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10 proposed policy reforms to Nigeria’s legal profession

John W. Davis served under Woodrow Wilson in the wake of WWII as the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom. He was a highly intelligent man and a lawyer by training, he was once quoted as saying

True, we [lawyers] build no bridges. We raise no towers. We construct no engines. We paint no pictures—unless as amateurs for our own principal amusement. There is little of all that we do which the eye of man can see. But we smooth out difficulties; we relieve stress; we correct mistakes; we take up other men’s burdens and by our efforts we make possible the peaceful life of men in a peaceful state.

If the role of lawyers in the society is that key, then the process that churns out and governs lawyers’ conduct cannot and should not be ineffective, archaic or dawdling.

Evolution is an inseparable part of life, and in fact, it is a supreme necessity if survival and/or optimum functioning/efficiency are to be ensured. In my beloved country, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, certain facets of society have morphed quicker than others, and more often than not, upon an analysis, we see that our corpus of laws is the most backward or static of the lot; and even worse is certain parts of the gestalt of the legal profession.

It is my humble opinion, that a great many aspects of the structure and governance of the legal profession (especially the process that produces legal practitioners) can be improved. The legal profession can only solve problems that it is willing to acknowledge. I thus proffer the following amendments/solutions to some of the problems we face:

  1. Length/Nature of Study

The status quo is that an aspirant to the Nigerian Bar would spend 5 years in an accredited Nigerian University, then complete a year at the Nigerian Law School before being called to the Nigerian Bar. This process is not only too long, but its structure is such that it leaves/produces lawyers who within the first 1 or 2 years after their call, are so “green” and oblivious to many integral elements of the expectations of the reasonable skills a lawyer should possess. This is why it is almost impossible for a “new wig” to get out of law school and “hit the ground running”.

I propose that undergraduate law study be cut down to 3 years, with the current courses offered in 100 Level (Literature, Sociology, Computer Studies etc) being scrapped. The curriculum should be more compressed, with space for just 1 or 2 electives available per year. During the duration of the undergraduate level, at any one designated point in time, students should be required undergo a 6-week externship at a superior court of record or a with magistrate.

Upon the conclusion of undergraduate studies, aspirants to the Nigerian Bar should commence a 6month compulsory pupillage with a Nigerian law firm (during which the graduates shall not be entitled to any remuneration).

Upon the conclusion of the pupillage, law graduates should then proceed to the Nigerian Law School for 4 months of intense lectures (which ideally would largely be revisionary in nature), followed by 2 months of considered and bespoke examinations, with more lucid and experiential testing (which would include MCQs, Practicums, Simulation courses, Assignments and Essay questions). This period shall also include a concise portfolio assessment of their pupillage periods. In between this 6 month period in the law school, there would be a 2 week “mid-term” break for the students.

This proposal would (i) substantially reduce the inordinate time (from 6 years to 4years) it takes to be a legal practitioner, but more importantly, (ii) would better ensure that the quality of the eventual Lawyers is much better, as the Nigerian Law School would no longer (as it in reality currently is) be focused on seeing who the “best law students” are, but rather it would be focused on assessing and ensuring that the individuals are not just fit, but actually ready to practice the law.

Having undergone 6 weeks shadowing a superior court of record, and then undergoing 6 months’ pupillage at a Nigerian law firm, the Nigerian Law School (“NLS”) is then able to truly focus on polishing, fine tuning and molding the graduates into mercurial practitioners, rather than just having them cram a large load of legal procedures.

This ensures that at all times, there is concomitant relationship between the academic knowledge being acquired and the raw exposure to the practice of law itself.

 

  1. Project Thesis

In order to promote the proper development of Nigeria’s body of laws (which currently has far too many lacunae), and to ensure that legal practitioners begin to embrace specialization in emerging areas of law (which would collaterally increase the quality of legal work all round); approved undergraduate project thesis should be in areas of law not solely or squarely within the confines of one of the core courses (constitutional law, law of torts, law of contract etc.) that are offered. These courses have already been consummately covered by previous Jurists, Academicians, Lawyers etc.

