Heraclitus, an acclaimed philosopher is credited with the affirmation that the world is in a state of flux. Time and tide changes and so also has the legal profession in Nigeria changed overtime. Ab initio, the Nigeria Legal profession is a heritage of colonial intercourse with the Nigerian people. Hence this was why the British System modeled the legal profession in Nigeria. At this point in time, the question that bleeds for attention is; The framework that brought the Legal profession in Nigeria thus far, can it also catapult it successfully into the future to compete favourably in the international community? A.B Mahmoud (SAN) rightly answered this question when he opined “The current regulatory framework underpinning the legal profession in Nigeria is obsolete and cannot address emerging trends and challenges in the legal services industry…“. Therefore this write-up takes a glimpse into the future of Legal profession in Nigeria and in so doing identifies the daunting Challenges which militate against the progress of legal profession in Nigeria with the sole aim of amputating and annihilating these hurdles thus charting a way forward and safeguarding the future of Legal profession in Nigeria.
Legal profession in Nigeria contextually refers to Legal practitioners in Nigeria whether in the bar or in the bench. Section 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap L11 2004, defined a legal practitioner as “a person entitled in accordance with the provisions of this Act to practice as a Barrister and Solicitor either generally or for the purpose of any particular office or proceedings” while Section 2(1) of the Act states thus: “subject to the provisions of the Act, a person shall be entitled to practice as a Barrister and Solicitor if and only if his name is on the roll.” Prior to this period, all lawyers and judges were trained abroad. Those incipient years, the English-trained Lawyers were greeted with a lot of deficiency as they practiced in Nigeria because of the differences in the two Legal systems. It was in order to correct the anomalies and deficiency that the government appointed a Committee called UNSWORTH COMMITTEE in April 1959:To consider and make recommendations for the future of Legal Education and admission to practise, the right of audience before a Court and the making of reciprocal arrangement in this connection with other countries.
The Committee published its report in October 1959 as follows:
1. Nigeria should establish its own system of Legal Education.
2. A Faculty of Law should be established first at the University College, Ibadan and subsequently at any other university to be established in the future.
3. A Law School to be known as “The Nigerian Law School” should be established in Lagos to provide vocational course.
4. Qualification for admission for Legal practice in Nigeria should be:
a. A law degree of a university whose course for the degree is organised or prescribed by the Council of Legal Education.
b. The vocational course prescribed by the Council at the Law School established by it.
5. Any person graduating in Law from a university which has not accepted the syllabus recommended by the Council should be required to take further take its examination as the Council may prescribe.
6. The Council of Legal Education should be established.
Most of these recommendations were implemented through the Legal Education Act of 1963 and the Legal Practitioners Act of 1962. The Law School was set up in 1962. It ran a 3-month course in January to April 1963 for graduates who had been called to Bar in England while Law graduates who had not been called to Bar had to do a one-year Course starting from October 1963. From that 1963 till date the council of Legal education still discharges that responsibility of training students venturing into the Legal profession in Nigeria.
CHALLENGES OF LEGAL PROFESSION IN NIGERIA
Justice Taslim O. Elias captured the profusion of the challenges facing the Legal profession in Nigeria when he echoed “…never before in the history of human existence has Law had to face a more challenging situation than that in contemporary Nigeria”. The Legal profession in Nigeria faces a lot of Challenges and these challenges must not be dismissed casually because they are making the system to head to the edge of a precipice.
FALLING STANDARD OF LEGAL EDUCATION IN NIGERIA.
All other challenges of legal profession can be traced to the foundation which is the falling standard of Legal education in Nigeria. It it no more news how many people now question the quality and integrity of the legal profession. Many lawyers lack the intellectual skills to deal with simple legal tasks they are briefed to handle; some lack the rudimentary knowledge of basic legal principles and some dabble into unethical conducts such as defrauding clients, bribing judicial officers and embezzlement of funds in their custody etc.
The Universities and to a lesser extent, the Nigerian Law School, are the factories in which an aspiring lawyer’s foundation is built. If the very foundation is faulty, it means the structure cannot stand. By the time law students proceed to the Nigerian Law School for the relatively short period (9 months) that they would be there, the seeds sown during their time at the University (where they spend about 5 years and in some cases, more) would have taken hold, molding them into lawyers that they will be. If they were badly taught at the University, it inevitably comes around to haunt them in the future. The Nigerian Law School equips them for Legal Practice but what has been learnt for 5 years cannot be compared to what is learnt in 9 months. The Faculties at the Universities therefore have a lot to do if they are to produce competent law students and by extension, competent lawyers. A lecturer who has problems with the English language would naturally unwittingly influence his students in that regard. The Faculties of Law in Universities and the Nigeria Law School are therefore not just contributory factors but foundational factors to the challenges of Legal profession in Nigeria.
