Legal education in Nigeria is patterned after the system in England except that whereas lawyers in England are solicitors or barristers, all lawyers in Nigeria qualify and can practice as both barristers and solicitors.
Legal education in Nigeria consists of academic study for 4 to 5 years (depending on the mode of entry) in a law faculty and a year in the law school followed by call to the Nigerian Bar and enrollment as a legal practitioner at the Supreme Court.
It is the National Universities Commission (NUC) that established minimum academic standards for the conferment of law degrees (LL.B).
Likewise, the Council of Legal Education has established requirement which a law degree must satisfy before it can qualify its holder for admission into the Nigerian Law School for a BL. This therefore subjects law faculties to two accreditations: one by the NUC and another by the Council of Legal Education (CLE).
In recent times, there has been growing concern about the deterioration of Nigeria’s educational system stemming from the quality of our university graduates, which has become less than satisfactory and the law graduates are no exception. Hence the growing demand for reforms not only in legal education but of the entire educational system in the country.
Since lawyers are required to have legal education before they can be called to the Bar, what constitutes the purpose of legal education?
According to NUC’s document on Minimum Academic Standards for law in Nigerian universities: “Academic legal education should therefore act, first, as a stimulus to stir the student into the critical analysis and examination of the prevailing social, economic and political systems of his community and, secondly, as an intellectual exercise aimed at studying and assessing the operation, efficacy and relevance of various rules of law in society.”
Undoubtedly, all human activities in their social, economic, political and environmental contexts, take place within a legal framework. It is therefore necessary, according to the NUC revised Minimum Academic Standards for Law, “that the student of law should also have a broad general knowledge and exposure to other disciplines in the process of acquiring legal education.”
In line with contemporary global practice, the NUC considered the merger of the revised Minimum Academic Standards (MAS) with the Benchmark Style Statements into one new document known as (BMAS), wherein, “the training in law is specifically aimed at producing lawyers whose level of education would equip them properly to serve as advisers, solicitors or advocates to governments and their agencies, companies, business firms, associations, individuals and families, etc.”
The above aim underscores the fact that “the role of lawyers is a pervasive one, straddling the political, economic and social life of the society. After all, lawyers are instrumental to whatever situation any country may find itself. Lawyers, as judges, in private or corporate practice, in the academics or in government, shape the society and the lives of their fellow human beings.”
However, a lawyer can only be as good as the system of legal education that produced him. Legal education (both academic and vocational) is a vital ingredient that affects the quality of our justice system and the role of lawyers in the political, economic and social development of our country.
It has been rightly argued that “the study of law must not end with the imbibing of general principles of law; it must involve law in action; in all its ramifications. The relationship of law to social, economic and political realities of life must be encompassed.”
Improving the quality of legal education and of young lawyers
A number of legal scholars, jurists, legal practitioners and the Nigerian Bar Association, have, in recent times, repeatedly pointed out the following standards in legal education and in the performance of young lawyers and all have identified various factors responsible for this disturbing phenomenon. These factors include: lack of consistency on the part of both NUC and CLE in ensuring compliance with the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS) for law in Nigerian universities and other stipulated requirements by the Council for Legal Education; grossly dishonest people adopted by some universities/law faculties to secure accreditation (full, provisional and interim) when in reality they are yet to meet the minimum requirements (in terms of staff mix, facilities, student- staff ratio, library holdings etc) stipulated by both NUC and CLE; poor quality and scope of the teaching and learning processes; lack of compulsory pupillage for young lawyers; inadequate mentoring and ridiculously low welfare package for young lawyers and poor funding/financing of education (legal education inclusive) in Nigeria.
Hence the need for improving the quality of legal education and of the performance of young lawyers in Nigeria. As of how, several proposals have been offered at several fora ranging from: – making the Nigerian Law School programme a two-year programme, to introducing practical/clinical training into legal education, making law a postgraduate degree programme, scrapping the Nigerian Law School entirely and making the Council of Legal Education an examination board (the USA system) etc.
Strategies for improving the quality of legal education and of the young lawyers in Nigeria
From the above analysis, the outstanding question remains unanswered: what are the effective strategies for improving the quality of legal education and of the young lawyers in Nigeria?; are we to continue with our reactionary and curative approach to the challenges at hand or are we determined to be more proactive in our approach to addressing same and in earnest search for durable solutions to addressing national problems using law.