This proposal would help to ensure that the prevalence of full-fledged lawyers who are not versed in any specialized area of law (e.g. Maritime, Tax, Intellectual Property, Insurance etc.) would be surreally reduced, and that the quality of legal work produced by lawyers, would increase across board.

Also, this proposal would revive the dwindling research culture in the majority of Nigerian higher institutions (where the status quo is that students merely duplicate extant secondary sources and regurgitate them for assessment), and ultimately add immensely to Nigeria’s overall depth of quality sources of resource on various areas of law.

It would behoove the supervising Lecturer/Supervisor/Dean to ensure that if the subject matter of a research project/thesis is squarely within the realm of one of the mainstay courses (Constitutional Law, Law of Contract etc.), then only truly novel perspectives to the issues proposed, be approved by the Faculty of Law.

 

  1. Compulsory Moot and Mock Trials

Moot and Mock Trials (“MMTs”) are activities whose very nature and essence ensure the development of a wide array of qualities such as: confidence, research skills, drafting abilities, oral advocacy, comportment, decorum etc. Moot Courts also indirectly increasing the knowledge of the Mooter in that area of law that constitutes the subject matter of the moot problem.

Thus, it is not commendable that the vast majority of Nigerian Lawyers have never tried their hand at any form of oral advocacy until the very first time that they find themselves in front of a judge, magistrate or arbitration tribunal.

Law students offer courses such as English Grammar, Psychology, Computer Science and Sociology in complement to law disciplines; but in addition to these staple courses, as stipulated by the National Universities Commission (“NUC”) they also offer General Studies Courses (“GSTs”), the completion of which is compulsory for every Nigerian student. Some of these GSTs are repetitive (e.g. “Use of English”, “Basic Computer Studies”).

Currently, it is compulsory for all Nigerian students to complete 5 GSTs before they graduate from a course of study in a higher institution. I propose that MMTs be offered as a course, and that in the case of law students, should replace at least one of the 5 GSTs that Nigerian trained law students must currently offer at undergraduate level. Thus, a certain number of hours, or a certain number of moot and mock problems must be tackled by students before the conclusion of their undergraduate studies.

The merits of this proposal include the fact that:

  • Long before they become legal practitioners, students are able to have developed the greatly needed legal skills earlier referred to.
  • Students already begin to think like lawyers on a case by case basis thus sharpening their reasoning skills
  • Most of the skills developed such as confidence, research, oral advocacy, drafting, are transferable and essential regardless of the profession that the students choose to pursue after their university studies
  • Nigerian law students would be more competitive on a global stage when they face their contemporaries from other parts of the world in various types of extracurricular and co-curricular activities

 

 

  1. Less Convoluted NLS Campuses

A great demerit of the current constitution of the NLS is that the number of its students in certain campuses when juxtaposed with those of others is incredibly lopsided. A situation whereby a single NLS campus has 2000+ students is not to be envisaged, as there is only so much that a lecturer can do when he or she is to attend to such a large number of students. With an average academic staff number of merely 15 lecturers, that gives a teacher to student ratio of roughly 1:150 in some instances; this is not good enough.

Although it would be somewhat capital intensive, I propose that at least 2 more NLS campuses need to be built and established. 1 in the South East or South South (Anambra or Rivers State), 1 in the South West (Oyo or Lagos Mainland). This including extant NLS campuses (Lagos, Abuja, Adamawa, Bayelsa, Enugu, Kano) would bring the total to 8 NLS campuses. Upon the establishment of the additional campuses, a strict maximum of 700 students per campus should be implemented, whilst maintaining the conservative average of 15 academic staff per campus.

This coupled with a policy that no NLS campus takes in more than 700 students, would across board increase the opportunity for quality learning and reduce the teacher to student ratio to about 1:46.

 

  1. Law Firm Establishment Restriction

It is trite that no one man knows everything, and this truism holds even truer in the realm of the law. That being said, it is important that a lawyer who is holding him/herself out to handle the affairs of any citizen, must be as competent as possible. There is no singular trait/characteristic/metric that can ensure competence, however, experience (to a large extent) does ensure that some incredibly silly/fatal mistakes are not made. Thus, no “new wig” should be able to establish a “law firm” for the simple reason that he/she is yet to experience anything, let alone understand the nuances and intricacies that come with running a law firm in the 21st century. If a new wig is to form a law firm, it should be in partnership with another lawyer who is at least 3 years post call.

