Nuances of Legal Education in Nigeria and The Ordeal of an Aspirant to The Bar – Michael Anifiok

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INTRODUCTION

Law is a very dynamic and powerful tool which dictates the affairs of every society. It sets the tone and directs the path a people should follow. It establishes institutions and endow them with sanctity. And it, amongst other things, evaluates actions and inactions; upholding some as right while condemning others as wrong. The workings of law can at times be complex and is unarguably only properly appreciated by lawyers, whose task it is to define and expound the law, adapt it to specific circumstances thereby giving it practical application. The importance of law vis-à-vis lawyers to every society cannot be overemphasize. Consequently, every society takes keen interest in the training and retraining of its lawyers and would be lawyers, Nigeria inclusive.

The focus of this paper is on the legal education in Nigeria as it obtains in the law faculties and the Nigerian law school. Other forms of legal education such as continuous legal education will not form the subject of any meaningful attention. The aim of this paper is to examine the peculiarities of legal education in Nigeria and the resulting challenges these imposes on intending lawyers, as well as to proffer workable solutions to these challenges especially those capable of being independently implemented by these intending lawyers; the primary audience of this paper. Though the writer is not unmindful of the fact that the challenges posed on intending lawyers by our legal education (such as poor funding, inadequate facilities, poorly motivated teachers etc.) is far reaching and demands the concerted effort of all stake holders, these category of challenges will, however, not enjoy a prominent place in this paper. The paper is divided into five parts: part I is introduction. Part II examines the nuances of legal education in Nigeria. Part III highlights the challenges posed by the legal education on aspiring lawyers. Part IV proffers solutions to these challenges. The final part is the conclusion of this paper.

NUANCES OF LEGAL EDUCATION IN NIGERIA

The training of lawyers is usually done through the instrumentality of legal education. Legal education, simply, is the education of individuals who intend to be lawyers or who intend to use their law degree to some end either related to law or business. Legal education in Nigeria did not find its footing until 1962 when the Legal Education Act 1962 and the Legal Practitioners Act 1962 now replaced by the Legal Education (Consolidated, etc) Act were enacted following the recommendations of the Unsworth committee. In the words of Hon. Justice Niki Tobi, “…prior to this time, all Nigerians wishing to become lawyers proceeded to England to receive their legal education”.  Amongst the recommendations proffered by the committee were that:

  • Legal education should be provided locally and adapted to the needs of Nigeria,
  • Law faculties should be established at University of Ibadan and any other subsequent universities to offer degrees in law
  • Law School should be established in Lagos to provide practical training for law graduates and,
  • A law degree should be a requirement for practice of law in Nigeria
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Put simply, that Nigeria should have its own system of legal education. The recommendations and further legislations brought to bear a modified two tier system of legal education and training which separates the academic from vocational stages, like the United Kingdom but unlike the United Kingdom; a law degree became the basis for qualification. The academic stage is usually undertaken at law faculties of  various universities where substantive or theoretical law is taught for a period of 4- 5 years while the vocational stage is usually undertaken at the law school where adjectival or procedural law is taught for a period of 9-10months. These configurations poses some serious challenges which shall now be highlighted.

CHALLENGES POSE BY LEGAL EDUCATION TO ASPIRING LAWYERS

  1. Overconcentration on Substantive Law: Overconcentration on substantive law with little or no attention paid to practical teaching in our law faculties represents one of the most serious challenges faced by an aspiring lawyer. This traditional teaching approach usually adopted by law faculties view law as mere norms and principles made to apply to defined factual situations and circumstances. It reduces legal education to a mere note-taking exercise and denies students the opportunity of having practical engagement with the law in view of the fact that law is a practical course. It is not uncommon to hear apologist of this configuration argue that practical training of law students is exclusively reserve for the law school. This argument falters in view of the sheer brevity of the law school calendar. As earlier pontificated, students spend no more than meagre 9 to 10months acquiring vocational skills they will need all their lives, (while 4 to 5years is spent on substantive law) the writer contends that this is grossly inadequate. Certainly, graduates from the above style of teaching may not compete favorably in the global arena because a Lawyer can only be as good as the system of legal education that produced him.
  2. Moot Court Apathy: Another challenge to the development of aspiring lawyers in Nigeria is moot court apathy. The average Nigerian law undergraduate has no scintilla of interest in the moot court. Their legal education is strictly regimented and restricted to the ‘lecture rooms and library’ configuration; moot and mock trials is thus seen as a tedious distraction. The concern of this category of students – regrettably the majority – is to attend lectures, devote time to their studies, make good grades and exit the university, while the moot court complex remains a purpose built hall for LAWSA congresses. Though this may not be a bad approach to studies in other disciplines, it is, to borrow the words of David Cameroon, a ‘fantastically’ bad approach to study law in view of the practical nature of our discipline. This impact negatively on these aspirants to the bar.
  3. Chauvinism: Chauvinism simply means unwarranted bias, favoritism, or devotion to one’s own particular group. Chauvinism like other factors highlighted above, also poses a challenge to the development of budding lawyers in our law faculties. Excessive patriotism to ethnicity by aspiring lawyers and adoption of tongue as a determinant for ‘who gets what’ often times gives rise to merit being sacrificed for mediocrity. It is not uncommon to hear aspiring lawyers argue that a person cannot be the LAWSA president, head of Law Bar, Moot society or chambers because he is not from the state where the university situates. And in most instances the persons so persecuted are usually the ones with the requisite competence to lead and advance the development of students. Thus, these chauvinists while thinking they are fighting a particular individual, incidentally and unfortunately so, fight against their development. This also poses a challenge to the development of aspirants to the bar.
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SOME WORKABLE SOLUTIONS

