Legal Practice initially was reserved for the elite who could sometimes easily dispense with the legal fees of their clients. Those days, Legal studies was mainly seen as a second-degree course. Times have changed; the same is not so in the 21st Century.
The Legal Profession is now on an all-comers affair with a countless common man striving to gain entry into the hallowed halls of the profession to earn a living. Some individuals enrol to the profession to gain uncommon and unprecedented reputation for their families. Whereas the apt scholars join to make a change and to repair the justice system.
Needless to say that the demands of the 21st century have indeed posed challenges to legal practice owing to tougher economic conditions that have affected clients and their business with boomeranging effects on legal practice.
Against this backdrop, this paper tends to examine the challenges of the 21st century legal profession, recent developments and a way forward. This paper contributes to literature by examining the recent developments threatening the prospect of legal practice. It underpins the argument for the need to shift focus from the traditional legal practices to emerging fields.
Legal Practice in Nigeria
According to Garner’s Law Dictionary(9th Edition), the practice of law is described as the professional work of a duly licensed lawyer, encompassing a broad range of services such as conducting cases in courts, preparing papers necessary to bring about various transactions from conveying land to effecting mergers, preparing legal opinions on various points of law, drafting wills and other estate planning documents and advising clients on legal questions.
The term also includes activities that comparatively few lawyers engage in but require legal expertise, such as drafting legislations and court rules. Suffice to say that legal practice does not only connote litigation matters.
As society evolves, so does legal practice evolve with new opportunities to be explored for daring legal minds. No doubt litigation has been widely acclaimed as the cornerstone of legal profession.
However, beyond litigation we must note other roles of law and lawyers in the society. Law is a tool for social engineering and the society’s super-structure upon which other structures rest, otherwise, with all the evolving societal challenges the modern era would have gone back to the leviathan state of nature in which there was no enforceable criteria of right and wrong.
Therefore, at the base of every human endeavour, there lies an opportunity for a discerning legal mind with interest in the subject-matter and this broadens areas of legal practice beyond the well acclaimed litigation.
The Legal Profession occupies a strategic position in Nigerian society, lawyers actively involve themselves in the creation of institutions and concepts that promote development.
Legal Profession is of high sublimity in the country. it is regulated by the Legal Practitioner’s Act, Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee( LPDC) and Rules of Professional conduct for Lawyers (RPC) (2007)
Who is a 21st Century Lawyer?
A 21st Century Lawyer is a lawyer that is Multi-dimensional and adapting to the fast changing digital world in alignment with the legal practice.
Characteristics of a 21st century Lawyer.
To be a 21st century lawyer is to be multi-dimensional. Providing first-rate legal advice is, of course, still essential, but now lawyers are tasked with establishing where they can add value to the organisations they are employed by.
In recent times, we have seen an increase in the requirement for legal staff to provide tailored commercial advice within legal firms, on top of the necessary legal expertise.
This commercial acumen is relatively new in terms of legal industry requirements, but it is particularly telling of the direction the sector is moving in. Continued pressures to save on costs means that law firms are combining services and bringing elements in house that previously may have been outsourced. As a result, the staff employed by these evolving firms are facing pressures to become an ‘all-rounder’ with many transferable skills.
Leadership skills and adaptability are two further necessary skills displayed by the 21st century lawyer. However, it is now also necessary to have a solid understanding of the organisation they work for, while working collaboratively with all stakeholders to help streamline processes and save money for the business.
Along with many other industries, the legal sector is also harnessing the power of social media to promote its services and engage with relevant audiences. For this reason, modern lawyers are expected to use this platform to create a strong market presence and profile to set themselves apart from others.
The legal sector is placing an increasing focus on personal branding as an essential aspect of its staff development, and lawyers are more commonly expected to convey the core values of the business on social media platforms.
The 21st century lawyer is multifaceted and is expected to possess the core skills and knowledge required to become a legal professional, with the addition of several further attributes to ensure they are a good fit in an evolving business.
The role of a lawyer is never easy, but this shift to a more commercial, ‘all-rounder’ professional that has a depth of specialist and generalist knowledge promises an exciting future for the industry as a whole.