 

  1. Career Orientation and Guidance Counselling

There should be mandated guidance counsellors and mental health coaching specifically provided for all accredited Faculties of Law in Nigeria, as well as NLS. The study of law is extremely grueling and stories of students being pushed to the point of deep depression is extremely common. Thus, the authorities are remiss to fail to offer advisory cushions to ease the path of law students throughout their voyage in school.

In addition, the current University and NLS curriculum is highly outdated in many respects and does pay enough mind to the current ways in which the legal profession has morphed in many respects. The current curriculum at University level naively presupposes that the only real paths are that of a Barrister or as an Academic, whilst the Nigerian Law School adds another element as a Solicitor; but enough attention is not paid to other paths such as that of Arbitrators, Company Secretaries, Legal Officers, Clerks, Judges, etc. It is thus apropos that frequent career fairs or expos be conducted by the authorities, as well as ensuring that Guidance Counsellors constantly engage students on their proposed career paths, so that they do not enter into the labour market “blind”, and also to ensure that they begin to refine the skills needed for such a path.

In addition, from the undergraduate level, guidance counsellors and course advisers should take a big role in inculcating the tenets of ethics and integrity in their students.

 

  1. Paralegals

There is current dearth in employment opportunities for law graduates, especially for those who perform poorly at undergraduate level and/or at the Nigerian Law School. Stories of students who miss out on opportunities as result of getting a 2:2 (Second Class Lower) are very commonplace, let alone those who graduate with a Third Class or a Pass. There’s also the fact that some of those who fall into this category often have to wait for an undue amount of time after completion of their undergraduate studies before being processed by their respective Universities and cleared to commence their studies at the NLS (due a large backlog of students in the system).

A path should be cut out for those in this category with an available career path as a paralegal. With a reduced undergraduate[1] timeframe of 3 years, students who perform poorly can then decide whether it would be more gainful for them to continue to try to become a full-fledged legal practitioner or whether to be a paralegal. The circumstances surrounding the student’s situation, as well as what would seem to be a more “realistic” route for sustainable personal “success”, would determine whether or not it would be more apropos for him/her to go to NLS or not.

A school/college for Paralegal studies should be established, as well as an association of Paralegals of Nigeria for the purpose of regulating paralegals, as well as setting their codes of conduct/ethics and protecting their welfare.

In addition, legislation should provide that all administrative yet legal inclined civil/public service jobs must be held by paralegals/law graduates. This should include all Registrars, Judicial Assistants, Legal Assistants, Paralegals, Records Officers, Research Assistants, Secretaries, Executive Officers, Clerks, Liaison Staff etc, especially at government Ministries, Departments and Agencies such as the Corporate Affairs Commission, the Trade Marks Registry etc.

This proposal also ensures that career opportunities are created in the private sector, as some Tier 1 Nigerian law firms already employ paralegals, However, it can be improved by stipulating that for anyone to be conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (“SAN”), {in addition to the requirements already currently put in place by the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee}, must have at least 2 Paralegals under fulltime employment in their respective law firms/partnerships.

Paralegals can also do personal enhancement programmes and gain some certification in other fields such as medicine, IT, or engineering, and then be able to have careers as expert witnesses for suits involving those specific subject matters.

These would serve not only to cater and carve out a niche for a large chunk of the 5,000+ lawyers that are produced annually (often to a scarcity of jobs), but will also serve to ensure higher quality in dealings that occur at various courthouses, registries and parastatals.

 

  1. Nigerian Law School Grading System

On this point, I shall not use too many words. This point of view is hackneyed at this point. The current NLS grading system is draconian, insincere and ridiculous. Giving a general assessment on a would be professional on the basis their weakest grade makes no sense, and I am sure that a “referendum” of legal practitioners would reveal that to be the majority sentiment (a full article on why this system should be changed would come in the future). The grading system should be revamped to reflect true effort by either:

  • Applying the same grade point system adopted in universities, or
  • Adopting a Pass/Fail model (whilst awarding exceptional candidates).

The mentality of measuring the quality of a curriculum by how many students failed, belongs buried in the annals of history.

