Monday, February 6, 2017

Practical Training To Those Aspiring To Become Legal Practitioners in Nigeria At Nigerian Law School

The Nigerian Law School was set up by the Federal Government of Nigeria in 1962. The aim of the institution was to provide for the local needs of the then foreign trained lawyers and to provide the much needed practical training to those aspiring to become Legal Practitioners in Nigeria. The School started at Igbosere Street, near Obalende in Lagos State, Nigeria, and was later moved to Ozumba Mbadiwe Street in Victoria Island, Lagos, in 1969. In 1997, it was relocated to Bwari, a suburb of Abuja, Nigeria`s Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The need to accommodate the ever-growing number of law graduates from Nigerian universities (and their foreign counterparts desirous of becoming lawyers in Nigeria) led to the decentralization of the Nigerian Law School in 2001, with the creation of three additional Campuses -— Enugu, Kano and Lagos —- in addition to the Headquarters in Bwari, Abuja. Two more Campuses were later created in 2011 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State and Yola, Adamawa State. In all, the Nigerian Law School now has six fully functional Campuses —- (1) Bwari Abuja (the headquarters); (2) Agbani (Augustine Nnamani Campus), in Enugu State; (3) Bagauda, in Kano State; (4) Victoria Island, Lagos; (5) Yola, in Adamawa State; and (6) Yenagoa, in Bayelsa State. The Council of Legal Education (CLE) the parent-body of Nigerian Law School, was established in 1962, and saddled with the responsibilitie for legal education of persons seeking to become Legal Practitioners in Nigeria and with such other powers and functions as the Council may consider expedient for the purpose of performing its main functions. 

In addition to having the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) degree from a Nigerian University officially recognized, duly approved, by the Council of Legal Education, an applicant for an admission into the Nigerian Law School must also be a “fit and proper” person for admission into the legal profession. For example, an ex-convict, a member of a secret cult, a drug addict or peddler, or an armed robbery gang member, etc., would be considered not fit and proper, and accordingly disqualified, even if the person graduated from a university with a first class honours degree in law. Persons graduating from university law faculties outside Nigeria, but who aspire to become members of the Nigerian Bar, are made to undergo a three-month/four-month Bar Part 1 training course at the Law School headquarters, Bwari, Abuja, before being formally admitted into the mandatory Bar Part 2 (Bar final) programme; note that only students who are successful in the Bar Part 1 programme are considered for an admission into the Bar Part 2 course. The Bar Part 1 programme is aimed chiefly at introducing the “foreign” law graduates to basic aspects of the Nigerian legal system, such as Nigerian Land Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Law of evidence, Nigerian customary law, etc. A student admitted into the Nigerian Law School could be posted to any of the six Campuses of the School for the Bar Part 2 programme. The School has prescribed certain conditions, which its students must satisfy in order to qualify for call-to-bar and enrolment as lawyers[vii] in Nigeria. 

These conditions include: 1) The aspirant must be fit and proper; 2) The aspirant must be successful at Nigerian Law School’s Bar Part 2 (bar final) examinations; 3) The aspirant must have participated in the mandatory three- dining (Law Dinner) terms at the Law School;[viii] and 4) The aspirant must be successful in the mandatory Portfolio Assessment exercise organised in the Law School;[ix] and 5) The aspirant need now not be a Nigerian citizen. As shown above, the bar aspirant’s country of origin or nationality is immaterial for purposes of his/her admission into Nigerian Law School.

 At the end of each bar part 2 academic session, the Council would recommend students who meet these requirements, among others, to the Body of Benchers for call to bar. They are admitted into the Legal profession during call-to-bar ceremonies, usually held in Abuja, after which they are enrolled at the Supreme Court as Barristers and Solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. 

