It is a privilege to be invited to speak at my alma mater on this very special day, marking the 50thanniversary of the Nigerian Law School/Council of Legal Education. I would like to share with you my thoughts on a subject, whose importance in recent times, has been brought to the front burner as it rightfully should. It is the subject of legal education and its impact on the legal profession.
It is received wisdom that sound education is a pre-requisite for honouring the trust we hold as legal practitioners in our different callings. This is the trust we hold for others – the future generation of lawyers.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Legal education in Nigeria has gone through the trials and thrills of a developing concept in a developing society, from its glorious heights when it simply followed the British system in training the very few persons enrolled in the mid-sixties, to the present, when lecture auditoriums are bursting with pressure from an ever-increasing enrolment. While it may be difficult to pass an absolute judgment, given the facilities, class size and the environment of the modern law faculties and school, one undisputable fact is that law and the practice of the profession has changed significantly from what it was in the early days. Whilst it is tempting to have recourse to the age old saying “the good old days – when things were better”, and succumb to the sweeping statement that standards are falling, it is also remarkable to note that the Nigerian Legal Education System has also recorded some successes – training and producing world class and eminent jurists, judges, legal practitioners and members of the Academia.
I have at different fora, stated a fundamental truth which is that education has a cost that someone must bear. Someone must write the education cheque, and this does not change when the education is legal education. I am of the view that even where education is stated to be “free”, the reality is that someone essentially has to bear the cost so that it would appear free to the beneficiary. For instance the Government of the old Western Region of Nigeria put in place a plan that would ensure not only free education to the beneficiary, but free quality education. Ademola Ajayi captures this thus:
The Minister of Education for the Western Region, Chief S. O. Awokoya, presented a comprehensive set of proposals calling for a free, universal and compulsory education otherwise known as the Universal Primary Education (U.P.E.) for the Western Region by January 1955 (Awokoya’ s Proposal 1952). To make such a programme possible without lowering standards drastically, the minister included in his proposal a massive teacher-training programme, the expansion of teacher training facilities and secondary schools, the introduction of secondary technical education and Secondary Modern school (Western House of Assembly Debates: 30 July 1952).
This was a comprehensive approach that involved a clear policy and plan of implementation, strong emphasis on teacher training, and adequate funding. As noted by Ademola Ajayi:
Between 1954 and 1966, education attracted the largest share of the Western Region’s recurrent budget, having varied between 28.9 per cent and 41.2 per cent during the period (Table 4). In the 1958-59 financial years, for instance, 41.2 percent of the total recurrent budget was devoted to education alone. This, undoubtedly, represented one of the highest proportional expenditures on education, the world over. That was an ample demonstration of the great importance that the regional government placed on education. However, the fact should equally not be ignored that the more money spent on education, the less there was for the sectors that could provide employment and other services.
It is therefore not difficult to see how quality education came about in the old Western region – simply by the set of choices made, and a decision by the Government to write the cheque for that priority sector. Unfortunately, there has been a trend reversal over the years, with less capital allocation to education as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product or even recurring expenditure. Aare Afe Babalola SAN takes the view that the priority accorded education in the 1960s has somewhat diminished –
At the moment security challenges being experienced around the country has ensured that defence gets the highest budgetary allocation this has left many Federal and State Universities bereft of funds.
The following shows the low budgetary allocation over the years by successive Nigerian Governments:
|YEAR||PERCENTAGE OF BUDGET
ALLOCATED TO EDUCATION
In the year 2012, Nigeria was ranked 20th in a World Bank Survey on the percentage Budgetary Allocation to education in twenty (20) countries. The survey table is as follows:
|S/N||COUNTRY||% BUDGET ALLOCATION TO EDUCATION||POSITION|
|9.||United Arab Emirates||22.5||9th|
It should be noted that of the twenty countries listed above, twelve (12) including Nigeria are African Countries. So if the survey had been limited to the 12 African countries alone, Nigeria would still have been rated lowest. It should also be noted that with the exception of Norway, USA, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) all other countries on the survey including Nigeria can adequately be classified as belonging to the developing world. So yet again if the survey had been confined to countries in the developing world, Nigeria would have still ranked last.
