Lately, I have been receiving emails from mid-career professionals who want to go back to school to study Law. I must admit that the idea of being a lawyer can be very enticing especially if you are a fan of legal dramas on television.
But a law degree is never wasted. As you know, my mantra is, “the law defines every aspect of our lives”, so being a master at it cannot hurt even if you do not plan to use the knowledge in a courtroom.
For whatever reason you choose to study law, you will still go through the same rigorous process as the person who wants to one day stand up in a courtroom and address a judge, reciting decided cases and Latin maxims.
Legal education in Nigeria spans six years. Five years at the undergraduate level to obtain an LL.B., which stands for Legum Baccalaureus or Bachelor of Laws. To gain entry into a university’s law programme, you must pass the following subjects on whatever standardised final examinations (WAEC/GCE/SSCE/etc) you take: Literature, Government, English and Mathematics. For JAMB you must take English, Literature and Government.
After you have gained entry into a law faculty, you will probably spend your first year taking courses that have nothing to do with the law; liberal arts courses like English, Philosophy, etc that impart general knowledge and prepare you for rational and analytical thinking, skills that you will need to tackle your law courses. I still do not know why this has to take five years, but that is the way it is, and it could be worse if like in places such as the United States of America and Ghana law was only offered as a graduate/second degree. There are at least ten compulsory law courses which you must take to get a Qualifying Law Degree (QLD) — one that meets the entry requirements of the Nigerian Law School. These courses include: Nigerian Legal System, Constitutional Law, Contract Law, Criminal Law, Equity and Trust, Commercial Law, Company Law, Land Law, Law of Evidence and Jurisprudence.
After completing five years at the undergraduate level, your ordeal is not over. You have to spend one more year at one of the now six campuses of the Nigerian Law School located in Lagos, Enugu, Abuja, Kano, Bayelsa and Yola. There you will learn the practical side of the legal profession. Ordinarily, once you have passed your final exams at the LLB level, you should be shortlisted for entry into the Law School, however, there are usually more LLB graduates than the Law School can accommodate, therefore not every graduate is guaranteed a place in the Law School immediately following their graduation from university.
In addition to academic learning, students undergo instructions in ethics, comportment, dressing, and other non-academic rules that they must abide with as part of the legal profession. They must also attend two formal dinners before they are called to the Bar and one formal dinner afterwards. Maybe as a test of how well they, as future defenders of the law, can uphold the law, there are several rules about their manner of dressing for day-to-day instruction, and for these mandatory formal dinners. For instance, females must not have braids or weaves during the formal dinners or at the Call to Bar ceremony.
People who have received law degrees outside of Nigeria must attend the Nigerian Law School and pass the final Bar exams before they can practise law in Nigeria. In addition to the regular curriculum, foreign graduates must spend an extra six months in a programme called the Bar Part 1, to learn the basics of Nigerian law. Their course of legal study must have included the following courses, evidence of which must be shown in a transcript: Law of Contract, the Law of Tort, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Land Law, Equity and Trusts, the Law of Evidence, and Commercial Law. Please note that only Common Law degrees are acceptable. Civil Law (practised in European countries such as France) programmes are not accepted for entry into the Nigerian Law School. You would either have to return to school for at least another four years (the duration of study for an LLB for those who already hold a first degree) or decide on another profession. Your other option would be to obtain a post-graduate LLB in a country like the United Kingdom where full time study would be two years.
Please, be aware that the Nigerian Law School does not accept students with law degrees from part-time or external programmes. This includes the National Open University of Nigeria’s (NOUN) law degree. A few years ago, when I wrote this, a law student at NOUN wrote to me and accused me of spreading falsehood and panic. I will say it again, the Council of Legal Education, which sets the rules and requirements for legal education, has not changed its policy about part-time and distance degrees, and there are no exceptions to this rule. It seems unfair, especially since part-time programmes were an option for many until just recently (within the last 10 years). But that is the way it is now.
So now you know what it takes to become a lawyer in Nigeria. They say it is never too late to study law since you can practise well into your old-age. In fact, I know a lawyer who got his legal qualification while he was an employee of the Federal Civil Service, and only started practice after he had retired. So, if you still really want to be entitled to wear your dusty wig and gown, go for it!