LACK OF HONESTY AND INTEGRITY.
Traditionally, the Legal profession is a sacred and noble profession which is known for its maximal level of integrity, honesty and straightforwardness but this tradition has been tainted. Fatima Kwaku concurred to this when she pointed out thus “...it is quite unfortunate, that the Legal profession in Nigeria has in recent years witnessed escalating reports of professional misconducts, corruption and sharp practices with attendant negative consequences on the standard of practice”. Considering the level of trust reposed by the public in the profession, this is a gory and deadening development. Recently there have been a plethora of news of how Judges, Senior counsels, SANs and other lawyers have engaged in this act of inpunity. This has undoubtedly become a great clog in the wheel of Legal profession in Nigeria.
A LOT OF SMALL LAW FIRMS.
Resesearch has revealed that one of the major obstacles to the development of legal practice in Nigeria is the galore number of small Law Firms. It seems every lawyer wants to own a Firm these days. There are many Law Firms with a sizeable number of lawyers who are usually underpaid and have very small offices. Some have big offices but very few briefs. Only a few can truly be said to be of international standard. Joe-Kyari Gadzama(SAN) shed more light on this hurdle. He pointed out “that because a lot of our Firms are not “firms” in every sense of the expression, there is a glaring lack of funds, specialisation, personnel and equipment”. One thing the foreign Firms have going for them is their willingness to merge in order to adequately cater for the needs of the Firm. Many of our Firms are therefore unable to compete internationally because they are ill-equipped and lack the requisite specialisation. Finally, the reason a few of our Law Firms are rated globally is because those few Law Firms at least have some semblance of a large Firm and not the average Nigerian law Firm.
UNDUE DELAY IN NIGERIAN COURTS
The undue delay in the administration of justice in Nigeria Legal system is an age long Hydra-headed monster that has eaten deep into the fabric of our legal system. The blame here lies with both the Bar and the Bench. “Some judges sit very late while others sit sporadically. When they do come to court, they are in a hurry to usher off the lawyers from the stage as soon as possible. They adjourn at the slightest prompting and may even take months to write a simple ruling on the admissibility of a document. Lawyers too shoulder a heavy portion of the blame, often seeking needless adjournments, frivolous amendments to pleadings, Notices of Appeal and briefs. Some have even been rumored to collude with court officials (without the knowledge of the judge) and smuggle in documents which the judges rightfully refuse to acknowledge when the matter comes up. Some cases (land matters are particularly notorious) have been known to last as much as 20 years including the determination of Appeals both at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
Of particular concern is the use of Interlocutory Appeals to frustrate cases. An interlocutory appeal is an appeal against an interlocutory decision of a trial court or against the interlocutory decision of the Court of Appeal. An appeal against an interlocutory decision of a trial court must be made within 14 days otherwise leave of court will be required. It is not uncommon for the determination of an interlocutory Appeal to take years, by which time a stay of proceedings would have been granted, thus stalling proceedings at the lower court. Interlocutory appeals even go on to the Supreme Court from the trial court in most cases. By the time the interlocutory appeal is concluded at the Supreme Court and the matter returned to the trial court, as many as 10 years could have passed. In a country with a life expectancy of 49 years, some witnesses might have died and documents might have been lost. The trial judge might have been transferred to another court thus necessitating that the matter be tried de novo. Justice is unwittingly defeated in such matters, thus burying our legal system beneath undue technicalities” laments Joe -Kyari Gadzama(SAN).
The technical nature of both Criminal and Civil matters has led to the rise of other means of Alternative Dispute Resolution like Arbitration and Mediation, the final decisions of which could be entered into a court as a consent judgment. At this rate, Arbitrators and Mediators, some of whom are non-lawyers, may end up handling matters outside the court of law and entering the Award or Decision as a consent judgment of the court to the exclusion of lawyers, who may only appear at the time the consent judgment is being entered.