It needs to be emphasized that the concept of “fit and proper” is a continuous one. Accordingly, every aspirant to the Nigerian bar is expected to maintain a high standard of ethical conduct, failing which he may be disqualified from admission into the Law School, or, if already admitted, may be shown the way out. Even after call-to-bar, a legal practitioner who fails to observe the professional code of conduct would be made to face professional discipline and, if found guilty, could face serious punishments, such as warning, suspension from practice or his name could be struck out from the roll[xii], meaning that he ceases to be a member of the bar in Nigeria. The idea behind this is that the legal profession is a noble one; hence only those worthy in learning and character are expected to be admitted into, and to remain in, it. 

The Bar Part 2 academic programme runs for one year, comprising three semesters or terms. It usually begins in October or November of every year and ends in August or September of the next. There could be variations, depending on the university calendar. The academic session usually begins with registration of students, which would last about one week, after which the students are made to undergo a one-week-long induction programme, designed to enlighten them on the systems and working of the School, the rules and code of conduct, as well as academic and professional expectations from both the students and the lecturers, among many other things, during and after the bar training. 

Teaching in the Law School under the New Curriculum is practice- based, and is aimed at producing lawyers who would be in a position to measure up to contemporary benchmarks and international best practices in the legal profession. So, as part of the induction programme, there are also mock trial sessions organised for the students, and undertaken by the students themselves, under lecturers` supervision. This is usually tagged “induction mock trials,” and is held simultaneously in all the six Campuses. During the mock sessions, the student is made to play a part in simulated court trial proceedings, designed to inculcate in the student basic advocacy skills and courtroom decorum. Formal classroom coaching in the Law School lasts twenty weeks, and a total of five subjects are taught, namely – Criminal Litigation, Civil Litigation, Property Law Practice, Corporate Law Practice, and Professional Ethics & Skills (formerly known as Law in Practice). Normal classroom interaction takes the form of one course per day for each of the five working days in a week. Criminal Litigation is taken every Monday for twenty weeks; Civil Litigation on Tuesdays; Property Law Practice on Wednesdays; Corporate Law Practice on Thursdays; and Professional Ethics & Skills on Fridays. All lecturers in each subject/department are expected to be in class at the same time, and participate, during every classroom interactive session on their course/subject. 

Each class starts with an overview of the topic for the day, followed by small group and individual presentations on various aspects of the topic, role-plays, debriefing, etc., depending on the department. But, generally, it is a skills-based, interactive and clinical method of learning that adequately prepares the graduates for their roles as lawyers and equips them to function optimally as barristers and solicitors. Every student is made to participate actively, while the teachers play the role of facilitators. At the beginning of each academic session in the Law School, students in each Campus are broken into groups. Each group is expected to elect a Group Leader and an Assistant Group Leader, who preside over activities of the Group. A Lecturer is assigned to each group to act as the Group’s Mentor and Advisor, with the primary responsibility of supervising the Group’s (small group) meetings and assisting in resolving all issues arising from such meetings, etc., and generally ensuring a smooth functioning of the Group, in addition to disciplining erring members of the group. In Lagos Campus, as in most other Campuses, about four or five days before each next class/lecture, the affected department sends to the students the Lesson Plan, Contents, and Outcomes for the class as well as scenario-based tasks for each of the student groups. Every student is expected individually to study the topic in advance. 

Then, on the eve of the class, each Group would hold a group meeting, during which the topic slated to be taught in class the following day is discussed extensively by members of the group. The tasks assigned to the group are also discussed and solved during the meeting. On the lecture day (the day after the group meeting), each group is expected to submit their solutions to the group tasks to the class lecturers/facilitators, not later than 9.00am; classes begin at 9.00am on each lecture day, and end at about 1.30pm, though in some Campuses, this may extend a little beyond 1.30pm — that is, till when the lesson contents are fully completed and outcomes satisfactorily attained, depending on the circumstances. Each Group must additionally submit an attendance record of students that were present and participated in the Group meeting the previous day, together with their registration numbers and signatures.

