There might have been once a time in Nigeria when the prospect of someone becoming a lawyer without following the more vocational route of first studying for the 5 year LL.B. and capping it off with a one year mandatory course of professional training at the Nigerian Law School had seemed decidedly improbable. But recent developments in legal education the world over would favor a sea change in the long-established, time-honored conventions to bar qualification in Nigeria by waiving law school for aspiring lawyers. While this avant-garde, off the wall notion of bar admittance in Nigeria may catch many by surprise, it isn’t altogether ahead of its time. It’s a dated practice that goes back in time to the days of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, who was enrolled to practice law after less than a year of school under an Illinois legislation enacted in 1833. This law permitted the issuance of law licenses to intending lawyers upon presenting a certificate endorsed by any Illinois county court certifying they were of good moral character. And as of now, about four US Jurisdictions still admit lawyers to the practice of law in those jurisdictions via legal apprenticeships without going to law school as revealed by the BusinessInsider. Specifically, the states of California, Vermont, Virginia and Washington permit law students to become lawyers by ditching law school. Even then, these states still do require that applicants taking these non-vocational routes to becoming a lawyer acquire in the field experience through participation in legal apprenticeships. In similar fashion, these turn of events in legal education have longed since been taking place in the UK, where intending law students with prior degrees in any non-law discipline are allowed to skip the traditional 3 year British LL.B. for a one year Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Upon graduation, GDL students are put on an equal platform as those who studied law at the undergraduate level, allowing them apply for training contracts and pupilages unhindered.
While this piece of news may come as a welcome relief to aspiring lawyers, in an era where legal education is becoming more and more elitist. Tuition costs gobsmacks. And even now in the US, it’s a norm for graduating lawyers to bear six-figure student debts like an albatross around their necks. That said, I cannot imagine for the life of me that this announcement will in any way be savored by those cliquish lawyers stuck to the past. If anything, it should provoke scorn and outrage, as did my article on Facebook on the existing NOUN vs. CLE standoff. In which many misread my stance on the stalemate to mean that I supported the inclusion of “part time” law graduates to the noble profession. Heck, I was pilloried for failing to understand that the legal profession was like an exclusive “cult” needing membership to be reined in from meddling interlopers. But aren’t these clannish sentiments rather unwarranted? Sure, the legal profession is one founded on ancient mores and steeped in extensive oldfangled traditions. But don’t we also say the law is dynamic and society evolving. And if we take this premise to its logical conclusion, wouldn’t it mean that, as the core, the law’s periphery comprising of its criteria for eligibility for admission to practice allow for flexibility notwithstanding formal rules? And in this case, that those who are knowledgeable about the law equipped through hands-on training in the field be allowed to join the profession? I should think so. These hidebound Lawyers need to wake up to the reality that the times are changing. That given the harsh economic realities in the world today and the resultant hike in law school tuition, there’s the overpowering need to relax the formal rules of bar admission. Otherwise, people would balk at the mammoth law tuition costs and hence, there might be a dramatic fall in the number of lawyers. And soon our courtyards would become ghost towns with the profession eventually going into decline owing to these draconian policies. We don’t want that, do we? It`s the reason why we must maintain an open door policy in bar admissions, granting those with requisite legal practice experience bar admittance without the encumbrance of attending law school.
A recent research study published by Deloitte legal predicting future trends for legal services in one of its key findings reveals that purchaser’s expectations of legal services are evolving. With a corresponding increase in the demand for alternative or non-traditional legal service providers. So if the future trends for legal services are leaning towards non-traditional legal service providers. Then maybe it’s about time legal education followed suit and started embracing non-traditional, informal vistas of bar inclusion, opening its doors to all with requisite legal competencies and with a wealth of legal practice experience garnered through work in the field.
Having spent the introductory part of this article addressing the state of affairs on bar admission in other jurisdictions, lets now return to the heart of this write-up.
How Do You Become A Lawyer In Nigeria Without Going To Law School?
Unlike most common law jurisdictions, Nigeria operates a dual system of legal education where aspiring lawyers in qualifying for the bar are first required to study for an LL.B. at university lasting for 5 years. And upon graduation, they are then enrolled for an obligatory course of professional training at the Nigerian Law School. On successful completion of the course at the Nigerian Law School, a person is entitled to the award of a certificate of call to bar issued by the Council of Legal Education (the body responsible for the education of Nigerian lawyers). Often the issuance of this qualifying certificate along with the enrollment of a lawyers name on the roll of legal practitioners by the Chief Registrar of the Nigerian Supreme Court entitles them to practice law anywhere in Nigeria.
Flowing from the above, to qualify to practice law as a lawyer in Nigeria, an applicant must;
(1) Have complete a law degree of an approved university.
(2) Have completed the course of professional training at the Nigerian Law School.
(3) Have produced a qualifying certificate to the Benchers
(4) Have been enrolled as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court.
The above conditions are enshrined in section 4(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act and must be fulfilled for qualification for admission as legal practitioner in Nigeria.
Like I said earlier, Nigeria operates a complimentary system of legal education where aspiring lawyers are taught substantive law (theory) at university and while they are taught procedural law at the Nigerian Law School.
Thus an intending lawyer must have engaged and completed their studies at both schools before they can be eligible for bar admission in Nigeria.
Be that as it may, S.2(A) & (B) of the Legal Education (Consolidation) Act 1976 (formerly the Legal Education Act, 1962)) , now codified in CAP L.10, Volume 8, LFN, 2004, permits both partial and full exemption from attendance of the Nigerian Law School for two categories of individuals.
The above provisions allow a partial exemption from attendance of the Nigerian Law School to graduates of law from non-common law jurisdiction teaching law in Nigerian universities for a period of 5 years or 10 years. Such persons are exempted from taking the Bar Part 1 programme.
Persons who are qualified to be admitted to the Nigerian Law School (those already awarded law degrees) are granted full exemption from attendance provided they lost such opportunity for reasons beyond their control. However, for such persons to claim the benefit of this arm of the provision, they must satisfy the Council of Legal Education that they have acquired knowledge and experience (of procedural law, to be precise) over a period of at least 5yrs, fitting them for enrollment.
By inference, only graduates of any approved law university in or outside Nigeria, awarded the LL.B. or other foreign law degree are allowed either partial or full exemption from the mandatory course of professional training at the NLS. However, for those seeking full exemption, i.e. skipping the Nigerian law school entirely, they must meet two requirements:
- That they could not attend for “reasons beyond” their control. In other words, you must not have lost the opportunity to attend the law school of your own volition. An inability to pay one’s law school tuition on account of indigence could be a “reason beyond” one’s control for losing the opportunity to attend the law school. There might be others.
- They must have acquired knowledge and experience of procedural law for at least a period of 5yrs sufficiently qualifying them for enrollment. Persons who have interned or worked in law offices or firms in Nigeria for 5years after graduation may have fulfilled this criteria, if they had acquired knowledge of procedural law in the course of discharging their duties. Such persons could not have gained their experience of the law via legal practice as they have not been called to the bar and this might constitute unauthorized practice of the law, eventually leading to prosecution.
While going by the tenor of S.2 (A) & (B) of the Legal Education (Consolidation) Act, it’s every way possible to become a lawyer in Nigeria without going to the Nigerian Law School, I’m yet to meet any lawyer who gained their bar admission taking this route. Maybe it’s because not many have thought this was possible before now. But now that you have you can go spread the word.
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.
To get in touch, follow him on social media.