Another often overlooked issue which causes undue delay in our courts is the fact that our judges record in longhand. Apart from the undue delay occasioned by this archaic means of recording, Nigerian judges also have to cope with the attendant health problems associated with writing constantly (Judges preside over several cases in a year and take down proceedings, also write rulings and judgments). In advanced countries, other means of recording have been utilized, such as the use of tape recorders and stenographs. The undue delay which hampers legal practice is one which we must fix if our profession is to reclaim past glories and assure ourselves of a better future.
LACK OF SPECIALIZATION.
The changing pace of legal practice in the world does not in any way encourage general practice on all areas of Law . The saying ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ adequately describes a substantial number of Nigerian lawyers. Because several young lawyers are left to fend for themselves at such an early age, they dabble into any aspect of law. Property conveyance, Criminal law, Company Law, Election Petitions etc. There is hardly any lawyer that has not tried at least one of these areas of law once. While it enables a lawyer to broaden his horizon, it leaves him averagely grounded in each area, like a butterfly that floats from one flower to another without really settling down. This is even more pronounced if he fails to carve out a niche for himself. Nigerian firms need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their lawyers and build upon those strengths. In foreign countries like the USA and England, specialization is a common feature.
There are sports lawyers, tenancy Lawyers, personal-injury lawyers, insurance lawyers, settlement lawyers (lawyers whose specialty is that they close settlement deals), criminal litigation lawyers, constitutional lawyers, lawyers who are experts in international financial crimes, entertainment lawyers and so on. Because they are firmly grounded in specific areas of law, lawyers in advanced jurisdictions can be said to be truly specialized. Most Firms abroad have specific lawyers for specific legal issues while there are even instances in which an entire Law Firm consists of lawyers who are experts in a particular field of law. Consequently, the Firm is known for its expertise in that particular area alone and corners that particular part of the market to itself. It is not an uncommon sight for foreign companies to prefer that their transactions be handled by foreign Law Firms who possess the requisite expertise in that particular field. For instance, not many Nigerian lawyers are well versed in the maritime law field. Likewise, sports law and entertainment law are areas that have not been substantially tapped by Nigerian lawyers. The reason is quite obvious. Most Nigerian lawyers are so focused on the same areas of law that they have allowed other areas to escape their notice.Specialization does not mean that a lawyer will lose touch with other areas of practice; it simply means that there is that one area of practice where he has carved out a niche for himself.
To this end, lawyers should attend courses and workshops within and outside Nigeria which focus on their areas of interest. Law Firms can also sponsor their lawyers within and outside Nigeria in respect of these courses and workshops. The more specialized lawyers we have, the more developed our Legal practice will be. As it is now, our legal practice is largely behind the times and finds it difficult to keep up with the pace set by other advanced jurisdictions as there is Little specialization in law practice.
LACK OF TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACH.
21st century more than ever, witnesses that in almost every area of life, technology has permeated and penetrated as such playing a vital role towards the improvement of living conditions. Law is not an exception to this trend. Unfortunately in Nigeria the practice of law is still devoid of technological advancement. The hard truth is that technology in legal practice has come to stay. It makes legal practice so much more convenient. There is no doubt that in terms of human capital, the Nigerian legal profession scores high. It is in the non-human aspect that our legal profession falls far short of what obtains in the United Kingdom. For instance, our legal profession is still “paper based”. By that, I mean that few of our lawyers are computer-literate. Very few offices are connected to the internet and research is done manually.
In the United Kingdom, most offices are 80% “paperless” and the majority of the research is done on-line. Judges in Nigeria have to write down all that is said unlike judges in developed countries where stenographers are used. Technology has simply made legal practice easier. Now, instead of “invading” Court rooms with books, one can store the soft copies of such law reports and statutes on an i-pad or a laptop and the results would be even better because the i-pad and laptop can store more books than you can carry. The typical modern law Firm has done away with typewriters and has state of the art computers, it has stand-by generators and inverters, it is connected to the internet 24 hours a day and can access information at the touch of a button. However, it is quite unfortunate that Legal profession in Nigeria has not embraced technological advancement.
SOLUTIONS AND PROSPECTS.
QUALITY LEGAL EDUCATION FOR FUTURE LAWYERS
Statistics confirms that Over 70% of a Lawyer’s foundation is the job of the University he/she attends. It is therefore important that the Universities prepare a law student adequately for the complexities of legal practice. A lawyer is not just about intelligence and great wit, he is also supposed to be honest and above board. The issue is sometimes out of the hands of the Universities as the foundation of some students might have been severely damaged in Secondary School. Education in Nigeria is at its lowest ebb.