Skills a 21st Century Lawyer must possess
- Advocacy skills
- Communication/oratory skills
- Legal research skills
- Digital skills
- Analytical and logical thinking
- Client service
Basic Tools a 21st Century Lawyer should have include: Hybrid Law Library and ICT.
LEGAL EDUCATION IN NIGERIA
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.
Legal studies in the university mainly deals with the integral part of substantive law while the Nigerian Law school deals with procedural law. In the Faculties of Law, Law students are being mandated to dress corporately.
For instance, males usually put on black trousers, white shirt and a black tie. Then the females, black skirt – (knee level), and white shirt. This is of utmost importance to uphold the sanctity of the profession.
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. 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.
Studying Law in Nigeria is not left without Challenges; Some of these Challenges are:
- MOOT COURT EXPERIENCE: Some Faculties of Law are not well rooted in extra-curricular activities like Mooting/Mock trials sessions.
This is very essential in a life of a law student as this helps to sensitize them on the real court practice.
- LACK OF ADEQUATE ORIENTATION ON/ FACILITIES FOR LEGAL RESEARCH: It is true that several times lecturers give assignments to students that demand research, but actually students are not well informed on building the habit of research as a lifestyle, and not for submitting assignments. Due assistance is not also given. For instance, a free subscription to Law Pavilion, a well equipped library with recent and various Law reports, journals, etc.
To solve this problem is a matter of commitment. If the law faculties, deans, lecturers are committed to the development of the students, they will think in this direction and act accordingly. By this I mean, building of adequate facilities, and provision of research aids.
Students should also be guided on how to write Law articles. If possible, every Faculty should make it mandatory to have Faculty (Students’) Magazine that will feature only articles written by students. This way, some people will value and promote legal research.
- PROBLEM OF NON PASSIONATE STUDENTS : A personal survey I conducted and my experience revealed to me that a lot of Law students are not passionate about studying Law. They do not even want to develop Nigerian Law. Some just want to bear the title “Barrister”. This in turn affects their attitude towards lectures, research, law reform and eventually, performance in school. This is probably because right from home, they just wanted to be the lawyer in the family, or they just wanted to study Law for the prestige attached to it. This is really a problem, because when such students emerge as lawyers, they cannot defend the profession or make notable contributions in any of the many opportunities available in Law. I also consider it a problem to legal education because, one cannot be taught except they want to learn.
One solution to this has been mentioned in the point above which is – mentorship. Other solutions will include a more suitable approach by law lecturers to their teaching. Also, some start building the passion while in their final or semi final university level. To tackle this late awareness, asides normal lectures and course outlines, lecturers should encourage students and share helpful information on general issues of life alongside the law practice.
Some exposed lecturers are already doing this across various universities and it is encouraging the students and building their passions for law. Some chambers are named after some Lawyers and senior advocates, they should also come closer to the students and encourage them adequately, or allow access to their library, junior counsels, etc for more guide.
There is also a need to visit our secondary schools, where we have the prospective law students and start on time to orientate some law aspirants who have the wrong notion about studying law. At this stage also, or during orientation for new students, the right passion can be created by showing them the ills of the legal profession / society, and the need for Law students to be committed to the course of changing, or improving the narrative.
The Challenges are numerous to be mentioned here.
Let’s quickly look at the Challenges of Nigeria Legal Profession in entirety.
- New technology
- Lawyer’s Competence
- Poor remuneration of Lawyers
- Lack of tools and skills for effective Practice
- An increasingly Competitive job market.
- Death of Advocacy in Law courts
Having examined the lacuna of Nigeria legal education and the loopholes in the 21st Century Law practice, it is worthwhile noting the remedies that would foster and develop our dream profession. Various faculties of law should inculcate the spirit of practicality in the lives of the law students. They should adapt to the fast changing digital world and incorporate it to their learning skills.
This will go a long way in building the intellect of the learning men in embryo. Lawyers should build clientele relationship, Lawyers too should be paid well by their principals, partnership should also be seen in the business of Legal profession. It is my kind but vehement submission that once these are put in place that Nigeria Legal profession will be an envy to its contemporaries.
About the Author:
Okeke Chukwuemeka C., is a Law student of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Igbariam campus. He is an avid writer, law enthusiast and a legal researcher. He can be reached at 08143198387