Before discussing this issue, it is instructive to state that the introduction of a mandatory pupillage system will fundamentally change the legal profession as obtains now.
Such an introduction may mean that the right of audience or right to practice law by a legal practitioner will no long inure immediately he/she is called to the Bar.
Such rights as it obtains in the other jurisdictions, will only arise after one has successfully undergone pupillage. It may also separate the present unified legal practice in Nigeria into barrister and solicitor.
I am of the considered view that unless the Legal Practitioners Act is amended a mandatory pupillage cannot be introduced as a person becomes entitled to practise as a barrister or as a barrister and solicitor, either generally or for the purposes of any particular office or proceedings, as soon as he is duly called to the Bar and his/her name entered in the Roll or pursuant to a warrant issued by the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
I will go further to state that if at all such an amendment to the LPA is to be contemplated that we must first embark on a far-reaching review of legal education in Nigeria.
I will seek your indulgence to digress a bit to discuss a matter which I believe is no less important to the issue at hand; the length of training for lawyers as well as the increasing cost of legal education.
A review of the regulatory framework, assuming we wish to introduce mandatory pupillage as a measure that will improve standards and welfare of lawyers, must consider the desirability of the present five-year length of study for the law degree, the course content of the university education, the course content and thrust of the Law School, the possibility of licensing private law schools or legal education practitioners, the requisite qualifications for sitting for the bar Finals examination etc.
In a well-researched article titled “Reform of Legal Education and Legal Profession in 21st Century Nigeria’, Chima Umezurike proceeded with that “…..the duration of the LLB degree programme is too long. Nothing useful is achieved by forcing a student to study the LLB for 5 years. 2/3 years should be sufficient for the study of the LLB degree. After all, only the core subjects are what a person needs to be a lawyer. A person who is interested in an academic career in law can always gto back to university and undertake post-graduate studies in law. Keeping a person in a law faculty for 5 years will not improve the quality of legal education. In order to improve the quality of education of lawyers we should focus on primary and secondary education. A person who was not properly educated at primary and secondary education levels cannot be expected to improve his writing and grammatical skills in university. University is not the place for the acquisition of those basic skills.”.
Ordinarily one is tempted to reason that if it is indeed true that many young lawyers who had five years of university education are not “as good” as the generation that did four years, that it will be counter-productive, if not illogical to suggest that the years of university education be reduced. Such a dim view of the suggestion, in my opinion is founded on the unempirical premise that better lawyers will be produced by longer years of training. I beg to differ.
The practical and focused content of the university education will achieve better result even if it lasts for three years. In fact some of the courses offered in the universities are in reality subsumed under some courses that are of practical relevance to legal practice. It is therefore not surprising that I agree with the suggestion made by Chima Umezurike, in the article referred to earlier that the only subjects in the LLB degree or equivalent, that should be compulsory for eligibility to sit the bar examination should be the core subjects, viz constitutional law; administrative law; criminal law; tort; contract; land law; equity and trusts; and the Nigerian legal system.
Justifying his view, Umezurike stated that “These should be the only compulsory subjects for eligibility to sit the bar examinations. I am of the view that jurisprudence is not a core subject. In England it is not a core subject. It is left to the individual university to decide whether it should be compulsory for the award of the LLB degree. However it is not a requirement for entry into the Solicitors’ or Bar course”
I very much agree with Umezurike’s view in respect of this matter. The article is so well reasoned that I will crave your kind indulgence to quote him extensively; “….., subjects like company law, commercial law, and employment law are all extensions of contract, equity, trust and tort. A proper grounding in the core subjects will enable a lawyer to pick up these non-core subjects in practice. I am of the view that the duration of the LLB degree programme is too long.
Nothing useful is achieved by forcing a student to study the LLB for 5 years. 2/3 years should be sufficient for the study of the LLB degree. After all, only the core subjects are what a person needs to be a lawyer. A person who is interested in an academic career in law can always to back to university and undertake post-graduate studies in law. Keeping a person in a law faculty for 5 years will not improve the quality of legal education. In order to improve the quality of education of lawyers we should focus on primary and secondary education.
A person who was not properly educated at primary and secondary education levels cannot be expected to improve his writing and grammatical skills in university. University is not the place for the acquisition of those basic skills”.
On the economic benefit of such a reduction he stated that “Reducing the length of the LLB programme will help poor students. In England the LLB programme usually lasts 3 years. University of Buckingham offers a 2 year programme”. This will no doubt be a welcome relief for many law graduates wh o are increasingly finding it difficult to pay the Law School fees talk less of clothing, feeding and shouldering other financial burden of other mandatory requirements of the Law School.
I am also of the opinion that even if the law can be amended to permit mandatory pupillage that we lack the capacity to effectively monitor its implementation.
Notwithstanding my pessimism regard to the ability of the Bar to effectively monitor the system. The countries that practice mandatory pupillage find it an indispensable tool for the professional training of lawyers. The BSB Working Group noted that; “None of the many individuals and organisations we have consulted has suggested that pupillage should be dispensed with as a condition of practice.
The insistence on the importance of pupillage is in our view firmly rooted in the public interest. There does not seem to us to be any effective method by which newly-called barristers can learn how to work with clients, colleagues and the courts, or acquire the technical and practical skills which are necessary for the provision of a professional legal service, except by working closely with an established practitioner. This report is based on a universal acceptance of the need for this vital stage in a barrister’s training”.
Mazi Afam Osigwe (Bencher) addressing posers in the paper : IS THE NIGERIAN LEGAL PROFESSION RIPE FOR THE RE-INTRODUCTION OF A MANDATORY PUPILLAGE SYSTEM: WHAT EFFECT (IF ANY) WILL SUCH A SYSTEM HAVE ON STANDARDS AND THE WELFARE OF YOUNG LAWYERS?’’