At the Law School, a law student is introduced to the ethics of the profession but one wonders if nine (9) months is not too short a period for this. The Law Faculties could be made to incorporate professional ethics and procedural law into their curriculum over the five (5) sessions that a law student is expected to spend in the University. Overtime, the ethics of the profession become engraved in the minds of the law students who will most likely know them by heart by the time they become lawyers. This same solution could be applied to other aspects of law in which lawyers experience problems today. That way, the introduction to procedural law is gradual and not sudden. It should also be a pre-condition that a Law Student must be found worthy both in learning and in character before he/she is sent to the Nigerian Law School. This will go a long way in preparing law students for the side of law which is nothing like what they have learnt in the University.
This is all going to be achieved more with better and More Experienced Lecturers. The Faculties at the Universities therefore have a lot to do if they are to produce competent law students and by extension, competent lawyers. The Universities therefore have to ensure that the right lecturers are employed in their faculties. Periodic accreditation programmes by the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the Council for Legal Education (Nigerian Law School) would also help to ensure that the faculties of law have the requisite teaching personnel and the right learning environment for their law students who are the future of the Legal profession in Nigeria.
Research has shown that one of the best ways to revamp and develop Legal profession in Nigeria is specialized practices. Indeed, there is increased demand for specialisations in areas of practice in the global legal services sector that requires multidisciplinary skills, for instance a decent knowledge of accounting and finance in order to have a basic understanding of corporate governance issues etc.
“Law is increasingly becoming multidisciplinary in nature as a lawyer is now required to understand many socio-political issues, and happenings in other areas such as oil and gas, capital market etc. This is the effect of globalisation on legal practice. The reality is therefore that a lawyer should continuously pursue skills in related fields to remain relevant and employable in today’s rather overpopulated legal landscape.”
Chief Author Obi (SAN) enthused : “A lawyer is a better asset to himself and society if he can demonstrate excellent skills in a niche within the profession”. It makes you significantly more valuable and gives you potential to attract more clients. If you are known as a specialist in a particular area, for instance; medical negligence cases, your value will greatly increase.
INNOVATION AND INGENUITY
Permit me to borrow the exact words of Ali Afegbua in describing the current Nigeria Legal practice situation, “Innovate or die” .The power of innovation in this modern era cannot be overlaboured. It is high time legal practitioners arise and make indelible impacts. Let Lawyers deliver solutions before making demands, as “the best way to make yourself valuable is to solve problems and find innovative solutions to legal problems that you encounter in your chosen area of practice.” Technology and other modern approaches are gradually creeping in and taking over the traditional jobs of Legal practitioners and it is only the vigilant, innovative, industrious and hardworking Lawyers that will stand the test of time. Many firms in Nigeria may not survive the emerging era if they don’t continuously unlearn the old traditional habits and learn Business developing and marketing strategies implementation to stand ahead of the pack.
MAINTAINING THE CODE OF CONDUCT OF THE PROFESSION :
The rules of professional conduct should be reviewed line by line, word by word, alphabet by alphabet to regulate maximally the conducts of Legal practitioners. If the trust reposed on the profession is gone then the profession is gone. Every lawyer no matter how brilliant and smart must at all times bear in mind the strict rules of professional conduct for Nigerian lawyers and lawyers everywhere. A high regard for ethical standards and rules of professional conduct is an absolute necessity for success in the legal profession. The legal profession places a high premium on integrity, honesty, decency, dedication and discipline all over the world. A successful lawyer must always represent the high moral values and discipline which distinguishes lawyers in the society. A lawyer should act within the prescriptions of the Rules of Professional Conduct. It can never be over-emphasized that without integrity, no lawyer can succeed in the long run. Practicing across borders may throw-up ethical issues. All lawyers should be careful not to breach rules of professional conduct in discharging legal duties and only then we can get a glorious future for the profession.
MERGER OF FIRMS
It is on record that the title of the World’s largest Law Firm now belongs to DLA Piper LLP which in 2012 made over $2,440,000,000.0022 (Two Billion, Four Hundred and Forty Million Pounds) and has 1,032 partners. The biggest Law Firm in the United Kingdom, Clifford Chance LLP, and third largest in the world, according to the 2010 ranking, made over 1.8 Billion Pounds in 2010 alone! In the period between 2011 and 2012, Clifford Chance LLP had revenues of over 1.3 Billion pounds and profits per equity partner of 1.1 Million pounds. This is no magic, it is because of how a great number of Legal practitioners come together under one firm. It is actually not going to be easy and rosy but if the Nigeria Legal profession must grow and develop then it must have to merge all these small firms into a bigger one and pull their resources together. It is only this way that Law firms in Nigeria will attain international standing and compete favourably with other law firms across the world but if we keep having all these small firms here and there then we are not assured of a glorious future of the profession in Nigeria.