In a bid to reverse the trend and demonstrate a desire to bring about positive change in the fortune of Nigeria’s educational sector, President Goodluck Jonathan on the 10th of October 2012 presented a budget of N4.9trn to the National Assembly of which the sum of N426.53bn was allocated to education. This is commendable, but I urge government to increase the effort in this direction until the minimum of 25% of the national budget prescribed by UNESCO is achieved, and possibly surpassed.
At the Afe Babalola University Distinguished Fellow Lecture on March 19 2010, Arthur M. Sussman, Professor of Law, University of Chicago stated as follows:
State funding has been decreasing as a percentage of public university budgets, and in some cases, it has been decreasing in actual dollars. Some state universities receive as little as 8% of their budgets from the state. Few receive more that 35%. The average state institution receives 22% of its revenue from state support. In reality, the economies of many state and private universities are similar. Both depend heavily on student fees. For state institutions it averages 17% of revenues. For private institutions it is 26%.”
I particularly admire the logic behind the 1996 Recommendation of the Committee of Registrars of Nigerian Universities to the Federal Government, where they proposed that Universities should show what it costs exactly to provide their services. Looking for instance at University of Lagos –
What does it cost the University to provide X number of medical students in their Y semester study? This requires that all costs elements (e.g. Biochemistry 101) per X number of students per semester must be computed. This means that it will be possible to determine what it costs to educate a medical student at the University of Lagos. Now, if the government says anyone who goes for medical school need not pay, what it means is that the government is disbursing to the university exactly what it costs the university to provide the service for each student. Otherwise both government and College authorities are engaged in a murderous game of make-belief for the training of doctors.
The Registrars’ suggested solutions in 1996 which are still valid today and are based on the principles that include that –
Parents who can pay fees should be allowed to pay instead of preventing them by declaring a free education that we do not match with commensurate financial backing ….
IMPORTANCE OF LEGAL EDUCATION TO THE SOCIETY
The role of lawyers is a very influential one, straddling the economic, political social life as well as all spheres of the society. There is no overstating the fact that the state of a society mirrors the kind of Lawyers in that society. You can decipher the kind of Lawyers in a Country just by looking at the state of the Nation. Lawyers, as judges, in private or corporate practice, in the academics or in government, shape the society and the lives of their fellow human beings. However, a lawyer can only be as good as the system of legal education that produced him. Legal education (academic as well as vocational) is a vital ingredient that affects the quality of our justice system and the role of lawyers in the political, economic and social development of our country. We see this daily in relation to litigation where the role of lawyers is most visible.
The quality of judicial decisions and the coherence of the reasoning underlying a judgment also depend upon the quality of the argument presented to the Court and upon the legal knowledge and skill possessed by the judge as well as his integrity and character. These factors are dependent on our legal education system.
STRUCTURE OF NIGERIAN LEGAL EDUCATION
The Federal Government of Nigeria set up a Committee in April 1959 to address difficulties facing legal education in Nigeria. The Committee was headed by the then Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. E.I.G. Unsworth. It was charged with making recommendations for the future of legal education and admission to practise law in Nigeria; including the right of audience by legal practitioners before the courts. The Committee made far-reaching recommendations ind its report submitted in October 1959, including:
That Nigeria should establish its own system of legal education;
– A Faculty of Law should be established first at the University College Ibadan, and subsequently at any other Nigerian University to be established in future;
– A Law School to be known as the Nigerian Law School should be established in Lagos to provide professional training of legal practitioners;
– That a Council of Legal Education should be established;
Nigerian legal education and practice Nigeria became regulated from 1962 by the Legal Education (Consolidation etc) Act. and the Legal Practitioners Act. The Legal Practitioners Act in section 24 defined a legal practitioner as:
A person entitled in accordance with the provisions of this Act to practise as a barrister or as a barrister and solicitor, either generally or for the purpose of any particular office or proceeding.
In Nigeria, the education of a lawyer starts properly at the University. Faculties of Law are to be found in the Universities all over Nigeria. The conditions or qualifications for admission to study law are success at the Senior Secondary Examinations with credit passes in subjects including English and English Literature; and reasonable score at the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board. A prospective lawyer may also choose to study in a foreign University. The content of the course of study leading to the award of a law degree whether from a Nigeria or foreign University, must be approved by the Council of Legal Education. Only foreign Universities in common law countries or teaching common law courses are approved by the Council. The Council usually insists that the subjects taken must include Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Law of Contract, Tort, Land Law, Equity and Trust, Commercial Law, and Law of Evidence.
