* The standard of our profession is sinking
* No one cares
Lawyers, most lawyers, attend the NBA AGCs just to collect conference materials
The AGC, for most lawyers, is just for fun Nothing is mandatory about the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education.
In Nigeria, the MCLE Programme is intended to assure that those lawyers enrolled to practise in Nigeria remain current in terms of the requisite knowledge, skills and values necessary to fulfil the professional responsibilities and obligations of their respective practices and work, thereby improving the standards of the profession in general.
Lawyers, therefore, are required to take Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) courses in order to maintain their qualification to practice law.
The Nigerian Bar Association Institute of Continuing Legal Education (ICLE) serves as the CLE regulatory authority for the NBA and the profession, by providing standards and scope for the MCLE program.
The ICLE is overseen by the Board of MCLE and works closely with the NBA sections and the various local branches at large in developing programs on MCLE.
But is the MCLE really improving the standards of the legal profession in Nigeria?
What steps has the NBA ICLE taken to ensure that those lawyers who desire to maintain their licenses to practice law, compulsorily complete their annual MCLE programs?
Has the NBA ICLE ever withdrawn a lawyer’s practicing license for failing to enrol in and complete the MCLE programme?
What is wrong with allowing each NBA State Branch organize and coordinate their own MCLE programmes?
To satisfactorily answer these questions and better understand how we are consciously running the standard of the profession aground, it is necessary to understand how Continuing Legal Education is organised in other jurisdictions, take the United States and Canada.
THE UNITED STATES
CLE requirements are mandatory for only 45 U.S. States, each with its own set of rules. Some lawyers in the U.S. get their CLE credits for free from teaching CLE classes.
In the U.S. jurisdictions with mandatory CLE requirements lawyers must typically earn a minimum number of CLE credits (measured in hours) over a set period of years. Also, some of these jurisdictions require a minimum number of CLE credits for specific topics (e.g., ethics, professional responsibility, substance abuse and attorney-client disputes).
U.S. lawyers typically earn CLE credits by completing legal training presented by experienced lawyers. The training may cover both legal theory and practical experiences in legal practice. Classroom training materials can be extensive and may represent the most current and advanced thinking available on a particular legal subject. Oftentimes, a portion of CLE credits may be earned through reading and other self-study. In recent years, many jurisdictions in the U.S. now allow lawyers to earn CLE credits as part of distance education courses taken on-line or by listening to audio downloads.
Alternatively, experienced lawyers in some jurisdictions, such as New York, may also earn CLE credits for speaking or teaching at accredited CLE programs; for moderating or participating in panel presentations at accredited CLE activities; for teaching law courses at American Bar Association-accredited law schools; for preparing students for and judging law competitions, mock trials and moot court arguments, including those at the high school or college level; for published legal research-based writing; and for providing pro bono legal services.
Opportunities for CLE are offered throughout the year by state bar associations, national legal organizations such as the American Bar Association, Federal Bar Association, law schools, and many other legal associations and groups such as non-profit CLE providers as well as other private, for-profit enterprises. A recent trend is toward the provision and promotion of free CLE programmes.
Uniquely, Kentucky allows all licensed lawyers in the state to complete their annual CLE requirement without a registration fee through a two-day programme known as Kentucky Law Update, offered annually in at least seven locations throughout the state.
In the US, Lawyers are required to file an MCLE compliance report establishing compliance by mailing Affidavit of Completion (hours earned, fees paid, and Affidavit of Compliance filed) to the State Bar. Every July, the State Bar begins auditing these records to determine whether the MCLE reports lawyers file are not only correct, but complete. Lawyers who fail to turn in an MCLE report face monetary penalties and the possible placement on administrative inactive status. Lawyers who are audited and found to have falsely reported compliance may also face penalties and disciplinary charges.
In Canada, rules vary by jurisdiction. For example, Alberta has a mandatory Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme, requiring preparation of annual CPD plans. Lawyers develop their plans and declare to the Law Society of Alberta on an annual basis that these are complete. The Legal Education Society of Alberta provides tools to facilitate compliance with these requirements.
In British Columbia, CPD is mandatory and lawyers are required to annually report their continuing legal education activities to the Law Society of British Columbia. The Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia provides tools to facilitate compliance with these requirements. Practicing lawyers must complete a minimum of 12 hours of coursework and 50 hours of self study annually.
The U.S. and Canada examples show how ideal CLE programmes should be organised to ensure that
only deserving lawyers maintain their practising licences, thus improving the standard of the legal profession.
That cannot be said of the Nigerian MCLE programmes. Paying for the NBA Conference is enough to earn a lawyer in Nigeria sufficient “CLE credits”.
In the U.S. and Canada, lawyers are required to file MCLE compliance report establishing compliance by mailing Affidavit of Completion (hours earned, fees paid, and Affidavit of Compliance filed) to the State Bar. But in Nigeria, one wonders whether the NBA determine compliance by sorcery. So why do we say it’s a Mandatory CLE when we don’t mean so? Some lawyers simply pay for the conference and never show up!
On the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) website http://www.nigerianbar.org.ng/index.php/icle you’d find:
“Lawyers are required to take mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) courses in order to qualify to practice law within our jurisdiction”.
But many a Nigerian lawyer has called NBA’s bluff! No lawyer has ever been disqualified for failing to complete their CLE programmes.
In the U.S. and Canada (and other jurisdictions) in order to ensure that lawyers who enrol in the MCLE programmes give up their time, their peace and their sleep toward completing their MCLE courses, MCLE programmes are not merged with any other bar activity.
In Nigeria, however, after a long, tiring activity, lawyers lumber along till they get to the MCLE centres of their choosing, exhausted. What kind of knowledge do we expect lawyers to acquire in such physical and mental conditions?
Although many states in the U.S. have a “live requirement” for their MCLE courses which can add some difficulty in requiring attendance in-person, a webcast course viewed online in real-time, however, can meet the live requirement for some states.
The Nigerian Bar Association need to think in this direction as well. Developing online MCLE programmes would not only reduce the cost of fulfilling the MCLE requirements but would also ensure that lawyers, in all parts of the country, can conveniently expand their knowledge in various fields of law and hone their skills in the practice of law.
Finally, the writer thinks that in order to improve the standards of the profession, the NBA Annual General Conference needs some restructuring. So instead of having an Annual General Conference that serves two purposes: an Annual General Meeting and Mandatory Continuing Legal Education, the Annual General Meeting should be separated from the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education programmes.
The NBA Annual General Meeting should therefore, be an annual general meeting of Nigerian lawyers who desire to drive forth the spirit of the profession by their invaluable suggestions, priceless opinions and generous financial contribution. Attendance should be optional and free. By separating the AGM from the MCLE programmes, more attention would be given to the programmes, thereby ensuring that the standards of our noble profession are maintained.
Like in other jurisdictions, each NBA State Branch should be allowed to organize their own MCLE programmes to be supervised strictly by the National Body. If this suggestion is taken, lawyers who desire to participate in the MCLE programmes would not have to risk travelling from different parts of the country to converge at a particular state for the MCLE programmes. Cost of hotel accommodation, feeding and commuting would be cut. Lawyers would only have to compulsorily attend the MCLE programmes within the states they reside but may choose to attend the NBA AGM if they have some invaluable ideas they’d like to share.
*** Odirachukwumma Stanley Emejulu is a Lawyer. He is founder and administrator at LEGAL Aide.