It is noteworthy that knowledge and proficiency in ICT is a mandatory requirement in the 21st century legal marketplace. These days, clients often communicate through ICT systems and Lawyers must be in a position to access and have proficiency in utilization of ICT facilities. These include video conferencing, advanced document formats for sensitive documents etc. A Nigerian lawyer and indeed any lawyer anywhere in the world must therefore be abreast of latest developments in ICT as it is a requirement for effective use of ICT systems and devices.
In the other hand, leadership of the superior and inferior courts of record in Nigeria should start making use of technological means in their various courts. Judges should use tape recorders and stenographers to record proceedings. In Court rooms let there be a database to store the soft copies of law reports and statutes . The typical modern law Firm has done away with typewriters and has state of the art computers, it has stand-by generators and inverters, it is connected to the internet 24 hours a day and can access information at the touch of a button and through technology, our legal profession will develop with the speed of light.
FASTER AND QUICKER DETERMINATION OF CASES
This will in no small measure aid the development of Legal practice in Nigeria. Nigerians simply cannot afford to keep spending their hard earned money to pay lawyers who then proceed to secure adjournments and amendments for the next couple of years. It is highly discouraging and forces clients to explore other means of Alternative Dispute Resolution. If the current trend continues, aggrieved Nigerians will look for other means to resolve their disputes; without lawyers which has started happening right now. Joe-Kyari Gadzama (SAN) highlighted that it is possible for a more realistic variation of the 180 days given to Tribunals to determine Petitions, to be made compulsory for Nigerian courts. In foreign jurisdictions, the time frame for cases is set out, including the delivery of judgment. It is quite possible for Nigerian courts to adopt this same technique, even if on a more realistic scale (of say 12 -18 months) at first. The time frame can reduce as the new practice sinks in. With time, the practice of never-ending, laborious litigation would be a thing of the past.
Particular attention should also be paid to Interlocutory appeals which ultimately stall proceedings at the lower court. Interlocutory appeals should be filed with the leave of the trial court only. Also, if the matter is already on Appeal, at the Court of Appeal for instance, an interlocutory appeal to the Supreme Court must be with the leave of the Court of Appeal. That way, the Nigerian Legal System can sieve out the frivolous interlocutory appeals. In addition, a time frame should be fixed by the higher courts for the determination of interlocutory appeals so that trials and substantive appeals are not indefinitely stalled. Justice is not meant to be rushed but it could also be a problem if it is unduly slow.
Stenographic means could also be used to record proceedings in court. The judge does not have to be the one recording. He may record important points that catch his eye but the stenographer should be given the responsibility of recording verbatim. In the alternative, cameras or voice recorders could be used to relieve judges of the onerous burden of writing, thus saving time and ensuring quicker determination of cases and in this way, developing Legal profession in Nigeria .
A scholar once posited that the secret of change is to focus all your energy not in fighting the old but in building the new. We should not be scared of change, one thing is certain and as rightly pointed out by the former President of the NBA, Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN. the current legal framework of the profession cannot handle the reality on ground, meaning that there is need for change in the framework of the legal profession. Let us not forget however, that meaningful change can only happen when all hands are on deck to shape the future of the legal profession. The Legal profession in Nigeria has come of age. Legal practice in Nigeria has a bright future but needs to expunge those factors that work against its progress while absorbing those factors that aid in its development. We cannot be assured of a glorious future if we sleep over the responsibilities and challenges that is thrusted on the profession today.
This is therefore a clarion call to the Federal government, National Judicial council, stakeholders, all judicial committees, Nigeria Bar Association, Leadership of various superior and inferior courts, legal practitioners and other concerned bodies to contribute their individual qouta towards making Legal profession in Nigeria, one of the best legal profession in the whole world and only then can we be assured of a glorious, glowing and glaring future of Legal practice in Nigeria.
About the author
ARINZE MICHAEL M. is a Law student of
UNIVERSITY OF CALABAR. He is a reputable scholar and Writer and has many publications to his name.