The Council of Legal Education runs the Nigeria Law School and all persons who have obtained a University degree in law and want to practice as lawyers in Nigeria must attend the Nigerian Law School. Admission into the Nigeria Law School is also open to persons who have passed the final Bar Examinations of the English, Scottish or Irish Bar or the Solicitor’s Final Examinations of England, Scotland or Ireland. After a course of study at the Nigeria Law School, the student that passed the final – Bar Part II – examinations receives a certificate from the Council of Legal Education and is then called to the Bar by the Body of Benchers as provided by the Legal Practitioners Act. This is followed by enrolment as a Legal Practitioner at the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
LEGAL EDUCATION IN NIGERIAN UNIVERSITIES
Legal education in Nigeria is undertaken in two phases. The first phase is the teaching of substantive law courses, and is handled by the law faculties in the universities, while the second phase (which is dependent upon the successful completion of the above first phase) is the teaching of procedural law i.e. the practice or practical use or process by which the rights, interests and liabilities contained in substantive law are pursued, realized and established in the legal process. This aspect of legal education is undertaken by the Nigerian Law School which has its headquarters in Abuja, with other campuses located at the other geo-political zones in Nigeria.
The second category includes other courses approved by the respective universities to be undertaken by their law faculties. When a student has passed through the university training and attained a Bachelor of Laws degree, he then proceeds to the Nigerian law school where he must learn in one year the rudiments of the practice of law in Nigeria. Today, persons educated in foreign countries can only practice law in Nigeria after being trained at the Nigeria Law School.
For the purposes of the Bar Part II, the courses that must be undertaken include Civil Litigation Procedure, Corporate Law and Practice, Criminal Litigation Procedure, Property Law & Practice, and Law in Practice.
Within this period, the student lawyer is also exposed to law office practice and the court process through a four weeks court attachment and a six weeks law office attachment exercise. He is also enlightened on the social etiquette of the profession by attending the customary two dinners and cocktails organized by the institution. At the end of these lectures and exercises, the student sits for an examination which he must pass as the condition for call to the Bar, whereupon he has concluded his dream and aspiration of becoming a legal practitioner.
These processes had ensured the production of fine gentlemen, persons of integrity whose conduct and demeanor portrayed the rigour of their training. Nigeria can today boast of an array of such fine gentlemen, but the tide has sadly not been on the increase. There has been a reduced emphasis on this soft yet very important aspect of our profession.
Continuing Legal Education
The legal education of lawyers does not and should end after their admission into the profession. The communiqué issued by the Section of Legal Practice of the Nigerian Bar Association on November 15, 2012 after its meeting at Ibadan, contained a very important point:
– Reading is a veritable source of intellectual development and accordingly, lawyers should be encouraged to maintain the reading culture and embrace other forms of continuing legal education to improve their professional skills.
The Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners requires the NBA to publish a list (Annual Practising List) of legal practitioners who have complied with the requirements of the CPD programme (in addition to payment of practising fees) and are therefore entitled to practise as legal practitioners in that year. Unless a lawyer holds an Annual Practising Certificate issued by the NBA certifying that he has fulfilled the approved CPD programme, he is prohibited from carrying on legal practice. Continuing legal education consists of approved trainings. It should however include, advanced programmes such as LL.M and PhD programmes in law. This very important provision is rarely implemented. It is difficult to see how a legal practitioner can remain intellectually able to discharge his duties to his clients and the society without regular training and retraining.
CHALLENGES OF LEGAL EDUCATION IN NIGERIA
There has been a myriad of problems which have in many ways hindered the growth of Legal Education in Nigeria. Many of these problems range from lack of adequate funding to an archaic teaching system.
Lack of Basic and Fundamental Tools and Facilities for the Realization of High Level and Functional Legal Education
A visit to some Law Faculties in the country reveal that the faculties are inadequately staffed and do not have enough facilities to help in the welfare and academic growth of their students. Only very few faculties have been able to meet up with the NUC regulation which states that there should be a ratio of 1 lecturer to 20 students. Even the Nigerian Law School is not exempted. There has been an astronomic rise in the number of students who gain admission into the various campuses of the Law School yearly yet the facilities available in the various campuses are still over-stretched. The Library books are not enough for all the students while the Lecture theatres are almost always congested. Similarly the hostels are insufficient and students are either overcrowded in available rooms or some stay off-campuses with the attendant inconvenience. There is also the problem of insufficient infrastructure, epileptic power supply. I understand that students of the Lagos Campus have to convey water from downstairs to their rooms on the 1st, 2nd, 3rdand 4th floors. There is no reason why water should not be available in each room.
