For Law Students
How to study law?
Like a criminal case, law is a frightening subject. Like a civil lawsuit, specially the one for compensation, law is both frightening and interesting. As such, to remember the great jurist HLA Hart, in no other subjects such an enormous volume of books and articles has been written as in the law, questioning what is it? Unlike the question of what law is, how to study law does not have a sheer volume of writing. However, there are concerns about, and books have been written on how to study law? Take, eg, Anthony Bradney's How to Study Law, claimed to be a functional book laying vital foundations for the successful study of law. To study law means a number of things; we study law for both degree and other purposes - professional and non-professional. We have to 'read' the law before we can effectively take any examination or can apply/enforce the law to or in a certain situation or before we can teach and research law or interpret it. This short write-up, however, is chiefly meant for the students planning to undertake or are already in the law course.
The first approach to be taken to law is to take the law course seriously, i.e., by developing a sense of belonging to the subject. Start thinking that law is for you and you are for the law. By making reference to law, start thinking over why things happen the way as they do; what would be the consequence, good or bad, if these things would have happened just the other way round. That is, rather than beginning with complex, mundane statutes, try to read the law from everyday happenings. You can call it 'street law', the law that you find in the streets or along with you at all times. Take the example of seeing the police arresting someone by handcuffing or by using force or of seeing the police carrying an accused to the court in a very gentleman-like way. Ask, where is the law and what is it? Ask why does the accused in a court of law with heavy pockets get bails more easily and in lesser time than the accused that is poor, despite the fact the concerned courts had been impartial and honest? Ask yourself how can a poor beggar arrested for the offence of begging in the street seek bail in exchange of monetary surety (bail bond)?. And, ask, for this matter, can begging be criminalised as an offence in Bangladesh, or do the penniless people have a right not be criminalised? By asking you to go into these sorts of questions I am urging you to develop an inquisitive legal mind, a critical mind which is a must for the study of law. Of all techniques of studying the law, memorization should be the most useless for, in the first place, by memorizing you do not know the law (explained below), and secondly, the law has grown so enormously beyond the black and white laws that you cannot not memorize them all. To understand the law, you must develop the critical reasoning (or comprehension) skills.
In this context, you should constantly remind yourself of the fact that, no legal argument can be said to be absolutely right or wrong; nor is there any single image or definition of law. As a law student you must cast doubt on what text-authors, your teachers, judges, and lawyers are saying and arguing about the law. In studying law, you must continue to ask, every day and with regard to every law, what is the law? One should never forget the link between law and philosophy and other disciplines like politics, economics and sociology. How could one understand, make, apply and interpret the constitutional law properly without being imbibed in the country's social and political history and make-ups? Law must not be taken only as a vocation; it is much more than that - it brings out justice and helps people including those reading and practising it to pursue happiness. Law should be studied in the context of a given society. One of the major gaps in the legal education in Bangladesh is that, law here is studied, taught and researched with inadequate or no reference to societal needs. Say, for example, in no university you will find a subject 'law and society' or the 'sociology of law', whereas this is a very popular subject in overseas universities. Also, remember the lectures on jurisprudence or books on it. Did you ask for yourself whether Austin was right in saying that law is the command of sovereign backed by sanction? Or, did you ask your teacher what do naturalists actually mean saying that law is the reason and justice, or, is that meaning equally applicable to all nations? I heard of the term 'legal pluralism' for the first time in 2003 when I just began my doctoral study, and then realised that I had latently encountered the idea in my law school. These examples are drawn in order to make a point that law must be studied in a society-specific way, which invariably leads one to indulge in some amount of comparative legal materials and experiences.
To read the law effectively, one should develop the skills to find, understand, critique, and contextualise the primary legal materials in particular. How to study a given statute or a court decision is an art mixed with certain techniques. For example, special skills are needed to read a court decision and an Act of parliament. There are rules as to how not to judge a judge and how to read a statute. In particular, you must 'compare and contrast' while reading it. A very effective way of studying law is to study it through 'cases and materials', in doing which you must apply, as said above, the critical mind. For example, you can read/learn about 'the independence of judiciary in Bangladesh' by talking to some judges, by reading a constitutional law book, or by reading only the Constitution or only a judgment that deals with the issue. You have to strategise what matters you should first consult, or whether you should read only one or more than one of those matters. My hunch is that, you would do much better by beginning with a judgment and then read the statutes/constitutional provisions referenced in that judgment. Finally, you can read books and listen to the experts on the subject. Having said this, must remember to effectively pursue the technique you adopt.
[This was originally written for a students' souvenir]
The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Law, University of Dhaka.