For example, does the answer to the falling standard of legal education or declining quality in the performance of young lawyers lay necessarily in the proposed two-year period at the law school?
Respectfully, the answer is no, because for a durable solution to the crisis at hand, we must collectively address the need for more skills-based and practice-oriented syllabus and scope of learning within the existing calendar; promote compulsory pupillage for young lawyers after graduation from the law school before graduates can practice on their own; ensure adequate mentoring and a dignified and sustainable welfare package for young lawyers to motivate them to work harder; advocate for improved financing for qualitative academic legal education and prudent management of resources at the universities/law faculties.
Undoubtedly, the introduction of Clinical Legal Education (CLE) in law faculties will lay the foundation for law students to carry with them throughout their professional career a great sense of professional commitment to the ethics and values of public service, subject however, to the availability and management of basic and relevant Information and Communications Technology related infrastructural facilities.
This leads to our next discussion on the future of legal education in Nigeria.
The future of legal education
Undoubtedly, the future of legal education in Nigeria lies essentially, though not exclusively, in the following:
I. Our collective efforts to develop a plan of action and strategic implementation framework to address the identifiable factors responsible for the falling standards of legal education and the quality of performance of young lawyers. This requires us to carefully develop the relevant measurable/verifiable indicators and benchmarks for durable solutions to the problems.
II. Our collective resolve to addressing the threats, opportunities and challenges that ICT poses to law, the legislature, the Bar, the Bench and the academia; and to our understanding of the impact of ICT on legal education in the 21st Century.
ICT has come to stay and Nigeria is fast becoming a heavy user of the internet for information, communication, research, electronic commerce and banking transactions; it is spending millions of naira on the internet. There are growing indications that along with the expansion of legitimate internet use, Nigeria is acknowledged to be experiencing a rising tide of cybercrimes and cyber-insecurity and this follows a global pattern that has become glaring. Hence the justification for the coming into force of the Cybercrime Act, 2015 and the Cybersecurity Policy and Strategy, 2014.
The existence of cybercrime is bound to raise issues of Cyberjurisdiction which can be seen as territorially borderless and multi jurisdictional because of the ease with which a user can access information, electronic communications and transact online; as well as commit cybercrimes using the same internet and other ICT tools.
Evidently, the use of electronic medium that disregards geographical boundaries throws the law, the Bar, the Bench, the academia and the law enforcement agencies into disarray by creating entirely new phenomena that need to become the subject of clear legal rules that cannot be governed, satisfactorily, by any current territorially-based sovereign law. Any insistence on reducing online transactions to a legal analysis based on geographic terms present, in effect, a new problem on a global scale.
Objectives of ICT in legal education
Another question that readily comes to mind is; what are the main objectives of ICT within the context of legal studies and practice? It is considered that ICT should among other objectives: (i) Facilitate the storage, retrieval and dissemination of vital legal information for the successful pursuit of legal research and study.
(ii) Enable large number of students and researchers to have ready access to case law and other legal materials more efficiently than having them queue up for access to a limited number of books in the library.
(iii) Facilitate effective communication between teachers and students, particularly in distance learning and continuing education programmes.
Some of the ICT platforms include:- E-mail communication; diverse electronic discussion forums – forums such as Facebook, Twitter and various chat rooms enable participants pose questions and articulate views on diverse academic issues; legal data bases and video conferencing.
Further, our collective resolve to understanding and addressing the opportunities and challenges that globalization presents to legal education in Nigeria and how to survive in an era of global competitiveness for legal service delivery, e.g., what does it mean to have a legal education in a globalized digital environment of the 21st century? Is there a commonality for all law students as to having basic legal education (with knowledge, skills and values inclusive)? What are the core competencies which every law graduate should have? These are questions which need to be addressed by the Bar and the academia before we set guidelines or standards.
Furthermore, the law faculties and the National Association of Law Teachers need to expedite action in establishing the Nigerian Academy of Law, whose critical role among others, is to mobilize, aggressively, technical, human, material and financial resources for the progressive realization of the ultimate goal and objectives of legal education in an era of globalization and ICT.
Finally, the future of legal education in the 21st Century digital age requires us to respectfully treat all stakeholders as equal and to live above the on-going BLAME THEORY in order to ensure that critical role of lawyers and legal education in promoting national development is sustainable and the gains should remain irreversible in the best interest of justice, the public and the present and future generations.