The way forward
IN the past few weeks, I have surveyed the process of Bar Licensing from frontline common law jurisdiction in England, Canada, United States, Australia, India, and Kenya. It is clear from this survey that Legal Education has moved beyond the obsolete system of having a centralised Law School. The society is not static, so the process of legal education in Nigeria cannot afford to be static and must evolve with international best practices and contemporary realities. Today, the legal education system in Nigeria faces existential challenges that cannot be addressed simply by opening many branch campuses of the Nigerian Law School.
To address the current challenges that impact the quality and relevance of legal education in Nigeria, our bar licensing process will need to be wholly reformed to provide new entrants into the profession with world-class practical skills and technological competencies required to take on the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. The survey of the process of bar licensing processes in frontier common law jurisdictions such as England, Canada, United States, Australia, India and Kenya clearly indicate that legal education has moved beyond the obsolete system of having a central law school that administers vocational bar training programs in its branch campuses in large auditoriums. Other common law countries have seen the value in opening the bar training process to accredited private service providers with the required facilities, ICT infrastructure and resources to conduct personalized and practice-oriented training that enable learners to absorb practical legal skills in a self-paced manner.
As efforts continue to update and reform the Legal Education (Consolidation Etc) Act, what is required is that like the Bar Standards Board (BSB) in England, the Council of Legal Education in Nigeria should play the role of a regulator that sets the standard for the provision of legal education in Nigeria. In addition to its current role in accrediting and supervising Universities and law faculties that provide LL.B. education, the Council of Legal Education should also have the authority to license and accredit private service providers to provide vocational training for bar aspirants beyond the exclusive preserve of the Nigerian Law School. Such service providers, especially universities which have reputable Law Colleges and advanced ICT infrastructure, should be licensed to train law graduates for 12 months after which they will take a Joint Bar Examination moderated by the Council. In addition to accrediting the service providers and administering the Joint Bar Examination, the Council of Legal Education will set the criteria for the curricula and mode of instruction for the bar course; set standards for the infusion of practice-oriented courses and examinations by service providers; and the continuous monitoring evaluation and renewal of licenses of the service providers.
With this proposed arrangement, law graduates from Nigerian universities will be able to select reputable Colleges/Faculties of Law of their choice with up-to-date facilities and Faculty members of international repute for their post-LL. B bar training course, and then write their Call to Bar Examinations without having to be residential students in any Law School as is currently the case. This way, the problem of paucity of funding, poor facilities and inadequate accommodation space would have been solved. It is common knowledge today that there is not a single one of the existing campuses of the Nigerian Law School that has modern equipment, libraries internet facilities, E-libraries and modern ICT infrastructure needed to deliver practical and experiential vocational training for all Nigerian law graduates every year. This situation has resulted in some law graduates having to wait for years to be admitted to the Nigerian Law School, and even when admitted, the inadequate infrastructure and facilities at the campuses reduce the opportunities for practice-oriented skills acquisition.
It therefore makes absolutely no sense to create more mushroom campuses, not least for political expediency. The training of lawyers in Nigeria needs to be immediately decentralised in line with international best practices. Universities and institutions with world class faculty, training facilities and ICT infrastructure should be licensed to provide the hands-on opportunities for practice-oriented skills acquisition. Furthermore, joint bar examinations can then be conducted in line with the current testing arrangements for JAMB, WAEC, NECO, ICAN and CIB examinations. By so doing, the perennial challenges of inadequate quality of legal education and infrastructure, and lack of relevant skills training to meet with the ever-changing demands of the modern world, will be comprehensively dismantled in a holistic manner through competitive legal training that benefits from private sector innovation and efficient service delivery.
AARE AFE BABALOLA, OFR, CON, SAN, LL.D (Lond.)