Can a law student give legal advice?
One of the early experiences law students have while they are yet in school is that people would try to pry legal advice from them under any guise. This therefore leaves open the possibility of their engaging in unauthorized practice of the law without the requisite law license. And when this happens unbeknownst to them, they would have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law which could land them in trouble with the bar when they eventually become lawyers.
In Nigeria, formal law training is very ‘in-house”. Law students in their training are restricted to the class room with limited or nonexistent opportunities to participate in legal clinics where they can get to meet with clients whom they could advise on the law under supervision as their counterparts do overseas.
What this means is that Nigerian law students can’t give legal advice to anyone if there is a possibility that their advise could be relied upon by any one. To do otherwise without being called to the bar would amount to unauthorized practice of law which in serious cases can attract certain criminal charges.
This equally goes for representing someone in Nigerian courts. They certainly couldn’t represent a client whether as family member or otherwise until their graduation from the Nigerian Law School.
In other jurisdictions of the world, the rules differ and lawyers have divergent views on the subject. Let’s use the position in the United States as the case in point. In the US, Law Schools have legal clinics – a program providing hands-on legal experience to law students by offering services to clients. These clinics are supervised by clinical professors. Thus in a housing clinic staffed with pro bono law students, they could provide general advice to clients on tenancy issues. But even this has to be done under supervision. The other area a law student in the US may represent someone in court is in the area of social security disability. Those are the only limited circumstances law students may either give legal advice or represent someone in court.
In any other case giving legal advice without a license by a law student would amount to unauthorized practice of law – a serious conduct likely to attract criminal sanctions. The unauthorized practice of law can either be a misdemeanor or a felony offense depending on the circumstances and the laws in force within the jurisdiction. Anyone convicted of the unauthorized practice of law faces a range of potential penalties like incarceration, fines, probation and restitution.
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LL.B from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
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