The result of this situation is that the lawyers produced under this condition are unable to provide quality legal service and assistance expected of members of the profession. The society’s desperate need of that quality service will be apparent if one considers the statement of Rhodes-Vivour, JSC in Cont. Res. (Nig.) Ltd. v UBA Plc that Counsel appearing before the Supreme Court should be alive to their responsibilities to assist the courts. The highest court in the land must be given quality professional assistance that will ensure sound dispensation of justice.
Insufficient Law Curriculum
A cursory look at the current law curricula which is being used in some Universities will reveal that the curricula are not up to date and lag behind that which is obtainable in leading jurisdictions. It is quite imperative that the curricula be reviewed so as to enable our students be up to date with the current trends. It will be appropriate to say that the world changes and for one not to be left behind, one should keep in touch with the current trends. Legal education should not be an exception to this. As Lord Sankey said
The courts are becoming more and more concerned with great social experiment.
Law joins hands as never before with problems in economics, problems in political science, problems in techniques of administration. It is important that the curricular of our law schools should send out lawyers trained to appreciate the meaning of these relationships. They must shape the mind to a critical understanding of the foundation of jurisprudence. Unless the training we give, supplies these perspectives, there is a grave danger that the lawyer will not prove adequate to the big problems, he has to help in solving …. Our educational methods have to breed a race of lawyers able to utilize the spirit of law reform for highest uses. They have to teach at once the importance of stability and change … we must also turn out lawyers with a courage to criticize what is accepted, to construct what is necessary for new situations, and new duties both at home and abroad.
For us to have Lawyers, Judges and jurists who will be able to have a footing in this ever changing world, it is important that the curricula be reviewed and updated.
Another problem is that Law teachers still persist with solely the traditional and method of teaching. This traditional method of teaching involves lecturing alongside organizing tutorial sessions. This method of teaching is limited in scope. Using this method of teaching alone will lead to students lacking the balanced knowledge required to make them truly learned. This prompted Oputa to say:
In the University, they may have little or no contact with Logic and Scientific Method; or with Philosophy, Economics; or any of the Social Sciences. They spend three or four years and graduate LL.B. After one year at the Law School, they are called to the Bar. What will be the horizon of such a lawyer? Will it not be a tragedy if the Higher Bench of any country is appointed from lawyers like that? It is submitted that to have a learned and competent Bar, the training for the Bar should be sufficiently profound and varied. Anyone aspiring to membership of the Bar should start quite early to train his mind and get himself exposed to as many subjects as possible, especially Logic, Mathematics, History, Literature and the Social Sciences.
The general studies subjects taught in some universities is a commendable way of attempting to deal with the problem. Law teachers must have both the basic intelligence and learning to enable them impart knowledge to their students. In Unijos v. Ikegwuoha, the Supreme lamented the fact that at times educational institutions neglect this important task. Ngwuta JSC queried:
Did the members of the full panel that interviewed the Respondent on behalf of the University of Jos conduct the interview in their sleep? How could they have inflicted on the University a lecturer who had no writing and/or communication skill in the English language to teach Political Science? This is the bane of the educational system in the country – square pegs are put in round holes.
Law teachers need to regularly improve their teaching skills.
TOWARDS A SHIFT IN THE LEGAL PARADIGM OF THE FUTURE
Richard Susskind put forward the view that we are indeed on the brink of a shift in legal paradigm where many features of legal service and legal process of today will be displaced by a new way of legal life underpinned by a fresh set of basic assumptions about the law and lawyers. This means that the evolution of society and commerce would force a shift which will happen and make us emerge from the traditional way of thinking to the fully fledged information technology based society. The hindering technology lag that had hitherto created a digital divide between technologically advanced and the less technologically advanced societies would be bridged. The same would be seen for the divide in use of technology between professions and legal systems across several jurisdictions.
The capacity to manage legal information will somewhat aim to equal with our ability to create and disseminate legal information. Practically all the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can be accessed by the mere typing of the law in a Google search engine. The same goes for yahoo, Microsoft network and other search engines.
