JUSTICE: LOSS OF PUBLIC CONFIDENCE-LAWYERS ALONE NOT TO BLAME (5)
“The poor remuneration paid to junior lawyers by senior lawyers have contributed to the problems encountered in the administration of justice”.
A few days ago, President Buhari while on a visit to Kenya, again identified the judiciary as a major source of headache for him in the fight against corruption. Prior to this latest comment, I had already stated just how this perception of lawyers and Judges is wrong. Happily since this recent remarks made by Mr President in Kenya, more Nigerians including prominent lawyers and even the Nigerian bar Association have risen in defence of the bench. However as I stated two weeks ago, I do not want to be mistaken as insisting that lawyers are saints and have not contributed in one way or the other to the problems encountered in the administration of justice in Nigeria. There are however other underlying problems such as the quality of education received by lawyers and the poor remuneration paid to junior lawyers by senior lawyers. While lawyers may not have played any role in the former, they have contributed to the problems encountered in the administration of justice
IMPROVEMENT OF LL.B CURRICULUM
It cannot be disputed that there is a connection between quality of education received by lawyers and the effectiveness they will display in the practice of the profession. Regrettably, the LL.B curriculum in Nigerian Universities requires serious overhaul. Legal education involves learning: (i) the whole body of substantive and procedural laws and related aspects of social control of human behaviour, (ii) fundamental skills including problem solving, legal analysis and reasoning, legal research and writing, investigation and marshalling of facts, communication, negotiation and counselling, litigation and alternative dispute resolution, and capacity to organize and manage legal work in different situations (iii) the fundamental profession values and ethics such as integrity, fairness, and freedom from bias; and finally (iv) the right attitudes conducive to the dignity of the profession and the majesty of law and justice.
I believe that all these should be reflected in the curriculum. Law being a tool for social engineering and social control, it should be studied in the social context. This means integrating law subjects with social and behavioural sciences. This would enable the lawyer to solve problems in socially acceptable ways and assist in developing public policies appropriate to social needs. In short, whether it is the issue of poverty alleviation or gender justice, environmental protection or juvenile justice, human rights, development of scientific technology, or the fight against corruption modern law has to play a balancing role between stability and change, human rights and social justice. The plea in curriculum development, therefore, should be to expand the law curriculum to include a fair amount of sociology, political science, history, economics, philosophy, and psychology in legal education.
IMPROVED TEACHING METHODS
There is also the issue of teaching methods adopted in Nigerian Universities. In most cases, some teachers make use of lecture notes passed on to these lecturers by their own tutors in their undergraduate days. Many lecture notes of our undergraduates are replete with archaic judicial precedents on legal points even though recent decisions of our courts including those of the Supreme Court of Nigeria abound on these points. As a result, many students are unable to locate decided authorities cited to them by their lecturers.
A teaching method which has been adopted by most foreign Law schools but which is yet to fully find its way into the consciousness of our Law teachers is the Socratic Dialogue or Case Method. Prof. (Dr.) N. R. Madhana Mevon described the case method thus:
“Another teaching method is the Socratic dialogue more known as the case method employed to develop capacities for analytical reasoning and persuasive argumentation in law classes. In preparing for class-students are given a reading list of laws and cases and asked to identify material facts, list the legal issues, analyse applicable law and precedents, and give a reasoned decision. The students understanding of the materials read is tested through a dialogue where the teacher asks a series of questions that not only require the students to recount what was read but also to apply the law to similar new situation.
This system of teaching is clearly strange to most of our teachers and students in our institutions of higher learning. I am however aware that the Council of Legal Education has at the Nigerian Law School recently adopted a style of teaching similar to that stated above called the frontloading system. Students at the law school are now required to read ahead of class and are often called upon to address the full class on the outcome of their research. Laudable as the innovation of the Council of Legal Education is, the full effect of same will not be felt until the various faculties of law adopt the same or a similar system.
It is also advisable that private legal practitioners with extensive experience particularly in the area of litigation be encouraged to act as part-time lecturers in our various faculties of law. This is the practice in England and other advanced countries. There are some salient points in the practice of law which cannot be found in any textbook. In the words of Mark McComark in his book “The Terrible Truth About Lawyers” most legal practitioners will find after graduation that 80% of the things they would require in active practice were not taught at the law school and that 80% of the things they were taught would not be required in active practice of law.” These private practitioners by virtue of their experience are better placed to teach students the intricacies of the practice of the profession.
After qualification young lawyer is naturally expected to earn reasonable wages sufficient to meet his needs. However, experience in Nigeria shows that most senior lawyers do not pay their juniors well. Under the guise that the juniors are still learning, some seniors subject their juniors to harrowing conditions of service which should have no place in modern times. Instances therefore abound in which lawyers several years after their qualification are unable to afford the most basic needs, inclusive of a car, which as far as legal practice is concerned, is a tool of the trade rather than a luxury item. Some lawyers even ride motorcycles popularly referred to as `Okadas` to court.
The effect of this is that after a year or two, most young practitioners decide to open their own offices without any thought to the fact that they, in all probability are not yet equipped, experience wise, to practice on their own. They end up opening one-man firms which after reality sets in, remain just that; one-man firms. This has a ripple effect on the general practice of law in the country and stunts its development in many ways, one of which may be in the form referred to by many as the complicity of lawyers in the delay in justice delivery. In most developed countries in Europe and even in South-Africa there are firms with thousands of lawyers and hundreds of Partners. These firms afford lawyers excellent working conditions and environment within which to grow professionally. Lawyers benefit from discussing fine legal points with their colleagues. A man practicing on his own has no such edge. In such firms remuneration is based on a merits system in which lawyers are paid their monthly salaries and even bonuses based on their performance. This ensures that lawyers stay for decades in the employment of just one firm in which they are assured professional and job satisfaction.
While some firms inclusive of mine have long bought into this idea, the fact remains that there is still a long way to go in this respect. If the practice of law must grow in Nigeria, measures must be put in place to guarantee reasonable working conditions for young lawyers.
To be continued…
Aare Afe Babalola, OFR, CON, SAN, LL.D