law: For many years, the quality of lawyers produced and injected into the Nigerian legal profession has waned at such a geometric state that worries even the most optimistic lawyers.
Those who had the privilege of being trained in any of the Inns of the English Court, as was the practice before the establishment of the Nigerian Law School (NLS) in 1962, could easily appreciate the extent of the depreciation of the practical legal education and vocational training system that was envisaged for shaping the practice of law in Nigeria.
In the pre-Nigeria Law School era, the four Inns of English Court – Gray’s Inn, Inner Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Middle Temple (often collectively referred to as the Inns of Court School of Law)- offered law graduates in England the Bar Vocational Courses and training components of becoming qualified as barristers in England and Wales. In the case of Nigeria, the Inns of Courts admitted Nigerians with ordinary School Certificate because at that time, Nigeria had very few graduate law students who were invariably children of rich men who could travel to England to study.
This is why most of our lawyers at that time had no University degrees but were able to obtain bar certificates otherwise known as B.L. from the Inns of Court. The four Inns of Courts provided a variety of lectures, residential advocacy training weekends, presentation skills sessions, debates, moots and dinners, all of which were designed to expose aspiring lawyers to the practical problem-solving skills, refinement, and decorum required to optimally practice law.
The independence of Nigeria from England in 1960 and the need to introduce Nigerian content into the training of lawyers resulted in the establishment of the Nigerian Law School pursuant to the Legal Education Act 1962, now Legal Education (Consolidation etc) Act Cap L.10, Laws of the Federation, 2004. Since 1962, the Nigerian Law School has graduated over 70,000 lawyers, several of whom had gone ahead to achieve great success as lawyers, judges, and leaders in key economic and political sectors.
Infrastructural decay and others: However, a combination of infrastructural decay, lack of adequate funding, obsolete curriculum and dearth of technology-driven practical training, population explosion–overcrowded classrooms and hostels, inadequate library facilities, limited pool of qualified law teachers, and the ruinous proliferation and politicisation of legal education in Nigeria have resulted in a significant decline in the quality of recent lawyers produced by the Nigerian Law School. Recent reports have indicated a sharp rise in the number of lawyers that cannot even make oral presentations or draft a simple letter without significant grammatical and technical blunders; the significant erosion of time-honoured professional decorum and dress code of lawyers with lawyers now appearing in courts with torn and rough gowns, different types of old wigs with old and dirty colour and brown bibs, tiny wigs on top of huge coloured wigs; the decline in the welfare and remuneration of lawyers which have resulted in a significant rise in the number of poorly remunerated lawyers; rapid deterioration in the quality of law offices and chambers, several of which are glorified cubicles with no modern facilities, libraries, and modern ICT infrastructures.
In a paper entitled 50 years of legal education In Nigeria: A critique by Joe KyariGadzama, SAN in February 2014, he wrote: “I feel highly uncomfortable commenting on the competence or otherwise of some of my colleagues at the Bar, but this must be said without mincing words. Since 1962, it seems the quality of lawyers turned out every year has been on the wane. We have lawyers who cannot draft processes, who cannot speak good English and who argue illogically. A lawyer should stand out from the crowd, even if he/she is not in active legal practice. Sadly this is not restricted to junior lawyers. Even Lawyers of over 10 years’ post call experience do make these mistakes. The blame here lies largely on our training institutions, particularly our Law Faculties and the Nigerian Law School. The Law Faculties of Universities owe a duty to adequately prepare Nigerian Law Students for the largely procedural law that will be studied at the Nigerian Law School and encountered in practice. That way, the transition from substantive law to procedural law will not be too sudden.
The law school, in turn, owes a duty to ensure that those who are eventually called to Bar are competent and can defend their Call to Bar Certificates at all times. Every year (sometimes once, sometimes twice) over 3, 000 (three thousand) lawyers are released into the society and it saddens me to say that many of them do not have a clue about what legal practice entails. In most cases, they have to be trained all over again by their prospective chambers. From my own experience, and indeed from the experience of many of my colleagues, our offices in most cases become an extension of the Law School as we have to re-introduce these young lawyers to the basics of the legal profession. That high sense of ethical responsibility that once pervaded the legal profession has somehow been lost amidst all the fanfare and celebration that greets each admission of lawyers to the Nigerian Bar.
In the last three years alone, two Senior Advocates have been temporarily stripped of the prestigious rank. Something is obviously wrong with our noble profession. In the past, the disciplinary issues never involved Senior Advocates but now we have seen two of our senior lawyers affected within three years. Lawyers insult each other in court; there was even a reported case of two senior lawyers exchanging blows within the court premises. It is now the norm for senior lawyers to refer to our younger colleagues as “my juniors”. I refer to my younger colleagues as my colleagues. I sincerely hope I am not in the minority. This is a classic case of “physician heal thyself”. A lot of in-house cleansing needs to be done if we are to improve the quality of our lawyers.
You could beat your chest firmly in the past and boast that lawyers would never be arrested or charged to court for the sort of crimes you would expect from an average lawless citizen but that is not the case now as the legal profession has been infiltrated by wolves in sheep’s clothing who could not care less about its Rules of Professional Conduct and old traditions. Lawyers now get arrested for crimes bordering on tampering with clients’ money. This was unthinkable in the past but it is now the norm. Something needs to be done about the system that produces our lawyers so that the society can return to seeing them as the social engineers that they are. The Legal Profession has, therefore, suffered from the problems experienced by the institutions of legal education.”
Today, the legal education system in Nigeria struggles in comparison to counterparts across the world. The functional, practice-oriented, and ethical system of legal education that was inherited from the English legal system of training has been long eroded and replaced with a system that emphasises quantity and quota system ahead of quality and functionality. Rather than implementing concerted efforts to ensure an urgent and innovative turnaround of the infrastructural, pedagogical, and technological decay and rot in our legal education system, we have witnessed the increased politicisation of legal education in Nigeria with the recent approval by the Nigerian Senate of six new campuses of the Nigerian Law School across the six geo-political zones of the country.