For business managers, the ability to negotiate and enter into contractual terms will be the key distinguishing factors for competitive advantage. Contractual templates are available electronically on the internet with varying degrees of sophistication. However, templates not only make the writing of contractual terms easy, they also present the manager with points that need discussion and agreement one way or the other by the parties.
The Legal paradigm shift according to Susskind will see us transit from advisory to informative service. This means that information and communications technology will enable and encourage legal service to change from being a form of advisory service to a type of informative service. This will certainly vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and from practice area to practice area. What is important is that we envisage and prepare for an information technology enabled platform for the delivery of legal service. Without this, a major source of competitive advantage is lost on the Lawyer as a service or solutions provider. With the exception of specialist lawyers and judges, the work of the lawyers will move gradually in a leftwards direction along the ‘the Legal Information Continuum, both serving and liberating the latent legal market’.
From the point of view of delivery and consultation, law would shift from a one-to-one to a one-to-many.As legal service becomes a form of informative service, and lawyers continue to package knowledge experience as informative services designed for direct consultation by non-lawyers, the work will no longer be only for one case, but also for many in a reusable form well suited for repeated consultation. A good example is a well drafted employment contract drawn up for a client company. This contract would necessarily be reused by the Human Resources Department for several contracts unless and until specific circumstances warrant the change thereof, or new experiences warrant the rewording of certain clauses to suit the lessons learned from those experiences, or a new legislation or regulation makes it necessary to modify the existing template.
The legal paradigm of the future is predicted by Susskind to see a shift from reactive steps to proactive action. Once it becomes practicable and financially viable for non-lawyers quickly to obtain usable legal guidance, earlier legal input in the life cycles of transactions and disputes will become commonplace. Lawyers may no longer need to be instructed and involved at the start of projects. Companies will develop suites of legal information products, the embodiment of proactivity which will overcome the paradox of technical reactive legal service. This of course will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and with the nature of the service needed. For instance, this shift may not occur in the area of litigation and arbitration, but could occur in the drafting of power purchase contracts for example.
There is also envisaged a migration from lump sum billing through time-based billing, to commodity pricing depending on the nature of the service. With the work product of lawyers becoming reusable, the time and effort expended cannot sensibly be allocated amongst those paying for the service, there can be no question of hourly billing or least of all, percentage billing. The time billing will be seen as penalizing the efficient and rewarding those perceived to be indolent. It will now be left to the bargaining power of the client vis-à-vis the bargaining (or fee commanding status) of the lawyer. This would come from perceptions as to expertise, years at the bar, standing or status, brand and firm among others.
Law will shift from being restrictive to being empowering of its users. With the demystification of the law from the availability of information on the fingertips,  and its far wider availability will emerge the perception that law does more than set up obstacles in the path of domestic, social and commercial arrangements. Law will indeed transit from being restrictive to a source of empowerment to the exploitation of business opportunities and contractual relationships. It will also transit from being a defensive mechanism to a pragmatic one. The availability of legal information services is envisaged to give rise to improvement, but not perfection in making the law more usable and available. The marketplace will establish mechanisms for drawing attention to unreliable or defective services. The users of legal services are far more enlightened in the mechanisms of the law today than they were two decades ago, so it means that users would be able to decipher good from poor services.
There would be an increase in business focus as against legal focus. The users of legal services are more interested in their business interest than whether a particular area of law is developed by the novelty of their claims or needs. This simple fact will see an increased shift from legal focus to business focus. Clients look at the time value of money in deciding whether a particular case is worth pursuing irrespective of the advised merits or demerits of the case. The successful informative service providers of the future will be those that provide legal guidance with a far greater business focus than mere technical arguments, stipulations or specifications.
We will also see a shift from the lawyer knows it all to information sharing as service points. The expressions “hereinbefore” and “hitherto” in agreements will give way to simple intelligible language that communicates effectively. The shift is towards Plain English Texts (PETs). With PETs, any Manager can read, analyse and interprete a simple agreement without resorting to lawyers unless it becomes necessary out of prudence. Segmentation of Agreements into Technical Specification Schedules will give way to cumbersome agreements that embody all sorts of issues
Susskind in his contemplation of the future of law and business also sees a shift from legal problem solving to legal risk management. Legal problem solving will in the future diminish in significance. Emphasis will shift towards legal risk management supported by proactive facilities in the form of legal informative services and products. Early consultation will help people understand and identify their risks well ahead of their becoming problems, and take steps to prevent or control them before they escalate or get compounded. It would be a case of practicalising the old proverbial of a ‘stitch in time saves nine.’ It is for this reason that companies embark on due diligence (legal and financial) before embarking on deals or committing themselves to business transactions. It is for the same reason that big companies set up compliance programmes designed to pre-empt legal problems, and when they inevitably occur, are able to manage the disputes effectively with minimal reputational, financial and other costs. This is what would evolve in a shift from dispute resolution to dispute pre-emption. The effective control of legal risks prior to their escalation will mean that disputes will be pre-empted and avoided, so that they do not progress to any formal or alternative resolution process.
