Professor Andrew Chukwuemerie (SAN) has called for the restructuring of legal education in Nigeria to emphasize vocational training rather than mere academics. In this piece, STEPHEN UBIMAGO reflects on his submissions as recently conveyed in the Nigerian Journal of Contemporary Law…
Before 1945, the possession of a University degree was not essential for qualification as a lawyer in Nigeria.
To be sure, legal training prior to 1945 only consisted in apprenticeship, articleship or pupilage under the mentorship of a senior member of the profession, after which the candidate will be required to sit for a qualifying Bar or Solicitor’s examination.
In a paper entitled, “Problems of Legal Education in Nigeria,” Honorable Justice Moronkeji Onalaja (retd.) observed in this connection that “Lawyers trained in Britain before 1945 had no law degrees because no British University was offering a Law degree at the time.
“The University College, London was the first to offer a Law degree and this was in 1945.”
But much has changed ever since. Currently, most lawyers in Nigeria are university graduates.
By virtue of section 4 of the Legal Practitioners Act, one cannot be admitted into the Nigeria Law School (NLS) for professional training without the prerequisite Bachelor’s degree in Law or an equivalent English Bar certificate.
Clearly, unlike the pre-1945 regime, it is now the Faculties of Law of the various universities as well as the Council of Legal Education of the Nigerian Law School that contribute in the production of lawyers in Nigeria.
However, many senior lawyers, who in most cases are the employers of new wigs, have lamented that the current regime only tend to produce persons versed in theories but deficient in practical legal know-how.
The development has, in turn, been blamed on their teachers, who themselves lack knowledge of the Law in practice.
“Most law lecturers in Nigerian universities deal with the theory of the law – the law in the shelf – not necessarily the law as it operates in the marketplace of life, the streets and indeed the courts.” This was the lamentation of Professor Andrew Chuwumerie (SAN) in an article titled, “Fresh Perspective in Lawyers’ Training: What the Universities and Law School Fail to Teach.”
Published in the “Nigerian Journal of Contemporary Law,” the don maintained that “The design of the course contents and outlines in the universities pay excessive attention to the theory of the law as found in the textbooks and does not deliberately create space for the teaching of practical experience and the different challenges generated out there in the marketplace of life by the application of the law and the solution to those challenges.”
He berated the situation in which the Law student is made to learn all the theoretical aspects of, say, the Law of Contract in the university or Law School without ever sighting a contract in practice, or even made to draft one, save and until after his/her call to bar and as an associate in a firm of legal practitioners, or following his/her employment in the legal department of some corporate organization.
The question that has arisen against this backdrop is: Given that Law is basically a vocation and not an academic discipline, why has legal education in Nigeria continued to remain a project of long years of academic exposure at the expense of serious practical training?
Despite lamentations that the universities and indeed the NLS are producing barely baked lawyers, why has only little been done to institute fundamental reforms that would occasion the broadening of the vocational content of legal education or that would inform a reasonable balance between the theoretical and the practical?
Indeed legal training in Nigeria leaves much to be desired going by the lamentable picture painted by the professor in this respect.
According to him, “The typical Nigerian Law student is like a medical student who has been taught Medicine in mere theory, who has gone to a theatre only once in his life to observe surgeries and is then licensed to go out as a medical practitioner to practice medicine including performing surgeries on patients.
“Such a doctor would not be a doctor properly so called and only a reckless or ignorant patient would patronise his clinic.
“The Law student is taught the Law of Evidence in the university as well as Civil Procedure and Criminal Procedure in the Law School but never gets to see a Motion moved in court or before an arbitral tribunal or a cross-examination conducted.”
This state of affairs has resulted in a number of regrettable outcomes, he maintains.
For instance, many would graduate from the Law School with the barest interest to pursue legal practice not so much because of lack of passion as it is because they feel a certain disconnect from the Law.
This disconnection seems to be borne out of the fact that years spent to acquire the certificates of qualification failed to familiarise them with the practical world of lawyers.
It appears the new wig suddenly realises a disconcerting dissonance between theory and practice. Disillusioned, as a result, he or she makes a premature detour.
Succinctly re-echoing the professor’s thought, an American legal educator Mack McCormack noted: “Only after graduation do young attorneys come to the depressing realization that 90 per cent of what they were taught in academia will never be used in practice; and, conversely, 90 percent of what they need to know was never taught them at school.”
It goes without saying that many a young lawyer only come to terms with the said gaps in their training when the challenge of making a living from practice leads them to an epiphany.
Besides, given the limited number of established law firms on hand to employ the ever-growing number of lawyers in the country, many are either suddenly paralyzed by their sense of inadequacy occasioned by lack of experience, or become venturesome, going into practice without adequate pupillage.
Chuwuemerie terms such a move “a gamble.”
“It has often happened that a lawyer from the law school opens his own practice in Nigeria within a year or less of his call to bar,” he said.
“There is no regulation requiring this driver who has never driven a car to necessarily under-study a licensed driver before he can pick up a car key to drive passengers to death.
“He is just unleashed upon the society and it is completely within his discretion to decide whether or not he learns actual driving before setting out on earning a living as a professional driver.
“He soon dashes out there to open his own practice and begins to learn the Law by trial and error as he goes on in his practice.”
As already noted, the senior advocate deplored this state of affairs, blaming it on the country’s faulty system of legal education.
According to him, the situation is compounded all the more by the fact that the legal educators themselves are mere academicians.
They parade impressive degrees from both local and foreign universities, but lack knowledge of the workings of the Law in practice.
He added that the misnomer is more pronounced in the Faculties of Law, where the criteria for employment as a Law teacher merely consist in showing off strings of degrees short of vital experience in bar practice.
“The Law student is in most cases taught by teachers who themselves have never had practical experience of these things and who can only teach him bare empty theory,” he lamented.
“Such teachers often do not have the faintest idea of how the Law works out there in the practical scene of everyday life and business.
“They operate in the comfortable cocoons of the classroom where even manifestly unrealistic abstract contemplations sometimes have prime place.”
But the anomalous situation is not beyond remedy, says the senior advocate. He recommends a three-pronged approach to resolving the incongruity.
First, he says, the criteria for engaging Law teachers must change, stressing that experience in the Bar must be deemed as important as the parade of degrees.
“Practical experience of Law must be a condition precedent for teaching,” he counseled.
Secondly, the situation calls for a fundamental review of curricula, he said, stating, “The idea of legal clinics in the universities is also highly commendable.”
Finally, “The university training should make more room for more practical conduct of mock cases by the students themselves,” he said.
“A deliberate effort should be made to relate theories to the nuances, challenges and difficulties of the Nigerian society.”
A barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and former Professor of Law, Chukwuemerie (SAN) currently runs his Port Harcourt-based Okibe Lawhouse as Principal Solicitor.
He obtained his Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Maiduguri; and Master of Laws (LLM) from the University of Lagos.
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