, online courses and manuals, everything is easier. “This excess of convenience has led to the trend towards the trivialization of education,” regrets the notary.

Mr. Selva Murday, attorney.

Attorney Selva Murday, Secretary of the Mauritius Law Society (MLS), is more nuanced. He finds it “a pity that the report does not specifically differentiate between the performances of aspiring lawyers, attorneys and notaries”. Speaking in his own name and not on behalf of the order of attorneys, he is of the opinion that the new generation of attorneys is doing its job well. “We have not had any complaints so far about the incompetence of attorneys. On the other hand, there are a few regarding customer service. More precisely on their way of speaking to their clients”, specifies the attorney.

The number of new solicitors has increased in recent years, he continues. “We have seen about 25 new solicitors admitted recently, compared to an average of about four per year previously. Also, there are more girls interested in studying law these days,” he observes.
For Me Selva Murday, the increase in the number of attorneys “is largely due to the fact that the syllabus is more accessible now. As an attorney, I do not find certain modules that we were previously required to do.”

How can we explain this drop in level noted by the CVLE? The problem lies in the recruitment of candidates, says Me Sanjay Bhuckory. There is a big gap, he notes, in terms of intellectual level, between those who pass the exams and the others. It is therefore up to him to sort through them upstream, in order to keep only the deserving ones.

“It is absolutely necessary to raise the entry threshold for candidates and, if possible, have them undergo an interview in English and French. Because, according to the report, bilingualism, which is required at the Mauritian bar, poses a serious problem for candidates,” suggests the Senior Counsel.

Me Bibi Nazeeda Dookhee, notary.

This poor command of languages ​​decried by the CVLE examiners would be due in particular to a “digital addiction”, according to Me Bibi Nazeeda Dookhee. “Homework and other things are done with the help of laptops and computers and automatic self-corrections. Some people can no longer write notes by hand without these technological tools,” she laments.

Another significant factor, according to lawyer Selva Murday: the “liberalisation” of institutions offering law courses. “Before, only the University of Mauritius offered, locally, studies leading to a Bachelor of Laws (LLB). The admission criteria were high. You needed three As or two As and a B at the Higher School Certificate (HSC) level to be eligible for these studies. Nowadays, the number of local universities offering law studies has increased. We have to look at the admission criteria for students to study law,” he suggests.

What if the system was, in reality, too elitist? Me Sanjay Buckhory dismisses this argument out of hand. “It is rather a question of maintaining a very high level, in order to train lawyers who will be able to honor the profession, while mastering the law,” he insists. He is categorical: choosing the best minds is in no way elitist.

“This is how all the great bar schools around the world operate. I have had among my former bar students young people from very modest backgrounds, but who, through hard work and perseverance, have made their way into this legal elite, even becoming a judge of the Supreme Court. It is therefore not a question of means, but rather of intellectual development,” insists Me Sanjay Bhuckory.

The same is true for Me Selva Murday. The system is “elitist” because “the demands of the profession are like that,” he makes it clear. A legal professional offers a service to the public above all. “He is sometimes entrusted with the future of the citizen in his hands, in the same way that a doctor offers health care. If the latter is unable to perform the intervention skillfully, the result can be catastrophic,” argues the lawyer.

Moreover, insists Me Bibi Nazeeda Dookhee, “it is not up to the CVLE to lower the level. It is up to the student to rise to the level of expectations.” Opinion shared by attorney Selva Murday: “We should not blame the institutions when there are failures.”

Could the problem be the level of the teachers or lecturers? “I can assure you that the lecturers of the time were handpicked from among the practicing barristers, the prosecution officers and the members of the judiciary. Our motto was to maintain the level, no matter how many successes,” replies Mr. Sanjay Bhuckory.

Faced with this negative spiral, the question remains: how can we reverse the trend? For notary Bibi Nazeeda Dookhee, it is up to us to redo the digital education of our children. “The problem is in the assimilation of lessons. The lack of practice and the dependence on the internet and new technological tools slow down the critical thinking of aspiring law candidates. We need to review this mentality.” In addition, she says, parents must not abdicate their supervisory role once their children reach the stage of higher education.

For Mr. Sanjay Bhuckory, the solution is to review the entry threshold for candidates. “The minimum of an LLB second class second division (2-2) should be raised to a second class first division (2-1) for law graduates from Commonwealth countries, including Mauritius and England – as is already done in the best overseas bar schools,” he maintains. The CVLE must stay the course, and above all not succumb to the temptation of leveling down, simply to increase the number of successes, insists Mr. Sanjay Bhuckory.

Me Selva Murday shares the same opinion. He also suggests that CVLE courses include two months of mandatory internship for aspiring legal professionals, so that they can familiarize themselves with the procedures, the ongoing hearings, and develop an analytical mind.

It's not all doom and gloom, continues Me Sanjay Bhuckory. “Despite this disastrous observation, we should be comforted by the fact that there is always a small group that rises above the fray to succeed brilliantly. This has always been the case. So, we cannot say that the system does not work. We do not judge a system by the number of successes, but rather by the quality of those who succeed,” maintains the Senior Counsel.

What the examiners' report says

1. Insufficient language skills

All examiners highlighted the fact that many candidates showed insufficient command of English and French. This affected their ability to understand and clearly express legal concepts.

2. Weak legal and analytical reasoning

A lack of deep analytical skills was a major cause of failure, according to the examiners' report. Many candidates analyzed only part of the issues or rushed to conclusions without adequate legal reasoning.

3. Poor writing

Poor language skills and inadequate analytical reasoning led to deficient writing skills, with some candidates providing wordy or memorised answers without proper application to the questions asked.

4. Ineffective time management

Candidates spent too much time on some questions and rushed through others.

5. Lack of practice in pleadings

Although there has been some improvement in advocacy skills, examiners have noted issues such as inability to identify legal issues, lack of confidence and over-reliance on pre-prepared scripts. Candidates are encouraged to practice further in mock trial sessions and attend public hearings.

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