By Aare Afe Babalola SAN

IN concluding my write-up last week, I stated that I would examine how antiquated centralised system of legal education similar to Abuja centralised school had been reformed in common law jurisdiction. In this edition, I will examine the situation in England, India and Canada.

Licensing process in England: As stated in the last edition, the English system, which is the foundation of the Nigerian legal education system, has long dispensed with the idea of a central vocational bar training programme at the Inns of Court School of Law. Today, to practice law in England and Wales, a law graduate must pass either the Solicitors Qualifying Examination, SQE, or the Bar Practice Course, BPC; undertake a one-year pupillage; and meet the good character and suitability requirements.

The BPC courses are bar licensing courses administered by private institutions and universities known as Authorised Education and Training Organisations, AETOs, currently about 10 of them, which have been licensed and authorised by the Bar Standards Board, BSB. The Authorisation Framework issued by the Board sets out the accreditation standards that private institutions and organisations must meet in order to provide bar education and training services, as well as the requirements for license renewal.

Typically, the BPC courses for barristers cover a number of compulsory subjects including advocacy, civil litigation and evidence, incorporating dispute resolution, conference skills, criminal litigation, evidence and sentencing, drafting, legal research, opinion writing and professional ethics. It typically takes 12 months (full time) and about 24 months (part time) to complete the BPC.

The different service providers and centres set their bar course examinations for each module (mostly a combination of written examinations and practical exercises) which aspirants must pass in not more than two attempts. After passing the bar examination, trainee barristers must then join one of the four Inns of Court and complete 12 qualifying sessions. The Qualifying Sessions offer professional training and lectures, residential advocacy training weekends, presentation skills sessions, debates and moots which are designed to add to the skills and knowledge gained in the BPC.

It is clear from the foregoing that there is no central “England Law School” where all law graduates converge for 12 months for vocational bar training and examination. The streamlined and decentralised bar licensing system in England enables aspirants to prepare for, and complete practicing examinations, by selecting any of the ten licensed training centres of their choice based on cost, reputation, and geographical location of the preferred training centre.

Rather than incurring the additional costs of building and maintaining a central law school, the Bar Standards Board of England plays the role of a regulator that accredits and maintains rigorous standards for private licensed centres to ensure that the vocational training provided are of the highest quality pursuant to the UK Legal Services Act 2007.

The Bar Standards Board also sets continuing training requirements to ensure that barristers’ skills are maintained throughout their careers. One of the chief regulatory objectives expressed in Section 1 of the UK Legal Services Act 2007 is to encourage more competition in the provision of legal services by increasing the number of consumer-focused legal service providers resulting in wider access to justice.

By accrediting private institutions and universities to provide bar courses and examinations, the Bar Standards Board has been able to promote and ensure competitive and high-quality legal education by private service providers in a manner that equip bar aspirants with the communication and problem-solving skills needed to effectively practice law.

Healthy competition between the private service providers breeds innovation and efficient service delivery, which in turn improves the overall professional aptitude, training and quality of lawyers admitted to practice law in England and Wales. Little wonder why English law firms continue to dominate the practice of law globally in diverse practice areas, with several magic circle law firms being run by English barristers and solicitors.

Since 2012 when India reformed its legal education system, the process of becoming qualified to practice law in India includes obtaining a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) degree, and then taking the All India Bar Examination conducted twice a year by the Bar Council of India. Similar to the procedure adopted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, in Nigeria, the All India Bar Examination is administered in more than 100 accredited testing centres across India. The three-and half-hour All India Bar Examination is an open book exam and is conducted in several of the local languages in India. After passing the examination, the aspirant is awarded a practice certificate which qualifies the holder to appear in all courts and tribunals in India.

Canada: Similarly in Canada, there is no central “Canadian Law School” that administers the bar licensing examination. Although licensing requirements vary in all provinces in Canada, after obtaining the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B. or Juris Doctor) degree, candidates must typically pass a bar licensing examination and then complete articles with a law firm before being eligible to be called to the Bar.

The training and examinations are often administered on behalf of the Law Society by licensed and independent institutes such as the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education, CPLED, which provides the training needed before being called to the Bars of Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatoon. Candidates self-prepare for the licensing examination and tests by reviewing the curriculum and materials provided by such institutes, and then proceed to undertake the prescribed tests.

In Alberta for example, CPLED administers the Practice Readiness Education Programme, PREP, a bar licensing examination process that is spread over a nine-month period during which bar aspirants access course materials online and then submit monthly competency assignments through an online portal. The competency assignments test the ability of aspirants to display the multiple competencies and qualities needed to successfully practice law in Canada.

The practice-focused modules include: Professional Ethics; Client Relationship Management; Interviewing; Negotiating; Advocacy; Legal Research Fact Gathering and Case Management; Legal Writing; Legal Drafting; Practice Management and Trust Accounting, and Technology Skills. A bar aspirant that has achieved competency rating in all of the PREP modules, completed the 8–12 month articling (pupillage) term and satisfies good character and fitness requirements, is deemed eligible to be called to the Bar.

Like Nigeria, Canada operates a fused system in which an admitted lawyer is eligible to practice both as a barrister and solicitor. This bar licensing system in Canada enables aspirants to prepare for, and complete licensing examinations, in the comfort of their own offices or homes, without the need to attend any central institution.

Rather than incurring the additional costs of building and maintaining a central law school, Law Societies across Canada offer decentralized systems of vocational bar training that enable licensed centers and institutes to develop and offer innovative competency focused training that equip bar aspirants with the communication and problem-solving skills to effectively practice law.

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