The discuss so far has exposed our minds to the ordeals of aspirants to the bar in view of the peculiarity of our legal education. While they are not exhaustive, it will however serve as a guide to proffering few solutions, namely:

  1. Internships As demonstrated above, legal education in the law faculties basically focuses on substantive law where legal education is most times reduced to a note-taking exercise. Thus, aspiring lawyers need to take independent actions targeted at self-development so as to build some practical legal skills. This emphasizes the necessity of internships. An aspirant to the bar desirous of having some meaningful career at the bar in the near future should apply himself while in the university to some practical legal education by exploring internship opportunities in law firms. Holidays of intending lawyers should be devoted to internships and other meaningful engagement that will advance their education. Internship will afford aspirants to the bar the opportunity to learn, from practical observation; how clients are interviewed, how legal documents are prepared, how processes are filed in court, how companies are incorporated and how law firms and law practice generally work. This will make the law student better prepared for the task of lawyering that lies ahead of him.
  2. Moot court practice. The point has been made that the average law student sees moot court and other forms of advocacy practice as a tedious course and a borderline distraction meant for few busy bodies. Less than 5% of the students population participate in moot court practice.8 It is imperative to note that the most effective approach to learning is experiential learning. An aspiring lawyer who dreams of having a meaningful legal career of some sought should develop the drive of ‘learning by doing not by being told what to do’. Aspirants to the bar should get involved in moot court practice, sue and be sued, prepare writ and other court processes, announce appearance in moot court and move their motions, and their legal education will be better for it. It is in the moot court that the writer learned that documents are not to be pleaded in affidavit but rather attached and marked as exhibits; that for the claimant to pray the court for reliefs for injury arising from negligence, he must first off seek the action or inaction of the defendant be declared as negligence; that preliminary objections at trial court can be raised viva voce; that the court can suo moto make a no case ruling where the prosecution has failed to establish a prima facie case against a defendant even when the defendant has not made a no case submission. The education that lies in moot court and other forms of clinical legal education are such that the lecture rooms and libraries will not teach an intending lawyer, he should therefore leverage on it.
  3. Chauvinism should be eschewed Chauvinism has been identified as also posing a challenge to the development of aspirants to the bar. Situations where square pegs (with whom we share some form of homogeneity) are put in round holes to the detriment of the intellectual progress of the students should be looked upon with disdain. Intending lawyers should wriggle free from chauvinism and promote merit, pursue excellence and celebrate it.
  4. Inculcate the spirit of research The sheer conservativeness of the law curriculum has hamper the introduction of emerging fields of law like energy law, entertainment law, space law etc. as courses taken in the law faculties which in turn limits the career choices of students to the over populated fields of law like commercial litigation, corporate practice, etc. As much as a curriculum review is necessary, students should develop a deep sense of curiosity for these emerging fields which would spur them to carry out independent research on these fields of law. Free on line courses are also available on these field for students to take advantage of to broaden the scope of their legal education.
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CONCLUSION

It has been 57 years since formal legal education gained introduction in Nigeria. 57 years of bifurcated legal education which, though has arguably not fared poorly but largely groom students who struggle to have good grabs of practical law. For while listening to lectures delivered by professors and putting in good shifts in the library is a good approach to study, it yet leaves an aspiring lawyer with a blurred vision and appreciation of the law. Thus aspiring lawyers need to see a lawyer prepare his brief in chambers, conduct his matter in court; they need to observe how he modulates his voice while moving his motions, and they need to actively apply themselves in the moot court; for our people use to say, and they still say; you learn to speak by speaking.

Michael Aniefiok, LL.B (Hons.), BL (awaiting result), is the  Founder University of Calabar Moot and Mock Society

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