IMPROVING LEGAL EDUCATION IN NIGERIA – SOME THOUGHTS
Increase Emphasis on Research
Research can contribute significantly towards improvement in teaching and, more importantly, addressing numerous challenges relating to law and justice. A perusal of the faculty profile of the world’s top law schools will reveal a great emphasis on research and publications among academics. Besides teaching, they contribute in significant ways by initiating and developing research projects in cutting edge areas, making professional contributions to international organizations, law firms and corporations, and by playing an important role in government policy formulation and promoting civil society activism.
Modification of the Law School Curriculum
Traditional laws and contemporary subjects have to be addressed and taught to law students. This is predicated on the fact that the conventional role of a lawyer is fast changing from resolving disputes within the Court room to that of a policy planner, business advisor, mediator and law reformer, among others. The lawyer has to connect with other professions and must be able to relate to scientific and technical knowledge. The law curriculum for the future should provide an integrated knowledge of information and technology, business management, and finance among other related subjects. In so doing, the un-met legal needs of different sections of society and the impact of globalisation can be addressed and the students will be equipped to contribute to the society when they leave the portals of their alma mater. To achieve this, the institutions must be given a free hand in choosing the subject so that the students are able to conduct research work in their respective fields.
In the era of globalization, attention should be paid to four important factors to improve the standard of legal education. These are Global curriculum, Global faculty, Global degrees and Global interactions. The legal education must think globally, but act locally. Dynamism is the lifeblood of law. Legal education if static would not s. To keep pace with the changing situation of the world, the legal education should also change either by addition, subtraction or cancellation of the existing curriculum of the legal education in Nigeria.
Role of Teachers
Law teachers are very important in producing sound lawyers. They must contribute an immense quota. Many law teachers join the law schools after completing their post graduate degrees, yet a significant number of them are rarely exposed to the practical aspects of law and the Courts. Such teachers impact theoretical or text-based knowledge, which often times are divorced from the practical aspects of the society or commerce. The result is that a fresh Lawyer has the high tendency to appear quite lost in the courtroom. Law is not static but is dynamic. Therefore, proper structure must be devised whereby the law teacher is required to gain practical experience. This would not only be advantageous to him; but will enable the teacher to equip prospective aspirants to the profession.
The teacher is required to go beyond teaching traditional doctrines and rules and stimulate in the students the basic skills, such as, the skills of critical thinking, presentation skills, participation skills and team spirit. Practical training should be devised to educate the students so that they will acquire the skills necessary to deal with contemporary trends and also contribute meaningfully to the society at large. The training course should also contain lessons on mediation, negotiations and counselling, computer proficiency in legal work, legal research in support of Public Interest Litigation, and writing of case comments.
The approach to legal education must thus change from traditional ’lecture method’ to one of case study analysis, and research. Emphasis needs to be laid on guiding students in analysing the case law on the given topic through personalized interaction. The need to inculcate in students the psyche to do research will go a long way in promoting the legal profession.
The measures suggested above are not exclusive to the University Legal Education and should be extended to the Nigerian Law School. More so, there should be stricter monitoring of students on Externship programme (previously referred to as ‘Law Office attachment’) as experience has shown that some students fail to take advantage of the opportunities for the practical learning that the Externship programme offers. In some cases there has been sidetracking of the programme. A stricter monitoring of the Law office attachment program can only produce better results in the training process.
SUCCESS RECORDED SO FAR
Having highlighted the low points of legal education in Nigeria, it has not been all gloom and doom. Many positives can be attributed to the Nigeria Legal Education system. The Nigerian legal education system is now independent and Nigeria does not have to rely on the colonial system for the training of its legal professionals. One important mileage is that the system has been able to produce some eminent jurists and legal practitioners who can hold their own amongst their contemporaries anywhere in the world. To say that the Nigerian Legal System has become a reference point in Africa would not be a misstatement or overstatement. Nigeria has over the years produced some of the finest Lawyers and Judges in Africa and that is a testimony to the kind of education they were privileged to have. Things can however get better if the Legal Education structure is improved.