 

  1. Law Teachers in Practice

The Law is not, has not and will never be static. This is especially so for the actual practice of the law, which is evolving at a rapid pace on a daily basis. It should therefore be a no brainer that a law teacher, who eseentially acts as cocoon for the chrysalis that is an aspirant to the Nigerian Bar, should himself/herself not be static!

The provisions of paragraph 2 (b) of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers in the 5th Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as well as Rule 8 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007, have the separate and combined effect of proscribing a law teacher from engaging in legal practice. There have been many moot debates about the true extent of the reach of these laws, as well as court decisions such as Ahmed v Ahmed which pronounced that a decision on the issue can only be made by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (which is yet to do so). However, all and sundry know (at least they should) that these laws are harmful to the production of quality legal practitioners in Nigeria.

In order to keep up with the times, sharpen their minds and not feed their students with outdated lines; law teachers NEED to be able to engage in legal practice sans any form of controversy or confusion whatsoever. A prompt redrafting of the cited provisions to reflect this, is needed as soon as possible.

 

  1. Remuneration of Lawyers

The average remuneration of a Legal Practitioner is Nigeria is an absolute travesty. This of course is not solely the fault of the regulators of the legal profession in Nigeria. However, nothing concrete has been done to stem the tide, and the situation gets dire with every passing year. It still shocks many when they find out that bright and competent lawyers (even those 5-10 years post call) earn as little as 30,000 Naira per month in Nigeria. A fallacy would also be to think that these paltry sums are only earned in the poorest parts of Nigeria, or only in “small” law firms. Unless there is an actual change in attitude, will power and legislation, as well as the general economic outlook of Nigeria as a whole, it is admitted that this will continue to get worse.

However, there are short term and long term measures that can be adopted. I propose:

  • No National Youth Service Corps (“NYSC”) corps member that is a legal practitioner should be paid less than #30,000 Naira per month (exclusive of the monthly NYSC allowance paid by the Federal Government) by any government Ministry, Department or Agency.

 

  • Secondly, no person should be considered for elevation to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) unless they provide evidence that within the 5 years preceding their application, that that applicant’s law firm or partnership, has consistently devoted at least 17% of its annual profit as a law firm solely to the payroll of its employees (excluding its partners). This can broadly include headings such as: gross salary, paid leave, health insurance etc.
  • Finally, as proposed by the committee setup by the immediate past President of the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”), Mr. A.B Mahmoud (SAN), that a minimum salary of #50,000 be adopted for young lawyers. This is a stance that should be taken by the entire NEC of the NBA, and used as a filter for non- adherents when it comes to consideration for key positions and appointments within the legal profession.

 

Anyways, that’s my X (ten).

 

 

 

 

Written by: Oluwatobi Olowokure

[1] As proposed in Policy Proposal 1 above

12 comments
  1. William-Adusa Hosanna

    The attention to detail (as regards implementation of the proposed reforms) in many areas of the article, makes one wonder how much time and thought went into this effort.
    That said, the real challenge is getting this thoughtful endeavour to the people who can do something about it; at least so that they can either consider implementing as much of it as possible, or point out difficulties that you, the writer, could not have envisaged from your point of view, which would make the proposed reforms easier said than done.
    Ultimately, that there may be a visible dedication by both the authorities and legal practitioners, to making justice and its administration attainable, and easy.

  2. Gboyega ahove

    This is such a great and enlightening read. Thank you. Nonetheless, what justification do you have for undergoing pupilage before law school, considering the fact that our university system is highly substantive and less procedural.

    1. admin

      Thank you for your question Gboyega.

      Procedure must be experienced one way or another (at one time or another)

      As you have pointed out, the University sets the substantive foundation within the aspirant to the Nigerian Bar’s schema. What is therefore left is the procedure.

      Procedure is best grasped through experiencing it, rather than simply reading up on it. It is why even some clerks and paralegals who didn’t actually study law, are competent enough to pass a civil litigation exam (for example). The whole point of “externship” as we know it, is for students to experience the procedure that they have been taught in NLS.