 In some departments, submission of Group tasks is done online, before the lecture day, to official emails of the department (or of lecturers in the department). Students who stay away from group meetings are made to get queries, or to suffer other punishments, in line with extant rules and regulations, for nonattendance. This continues every day, every week, in each subject for twenty weeks. Attendance at classes throughout the twenty weeks of lectures is mandatory; students who fail to meet the mandatory 75 per cent attendance requirement are disqualified from sitting for the bar part 2 exams; in other words, their admission is deferred to the next session. Biometric record of attendance is taken twice daily, in the morning before class, and in the afternoon, immediately after class; in some Campuses, manual signing of attendance registers is still retained as a form of back-up. In the same vein, each student is expected to attend all classes in strict regulation dress[, failing which the defaulting student is not allowed entrance into the lecture hall, and would consequently be adjudged absent from class for the day. Every student must be attired in a proper and dignified manner and abstain from any apparel or ornament calculated to attract undue attention to himself or herself. At the end of the twenty weeks of lectures, students are sent out on court and law office placement (externship programme). Each student is placed in a court of law for about seven weeks and immediately thereafter in a Law Office for about five weeks. 

The objectives of the externship programme are to develop the extern’s lawyering skills; to make the extern understand various aspects of the legal system as well as the legal profession; to inculcate in the extern a sense of professional responsibility and values; and to develop the extern’s ability to reflect and learn from his or her experience. At the conclusion of the externship programme, each student is made to appear before a Portfolio Assessment Panel, the aim of which is basically to determine to what extent each student has applied himself or herself to the goals of the programme. Any student who scores below 70 per cent is disqualified from call-to-bar for that academic session, even though he is still eligible to sit for the Bar Part 2 Exams for the year. Depending on the nature of the problem that led to his or her failure, the student would be sent back to repeat the externship programme, and thereafter he/she would join students in the next academic year during their own portfolio assessment, and if successful, then, would be called to bar with them. 

What is more? There are two other assessment tests administered on the students before the bar final examinations. Snap tests are held any time during the first and second terms (semesters), as each Campus may decide, and thereafter there is the Pre-Bar (mock) examinations which take place during the third and last term/semester, usually immediately after the end of portfolio assessment, depending on Management decisions. And then the Portfolio MCQ (Multiple Choice Questions) Examinations, which were introduced recently and are expected to hold immediately after the conclusion of the Externship Programme. The Portfolio MCQ examinations account for 20 per cent of each student`s Bar final examination assessment and grades in each course. Beside the aforesaid, there is another round of mock trial proceedings after the portfolio assessment. Participation by each student in the Mock Trials is mandatory. During the mock trials, several Judges and Magistrates from High Courts, Federal or State, and Magistrates` Court, located around the states surrounding each Law School Campus, are invited to preside over simulated court proceedings, the essence of which is essentially to perfect the students’ advocacy skills in preparation for real life practice as legal practitioners. 

Finally, for each Campus of the Law School, there is established a Law Clinic, operated by Law School students (under their lecturers’ supervision) and designed to, among other objectives, provide pro bono legal services to members of the public. At the end of all these activities, the students would sit for the Bar Final Examinations in all the five courses taught. And those who succeed in the exams and who have met all the other requirements, as stated above, would be recommended to the Body of Benchers for formal call-to-bar and enrolment as Barristers and Solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, while those who are unsuccessful would wait and prepare for Bar Final (resit) exams, which usually hold in or around April/May in every year. All in all, it could be seen that vocational training at the Nigerian Law School under the New Curriculum is not just business as usual. 

The system appears somewhat challenging, and is designed to ensure that only serious-minded people are enrolled into the legal profession, which itself is rather tasking. Accordingly, success in the Law School depends much more on hard work and determination than on mere possession of talent; at the Nigerian Law School, hard work would beat talent if talent does not work hard. There is no room for anything goes; the School is not a dumping ground for the “never-do-wells,” who try to get enlisted into the legal profession through the back door. The good news, however, is that, with focus, determination and hard work, making a first class in the Law School is just as easy as reciting ABCD. 

Many have come, many have seen and many have conquered bar part 2. If they could do it, just anyone else can, with the right frame of mind and a positive attitude! Like life itself, bar part 2 has no limitations, except those limitations one decides to set for oneself. 

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