The Nigerian Legal Profession
One cannot properly discuss the Nigerian legal profession without a brief analysis of the Nigerian Legal system. The Nigerian legal system is based on the English common law through a process that can be described as “legal transplant”. The tremendous influence of English law upon its growth has left a seemingly indelible mark upon the system. Till date, English common law forms a substantial part of the Nigerian law. The Nigerian legal system is also characterized by its complexity. There is a general federal legal system applicable throughout the country; the complexity of the system is further made glaring by the application of local customs as law in each State. However, despite the diversity of the Nigerian legal system, history has contributed some measure of uniformity. On several matters, the laws of the various States are similar and this has made relevant and to some extent convenient, the practice of the legal profession across the country.
It must be pointed out that every legal practitioner is eligible to practice law as a barrister and solicitor in all Courts within the federation, except for certain privileges that may preclude Senior Advocates of Nigeria from appearing before inferior courts. Also a person who has not enrolled as a legal practitioner in Nigeria may under some circumstances be permitted by the Chief Justice of Nigeria to practice. However, for the purpose of this paper, we do not intend to dwell on the history of the Nigerian legal profession as much we care to identify its triumphs and shortcomings.
A Career in the legal profession can be intellectually challenging, personally fulfilling and financially rewarding if approached with much diligence and dedication. The distinguished Learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief ‘Folake Solanke CON in a lecture delivered at the Jamaican Law School, Kingston, Jamaica, 4th April, 2006 stated that:
The challenges of the legal profession have always been staggering. In one sense, they have always remained the same, e.g., to uphold the rule of law and protect the rights of the poor and powerless so that ‘right’ is not subverted by ‘might’. In another sense, the challenges now encompass a number of modern day critical issues such as globalization and the run-away Information technology (IT) phenomenon with the internet, the e-mail, the e-payment and the e-everything else.
From the above it is evident that the legal profession has evolved from a desire to uphold fairness and equality to an international phenomenon with strict guidelines and rapid globalization. Basically, the Nigerian legal profession can be observed from two perspectives:
– The Bar-(including the Inner Bar)
– The Bench
The Bar comprising of Barristers and Solicitors of the supreme court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria including members of the inner bar made up of lawyers who have been privileged to be conferred with the title, “Senior Advocate of Nigeria” and secondly,
The Bench, comprising of lawyers who have been elevated as Judges of the High court, Federal High Court, National Industrial Court, Justices of the court of appeal and Justices of the Supreme Court. The point being made is that being called to the Nigerian Bar is the starting point for the bar and the bench. It is by virtue of enrollment at the Supreme Court that an individual can become a legal practitioner and a member of the legal profession in Nigeria. The activities and conduct of members of the legal profession are regulated by statutory bodies like the General Council of the Bar and the Body of Benchers. The bodies are established by the Legal Practitioners Act. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is the foremost professional association in the legal profession. Though the NBA is not a statutory body, it is recognized by statute and it appoints members into supervisory bodies in the legal profession.
The Nigerian legal profession just like every other profession has its code of conduct, which regulates conduct and controls the affairs of its members. Those codes express in the broadest of terms, the standards of professional conduct expected of lawyers in their relationship with the public, the legal system and the legal profession. Amongst the many challenges of the Nigerian legal profession is the ability for it to ensure compliance with its “rules of professional conduct” by members of the profession. There are different roles by lawyers in the legal profession depending on their place in the profession and the nature of their law practice or activity. Judges and prosecutors have fundamentally different roles from those of private lawyers and also from law teacher/lecturer.
In democratic societies, lawyers surely fill an important role that no other professional fills: the lawyer is the guardian of the rule of law, the ideal that all people stand equally before the law and neither expect nor receive special treatment from it. In emerging democracies like Nigeria, this role is especially important for lawyers, who have the potential to become the great levelers between the powerful and the less so powerful. The history of the Nigerian democracy will be incomplete without the contribution of the Nigerian legal profession. Through campaign, activism, representation, the Nigerian legal profession contributed immensely to the return of democratic rule in the country and is continuously supporting the system of democracy in the country. Many lawyers serve in legislatures and parliaments and very often lawyers are called upon to advise parliaments on the details of new laws.
