Law graduates lack formal practice skills

Update: April, 05/2010 - 10:08

Law graduates celebrate, but their happiness could be shortlived as they enter the real world which demands a wide range of legal skills. — VNA/VNS Photo Phuong Vy

Law graduates celebrate, but their happiness could be shortlived as they enter the real world which demands a wide range of legal skills. — VNA/VNS Photo Phuong Vy

HA NOI — Universities are failing to provide on-the-job training for law students, leaving graduates ill-equipped to meet the demands of a legal practice, according to HCM City law professor Pham Duy Nghia.

In a report, Nghia said law faculties in Viet Nam put the emphasis on theory at the expense of developing practical skills, such as legal analysis, legal drafting and client advisory skills.

International Law Faculty dean of the Diplomatic Academy Pham Lan Dung said the textbook system had been adapted from the Russian style whose main strength was scientific and systematic knowledge.

The content was heavily theoretical and too concise without clear elaboration, which hindered the promotion of critical thinking, a skill of crucial importance to a lawyer, she said.

Ha Noi-based Bizlink law consultant Cu Hong Anh said: "Although I gained a lot of knowledge from Ha Noi Law University, I still found myself confused when it came to the reality. Had it not been for the dedicated instruction I received from my firm's supervisors for a couple of months, I don't think I could have pulled it off."

Another graduate from the same university, who wished to remain anonymous, said the problem was that law students had to absorb too much knowledge and thus failed to develop expertise in any particular sub-field.

"In my case, I wanted to become an expert in economic law, but until the third year of my four-year programme I was still learning general law," he said.

Both graduates agreed that English teaching was poor at their faculties.

They said technical English was important for law students but it was difficult to learn.

"Legal jargon is complicated and to achieve a professional level in both speaking and writing English is a painstaking process, even with proper instruction, let alone in the current situation," Anh said. "What we studied at the university was basically general English."

A Ministry of Justice survey in 2008 showed only 1.2 per cent of lawyers had a good command of English, which meant they could use English confidently in the likes of negotiations, bargaining and argument.

Ha Noi Law University vice-rector Professor Nguyen Ngoc Hoa said the university had increased practice in the curriculum.

Students have to do weekly assignments on their own and team-work assignments each month to practise legal skills and problem-solving, which also hones their writing and presentation skills.

Senior law student Doan Thu Hang said this process had improved the efficiency of learning.

"Like it or not, this method requires students to rack their brains to research relevant law materials to be able to finish the assignments," Hang said. "I enjoy such discussion and interaction with lecturers."

The report, backed by the United Nations Development Programme, suggested the law clinic model as one of a number of possible ways to provide skills training.

The law clinics, staffed by law faculty lecturers, were open to voluntary participation by student. They focused on community law teaching and provided legal consultancy services.

University of Iowa Law Professor Mark Sidel, who is the consultant to the development programme in Viet Nam, noted that law clinics were already active in some Vietnamese law schools.

They included consultancy centres at HCM City Law University and National Economics University and one being developed at the Viet Nam National University's Faculty of Law.

"This is the clear trend we see in the development of law clinics in many other countries, including the Philippines, China and other countries," Sidel told the Viet Nam News.

Dung said the establishment of a model depended on many factors, including human resources, participants' capacities, databases and material resources.

"Although such a model has several strong points, skills training in law schools doesn't necessarily have to follow this model," Dung said.

Each law institution was now capable of encouraging their students to learn practical skills more, Dung said. For example, her faculty required students to do an internship in law firms and to participate in court trials.

Her faculty also enhanced the quality of teaching by inviting law experts and law firms directors who expected to hire graduates to deliver lectures on a regular basis.

Her faculty had been the only in Viet Nam to send students to participate in the Philip C Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in 2008, ranking 38 out of 108.

A significant number of new laws and regulations were introduced every year in Viet Nam, so the goal was to hone students' way of thinking, problem-solving skill and confidence. — VNS