FOR over five decades, various law faculties and the Nigerian Law School have continued to churn out law students as lawyers. A punctilious look at the performances of these law graduates both from the released results of the Law School and from few years of being called to the bar however reveals some bitter truths about our current legal education structure.
In Nigeria, anyone who is interested in becoming a lawyer must first obtain a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) Degree which is awarded after a five-year programme for candidates entering the university through the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and four years for Direct Entry candidates. Subjects are taught using the course system and each session consists of two semesters of approximately 14 weeks each. In addition to law subjects, all law students are required to take some non-law subjects and every semester ends with a theory examination.
After graduation from the university, anyone who wishes to practice as a lawyer must also undertake the one-year compulsory training programme at the Nigerian Law School and pass the examinations to be called to the Bar. Commenting on the ideal structure of legal education, Gerard Nash, Dean of Faculty of Law, Monash University, Australia, has this to say: “At the stage of admission to practice, a young lawyer should have academic capacity to diagnose problems which clients put before him. Across a large area of the law, he should know and understand the basic principles applicable; and in other areas he should be able to discover the present state of the law, to find statutory materials and case law in completely new fields, to interpret it and apply it. All of those basic principles should be contained in his head and not his notes, his understanding of these basic principles need not be very sophisticated, but he should have the mental capacity for sophisticated reasoning.”
The million dollar questions which beg for answers are the following: Is our current legal education system structured in a way that law graduates can get the ground running immediately after graduation? Have our Law faculties and even the law school been able to keep pace with current realities? Commenting on the stark realities of the legal education in Nigeria, at the Summit on the Future of Legal Education in May 2006 Mrs. Funke Adekoya SAN, said: “While the universities seem to concentrate on ‘substantive’ law subjects, from the courses taught, the focus of the Law School seems to concentrate on the teaching of ‘procedural’ law. However this ‘practical’ law is not taught using practical methods; even in the Legal Drafting and Conveyancing course, the skills taught are theoretical and the first chance a student may have of drafting a legal document may be as part of the examination. Other practical legal skills such as client interviewing, presentation skills, negotiation skills do not routinely form part of this practical law training period.” Indeed, a general look at the curricula and contents of many of the law courses reveal outdated subjects taught in an outdated way. Note-taking and distribution of printed lecture notes is the order of the day. Students graduate to find the system of the university education and the actual law practice living in two separate worlds.
The vital gap and the need for a drastic over haul in the current existing legal education structure in recent years is manifested in the release of results at the Nigeria Law School which has in recent times become the waterloo of many Law Students just like Napoleon Bonaparte had suffered the ignominy of defeat at the great Battle of Waterloo. It is such that recent bar exam result announcements in Nigeria seem more like a bloodbath. The more striking and worthy of mention are the results of the 2013/2014 academic session where out of the 5,000 candidates who registered for the bar exam, only about 2,000 passed meaning that about 3,000 students failed. Also, at the 2014/2015 academic session, about 1,805 out of the 5,588 students who sat for the bar exam that year failed with only four first class being recorded and lastly at the 2015/2016 academic session, while 2,125 students participated at the examinations 1,393 were successful, 196 got a conditional pass and 596 failed. In an effort to demystify these incessant recorded failures, Mr. Olanrewaju Onadeko, SAN, the Director General of the Nigerian Law School in an interview with The Nation newspaper commented, said: “Most students use the university approach to answer questions during the bar exams and end up failing.” The conclusion therefore is that something must be wrong or missing in the current university legal education system.
Kenneth Okwor, an Associate at Templars and a Lecturer at the Nigerian Law School, commenting at the just concluded 11th Annual Business Law Conference of the Nigeria Bar Association Section on Business Law between 18th – 20th June, 2017 remarked: “I don’t think the problem is with the Law School, I think it is at the university level. If we fix the problems at the university Level, we will get it right at the Law School Level.”As the debate for restructuring of the country rages on, there is also the urgent need to restructure the system of the legal education in Nigeria. There is the urgent need to fill a vital gap in the existing legal education structure. The first point of call is to the regulating bodies. The National Universities Commission (NUC), the Council of Legal Education as well as other well-meaning stakeholders need to act fast in restructuring the face of legal education in Nigeria. This can be done by compelling students to undergo series of court trials in their respective Moot and Mock Courts. This way, students are actively engaged in the learning process, applying what they’ve learnt in class to hypothetical cases and in some cases real life matters, researching, drafting brief of arguments as well as other legal drafts and advocating their various pleas. They are also to be graded on their respective performances. Just as the sciences perform their various experimentations in the laboratory, the Moot court should also be seen as the laboratory of the Law Students since, I believe, all law faculties in Nigeria have a Moot and Mock court.
This practical method is an effectual method of teaching and it has for long been adopted in the Sciences. Taking the Medical science as a typical example, medical students must undergo a Cadaver dissection course in the study of anatomy. Medical students after completing their various University education also proceed on a one-year internship, just as law students proceed to a one-year period of Law School, the main difference only being that the medical students have already been introduced to the practical aspects right from their various universities.
Toheeb is a law graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State.