‘Identifying the legal practitioner and academic of the millennial’ | Sunday Observer

‘Identifying the legal practitioner and academic of the millennial’

23 September, 2018
Participants of the 2016 Conference
Participants of the 2016 Conference

Legal students from all across Sri Lanka representing various legal higher education institutions both state and private will gather on September 29 for the Annual National Law Students Conference to be held in Colombo. Giving the students an opportunity to connect while also presenting them the chance to discuss various issues faced by them, ‘Identifying the legal practitioner and academic of the millennial’ has been chosen as the theme for this year’s conference.

According to Co-Chairperson of the Organising Committee consisting of legal students Chiranthi Senanayake, the theme will take those attending on a journey of realisation regarding the modern day difficulties and scenarios faced by those who study and practice law which is vastly different from decades ago where many case laws studied even now stems from. “Law students need to open their minds to challenges in the 21st century,” she says adding that therefore issues such as policing the virtual world and mechanising the court system will be looked at during the conference as well. Senanayake says discussing such topics will ensure that the students can face these obstacles when they become legal practitioners and academics in the future.

During the two day conference, many legal luminaries and academics will share their knowledge with the attending students. The bi-annual conference which is on its second leg has also received the patronage of the Sri Lanka Bar Association, with its President, U.R De Silva PC and many other prominent members offering their expertise to the budding lawyers through their participation in the panel discussions to be held during the event.

While the first day’s sessions will be held at the Sri Lanka Law College and will include panel discussions and workshops, the events of the final day are set to be held at the Water’s Edge with prominent legal luminary and parliamentarian Prof. G.L Peiris gracing the event as chief guest.

The main panel discussion of day one of the conference will focus on the nexus between law and morality. According to Senanayake, a thorough discussion as to how much one should influence the other and if it should, in fact, be allowed to do so will be discussed in depth due to its relevance to modern Sri Lankan society. “For example, it will be explored as to if religious laws should be part of a legal system” she explains. Despite the hectic schedule of fruitful discussion sessions, however, attendees will also be offered several recreational activities to network and socialise away from the formal setting.

The Committee perhaps has left the most important topic of discussion for the second day which will address the issues of restructuring the legal profession.

“Several problems we have recognised such as overcrowding of the profession and legal reforms will be discussed on the day” Senanayake says adding that the aim will be to discuss possible restructuring of the profession and legal education at grass root levels so that students do not take up legal studies without a real interest or as a backup option.

With the focus on bringing in real change through the conference, Senanayake says attending students will be required to draft a document listing out various recommendations by them to resolve the issues faced. “We hope to forward this document to those making policy-level decisions to make them get a feel of the pulse of the legal students,” she says. According to her, the important aspect will be that solutions for their problems will be elicited from the students themselves.

While expressing his concerns if the recommendations will be implemented, Co-Chair of the event Dilanka Kumarasinghe says he believes the students can make their voice heard through the draft recommendations. “It would bring our issues to the notice of those who can make the necessary changes,” he said adding that the organisers also hope to change the attitudes and mindsets of those attending with them and someday going on to become policy and decision makers relating to the field as well.

However, while intellectual stimulation and professional networking are some of the main aims of the organisers they are also out to achieve the much lofty goal of bringing together all legal students studying in various institutions together in a bid to heal the current fragmented relationship between them.

“The current legal student community is fragmented due to a large number of new institutions providing legal education,” Senanayake says. According to her the group also hopes to bridge the division between internal and external students at the Sri Lanka Law College while breaking down the existing tensions between them.

“We ultimately end up in the same legal fraternity” Kumarasinghe points out adding that therefore the organisers this year went the extra mile to ensure the participation of students from other educational institutions. According to him not sticking to just promoting the event on social media, the group visited each private college and invited them to send a delegation representing the institutions to the National Law Students Conference (NLSC) this year. “We wanted to work with them and create a bond between the students,” he said.

According to Secretary of the NLSC, Charith Widanapathirana, the private institutions have shown great interest in attending the conference. “With no other student body conducting a similar conference they are very interested as it is a great opportunity for them,” he said.

While 250 students expected to attend the conference this year, Senanayake says they hope a pool of ideas can also be created regarding various issues.

However, organising such a conference has not been without its difficulties. According to Senanayake, the main difficulty was convincing students as to why such an out of classroom event is an experience worth their time. “Students are always wrapped up in exams and studies so it was difficult to make them understand the importance of the conference at first,” she says adding that, however, they were able to overcome this.Interest in attending the conference keeps increasing as the date closes in.

While the students have put great effort in bringing the conference together Kumarasinghe suggests the more collaborative effort together with the Sri Lanka Bar Association is ingoing forward.

“Students have always had to initiate it but it would be more successful if the BASL and professionals in the field can add it to their agenda as well,” he said.

“It’s important to have to give the right skills set to legal students,” Senanayake says adding that therefore a collaborative effort to give an experience that impacts the profession is the need of the hour. (MB)