The European Law Faculties Association was founded in 1995 by more than 80 Faculties of Law from different European Universities. Today the Association has more than 200 members from countries within the EU and beyond.
The reason for the foundation of ELFA was to deal with the new issues following the so called Bologna reform of higher education at that time in full swing in Europe. The founders of the Association were convinced that, for a successful reform of legal education, it was crucial to provide a platform for discussion and coordination of the reform endeavors, to allow exchange views and sharing of good practices among its members. They believed that such a possibility would increase the quality of legal education in Europe and upgrade the reform from a mere change to a lasting improvement.
The Association has had to face many challenges and problems. Sometimes it has been difficult to discuss certain topics which seemed identical but were in fact very different because of different traditions, diverse positions of Law Faculties within existing university structures, unlike systems of financing, different quality standards, etc. It is appropriate to assert that the identification of problems and differences on one hand and the realization that the same notion does not necessarily mean the same substance on the other can be counted among important results of ELFA’s activity. This has facilitated competent and substantial discussions of many topics, dealt with especially at ELFA conferences. They have addressed basic and most important problems and challenges related to legal education in Europe. The results of these discussions have been important and encouraging. Declarations adopted at annual general assemblies have been used by ELFA to inform national and EU authorities about these conclusions.
Over years ELFA has managed to create a general platform addressing the most important topics related to legal education and sometimes also topics of general legal importance. Representatives of ELFA have regularly taken part at annual meetings of AALS and have invited their American counterparts to annual meetings of ELFA. The exchange of views showed that, despite big differences in the nature of legal education, there were many dilemmas and problems both systems had in common and had to be examined together in order to find the best solutions.
The role of ELFA has not diminished by the fact that the reform has been more or less accomplished. It has obviously not solved the problems of legal education. Many of them remain and will have to be dealt within the framework of ELFA.
There are several topics that can be regarded as central and will influence the future of legal education in Europe. The first one is the nature of legal education. Past discussions have shown the basic dilemma: should the legal education be broad and basic giving a graduate solid knowledge of general legal subjects or should it be more narrowly focused on the positive law and practical skills. Since it is more or less impossible to achieve both at the time it is necessary to seek a proper balance and take a decision about the profile the future lawyer should obtain. This decision should not depend solely on personal factors, especially on how to preserve present faculty positions, but should take into consideration the interests of students, their employability and the readiness of graduates for future work in the broader European and global environment.
In the past ELFA advocated the idea of a legal education guaranteeing an intellectual edge and profile of graduates and through that of the legal profession. This seems important because the emerging computer programs capable of performing basic legal writings and counselling (e. g., A2J - http://www.a2jauthor.org/home ) reduces the need for lawyers to perform these tasks and allows them to devote more time to more demanding and creative tasks. Legal education should take into consideration the deep changes in the working environment, its automation and expansion of smart technologies in the field of law. The worst possible reaction to these changes would be to resist instead of trying to adapt. Law schools should develop strategies to become part of these processes and prepare graduates for the radically changed working environment in which law will only to a very limited extent belong exclusively to lawyers.
Another aspect necessitating a thorough and deepened discussion is the method of legal teaching. It is not only about distant learning and using new technologies, such as Power Point, Internet etc. It is much more about the balance between the academic atmosphere stimulating intellectual and creative potential of students on one hand and, on the other hand, the atomization of the academic community which is to some extent the consequence of the use of new technologies substituting the physical presence and communication with the virtual one. New technologies can be a remarkable tool facilitating legal studies and boosting their quality. But they have to be used rationally and purposefully. Most important, they cannot replace the process of thinking and logical reasoning. New technologies fascinate young people who tend to believe that all the problems can be resolved with a suitable hardware and software. It is, however, the task of legal studies to demonstrate that the understanding of legal notions and the mastering of legal method are essential qualities of a good lawyer which, while possibly supported and stimulated, can never be substituted by smart technologies and equipment. This balance can be achieved when legal teaching is problem oriented and explains how legal reasoning can be supported by modern informatics technology while it shows at the same time that ideas can only be produced by the proper way of thinking.
The third topic ELFA will have to discuss is the controversial problem of tuition fees. The “massification” of universities makes higher education unsustainable. The only solution to the problem seems to be the introduction of tuition fees to cover at least some of the costs. It can be assumed that it would also stimulate students’ motivation. Unfortunately, in the majority of the European countries this is a taboo topic and cannot be discussed. As one of the options it deserves to be examined seriously, at least in principle.
Hand in hand with the problems of finances and of quality goes the dilemma of a free admission to law schools. At European law faculties there are many candidates who lack both talent and motivation. They normally fail, they represent financial burden to the law school, they waste their time, and they spend time and energy of their teachers. Introducing serious admission tests would help potential law students make the right decision and ensure a more responsible way to use society’s resources. Such a system, elaborated at the level of ELFA, could serve as a guideline and would be beneficial to all members of ELFA and to the legal community in Europe.
There are many further topics requiring a broader discussion and evaluation at the level of ELFA. Let us hope ELFA will retain and strengthen its proactive way of dealing with urgent problems of legal education ...
Special Thanks for Prof. Janez Kranjc