The Nigeria legal profession has brought the law to non lawyers by advising clients and by drafting documents that make clients’ transactions work to serve the clients’ interests within legal constraints. The Nigerian legal profession is the foundation of the justice system. Lawyers play a vital role in the preservation of society. The fulfillment of this role requires an understanding by lawyers of their relationship to our legal system. The Rules of Professional Conduct, when properly applied, serve to define that relationship.
The three-fold loyalty of the lawyer to his client, to the court or administrative agency before which he practices, and to the society at large, presents important problems of intrinsic interest to everyone. The intense scrutiny which lawyers face as a result of these significant duties, has led to the criticism and distrust of lawyers throughout history. Despite the fact that the NBA, through its Disciplinary Committee, conducts preliminary investigation into cases of professional misconduct, the wave of corruption, sharp practices and financial impropriety within the profession has resulted in an upsurge of degradation of work value and ethics by lawyers; vigorous advertising, ambulance chasing and even falsification of documents. To ensure an improvement in the value of this profession, a strict enforcement of the rules of professional conduct should be taken with a renewed energy and avenues where educating lawyers and aspiring lawyers on the ethics should be utilized.
The senior members of the bar also have to be proactive in giving guidance to practitioners and offering a high profile example of the optimal standards. This point cannot be over emphasized, in that one of the reasons why matters of senior lawyers are called out of turn is to afford the younger counsel present in court the opportunity of gaining some knowledge from the experience of their seniors. Sadly and even up till date, very learned senior lawyers seek frivolous adjournments and forestall the speed of justice in the courts.
It is however pertinent to note that certain aspects of the Nigerian legal profession have witnessed success which is worthy of commendation. For example, the council of Legal Education which is the supervisory body responsible for the accreditation, control and management of legal education in Nigeria. The council is responsible for the Nigerian Law School, a vocational institution responsible for education and training of prospective legal practitioners in Nigeria. The Nigerian Law School’s headquarters though located in Abuja has campuses in Lagos, Enugu, Kano, Yenagoa and very recently Adamawa. In the areas of management and uniformity, they have been able to unify these campuses in one administrative system regardless of jurisdiction. There is only one Nigerian Law school, and Persons wishing to study law in Nigeria must proceed for practical training in any of its campuses.
Also, during the last eight years or thereabout, the Nigerian Judiciary has had a reasonable impact on the Nigerian society. The courts are more active in counterbalancing executive and legislative powers. At the same time, the long and harrowing experience of the citizens under the military era has prompted ordinary people to press their claim and secure their rights through the courts. The sanctions imposed on a few judges in recent time by the National Judicial Commission (NJC) has further changed the perception of the Judiciary and boosted the confidence of the common man in the Nigerian legal profession.
Professionals are carriers of occupational morality, an essential regulatory structure that can bridge the gap between state created laws and the actual condition of social life. The Nigerian legal profession occupies a position of importance in our society and very unique in history. The activities of the Nigerian legal profession have over the years become one of the most important mechanism by which relative stability is maintained in a precarious dynamic society.
Legal education is an investment, which should produce beneficial results for the legal profession and nation at large. It should accelerate the pace of development. The role of a lawyer in a common social system is more than a skilled legal mechanic; he acts as a harmonizer and a reconciler. The legal education granted at the law schools should be streamlined from the conventional to the contemporary needs of the legal profession. The quality of Legal education has a direct impact on the prestige of the legal profession. We must, therefore, identify the areas of default and initiate corrective action to repair the damage.
Unless pragmatic reforms are undertaken in legal education, legal education and indeed the legal profession will ultimately suffer, and consequently the country’s justice delivery system will be impaired. A concerted action on the part of the bar, the Bench and the law teachers/lectures is called for to improve the deteriorating standard of Legal education. We have to equip ourselves better so that we will not only keep pace with the current developments but also meet the demands of the future. Consequently, we will be more accountable as a profession because we have become a more significant component of knowledge economy.
I would like to congratulate the Chairman and Members of the Council of Legal Education, the Director-General of Nigerian Law School, and all who have a stake in the continued progress and development of our noble legal profession on the significant milestone of 50 years of legal education in Nigeria.
Long live the Nigerian Law School! Long live the Council of Legal Education! Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Dr Fabian Ajogwu, SAN