      However, the status quo is that the externship is far too short (12 weeks) and the courseload at NLS is so gargantuan that most people are actually just cramming without really learning. In fact, students hope to be posted somewhere where they wouldn’t even be tasked at all, and would simply be left alone to read, read, read and read. Law practice to a large degree is a science. A great doctor or engineer can never be the one who simply sits in his/her hostel and digests textbooks, they must handle test tubes, diodes etc to truly crystallize. In the same way, a true top lawyer, can’t be brewed by textbooks alone.

      Thus (1) the failure rates are still very high (2) even those that pass spend the first 8 months + as a lawyer have to constantly refer to their textbooks and notes, even for some basic procedures, because they were forced to consume so much in such little time.

      Undergoing pupillage before law school:

      (1) ensures that students are far much more versed in procedure, because it is something that they have actually been experiencing for months

      (2) ensures better quality teaching sessions at NLS, because classes don’t have to move at lightning speed and everyone already has a great amount of knowledge of what is to be taught before hand, hence the actual interaction in class is of a higher quality, and less just instruction of “blind sheep”

      (3) helps students see the law up close and personal for a sustained enough period for them to even decide whether being a legal practitioner is truly for them or not

      (4) provides an incubative period for the FOCUSED development of research and drafting skills before bbeing put to the test at a high stakes situation in live court…for the first time

      (5) provides an avenue for young people to have valuable work experience before diving into the labour market

      etc etc

      In summary, pupillage before law school in my opinion, would greatly contribute to quality all round learning, at the law school, as students would be substantively equipped (from university) and procedurally experienced (as a result of pupillage) before NLS, thus allowing for focus on polishing and fine tuning the individual into a quality legal practitioner that is truly ready for the “practice” of the law.

  3. Babajide Michael literati Olusegun

    Only an innovative and a distinguished mind could have conceived and articulated this. Tobolos, you have shown again that you are a rare and well nurtured breed. And I believe strongly that you possess what it takes to push this lofty proposals to the top.

    In another breath, may I ask what your opinion is on remote working in the legal profession. Do you see it creating more employment opportunities for Nigerian lawyers and boosting their pay?

    1. admin

      Thank you very much Babajide.

      “Remote working” is already in full force in Nigeria. Most top tier Nigerian law firms provide legal services for a large number of foreign and local clients without ever physically meeting.

      As to whether it “can create more employment opportunities for Nigerian lawyers and boosting their pay”, I don’t see a direct nexus. However, remote working may assist more lawyers (especially young lawyers) in starting sole proprietorships and being independent earlier in their careers than usual. This may indirectly lead to more satisfaction and a higher take home paycheck.

  4. Vincent Chimobi Okonkwo

    Well articulated thoughts. I agree with most of your suggestions. The few I don’t wholly adopt, I would only tweak a little. That said, I would also want to suggest, in the spirit of initiative and forward thinking, that perhaps the study of “Law” be scrapped.

    The practice of law pervades every aspect of the modern world, and intersperses with all facets of life. In today’s world there’s too much going on in too many industries and sectors and spaces, that “Law” is no longer the design to satisfy the requirements of these multifarious arenas. Simply put, “Law”, that unwieldy bulk, may not suffice. I would suggest instead, that the study of law be replaced with the study of industry or specialisation specific law. There are too many courses to study under the heading of “Law” and too many law courses not incorporated in the curriculum because of the absence of “space” to include them. It always bothers me that we get to study Law, in it’s supposed totality, while students in the school of medicine get to specialise in Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Optometry and the rest and students in the field of engineering study electrical engineering, or chemical engineering or computer engineering etc. Aren’t they better off for the specialisation they get? Of course, we can have basic law course everybody studies, and we can all get the same LL.B, but with specialisation. It will cut on the time it takes to get a law degree, birth more competence, create diversification of law practice, help open up the legal industry, help better lawyers’ industry knowledge and ability to contribute to industry processes, make lawyers more aware of the arenas they will be providing services to etc. So, why not?

    (PS: I’m in a hurry, so I wouldn’t be proofreading. Forgive any inadvertent typo)

    1. admin

      I do not see a situation in which a law degree as we currently know it can be dispensed with.The status quo as we know it, does not purport to teach “all” or the “totality” of the law. Specialisation in a particular field of law can only come from further study or practice.

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