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Repositioning legal education for national development (2)

By Aare Afe Babalola

IN the period after independence, positive action was taken by the government and most of the recommendations of the Unsworth Committee were implemented through the Legal Education Act of 1963 and the Legal Practitioners Act of 1962.  The Nigerian Law School was set up in 1962.  It ran a three-month course in January to April 1963 for graduates who had been called to Bar in England while Law graduates who had not been called to the Bar in England had to complete a one-year course starting from October 1963. Unfortunately, the recommendation of the Unsworth Committee that a Faculty of Law be established at the University College, Ibadan was not accepted by the Government. However, in 1961, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka established the Faculty of Law, the first in the country.

In post-independence Nigeria, the education of a lawyer starts at the university. Faculties of Law are to be found in some of the universities all over Nigeria and the conditions or qualification for admission to study law are usually as published by the   Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board. A prospective lawyer may also choose to study law in a foreign university.

A person aspiring to study law at a university in Nigeria is required to have completed secondary school education and passed the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Exam or its equivalent with at least five ‘O’ Level credit passes in Arts and Social Science subjects, including English, Mathematics and Literature-in-English. Candidates are admitted into the Faculties of Law in Nigerian universities either by direct entry or by undertaking the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board, JAMB, examination. Direct entry candidates are admitted into the second year of the five-year LLB (Bachelor of Laws) degree programme. The qualifications acceptable for direct entry (in addition to the ‘O’ level subjects) include a university degree in disciplines other than law; a two-year diploma in law; and other qualifications in fields outside law such as a Higher National Diploma in a related course. They also include ‘A’level papers in History, Government, Economics, Religious Studies and Literature-in-English. It takes five years to complete a law degree in a Nigerian university. Upon completion, graduates are awarded an LL.B (‘Bachelor of Laws Degree’).

(ii) The Nigerian Law School

The Nigerian Law School is the institution responsible for the training of law graduates from the various accredited faculties of law. The institution has been in existence for more than half a century. It was established pursuant to the Legal Education Act with its location at Igbosere in Lagos and its first Director was an Englishman, Mr. G. Rudd who served from 1962 to 1967.

Relevance of Legal Education

Quality legal education is an essential element in producing legal professionals who can competently represent clients and contribute to the establishment of the rule of law. However, after five decades, it is clear that in Nigeria, the quality of legal education needs to be improved in order to meet the ever-dynamic international standards, and to equip many law graduates the requisite skills to be effective legal professionals in Nigeria.

The question is, what can be done to improve the quality of legal education in Nigeria?

Admission: Practise In Developed Countries

Currently in Nigeria, the basic requirements for admission into the LL.B programme is very low, a candidate is only required to earn five credit passes at the Ordinary level to gain admission in to the LL.B programme. This is a low threshold and allows for the admission of thousands of undergraduates every year. In overseas jurisdictions, the requirements are higher. For instance, in Australia, a candidate for the LL.B programme is required to score very high at the Ordinary level by having an ATAR score up to 99% to study law. The ATAR score is a number between 0.00 and 99.95 that indicates a student’s position relative to all the students in their age group (that is all 16 to 20 year olds in New South Wales). The ATAR is a rank and not a mark. Universities use the ATAR to help them select students for their courses. In 2017, the University of Sydney required an ATAR of 99.50 for an undergraduate wanting to enrol in a combined law degree. I doubt that a candidate wanting to enrol into a law degree program with just five O’Level credit passes will meet that requirement, but that is the requirement in Nigeria.

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In the United States, law schools require a bachelor’s degree in any discipline, a satisfactory undergraduate grade point average, GPA, and a satisfactory score on the Law School Admission Test, LSAT, as prerequisites for admission.

In the UK, the combination of grades you’ll be expected to achieve in order to earn a place on an LLB course will differ slightly depending on the university. Most students who attend school and college in England and Wales still currently follow the academic route of GCSEs, followed by A-Levels.

The majority of UK universities generally look for a minimum of grade C or B, or level 4 or above, at GCSE in English, maths, and at times a subject such as foreign languages.

The top universities will then also require their prospective students to have studied at least three A’Levels with results of AAA or AAB, and in some cases at least one A.

Courses for the most popular universities are often over-subscribed, so meeting your entry requirements may not always guarantee you’ll get your first choice; universities will also take your personal statement into account, and some will look at your score on the LNAT.

The LNAT, short for the National Admissions Test for Law, is a computer-based testing programme offered by Pearson Education. It’s used as an entrance examination by several UK-based universities as part of the selection process for their undergraduate law degree programmes.

Structure of the LNAT exam

The LNAT is a two-part test lasting two hours and fifteen minutes. The first part is made up of 42 multiple-choice questions lasting 95 minutes; the second involves essay-type questions and lasts 40 minutes.

The multiple choice sections consists of 12 argumentative passages, each with three or four questions designed to gauge the reasoning skills of the student, which is a critical necessity for a legal career.

The subjects covered in these cases are general and everyday knowledge topics; no specialist knowledge of law is required. Results from this section are electronically assessed and passed on to participating universities.

The second segment requires the student to answer one of three essay questions on a variety of topics of current interest. The length should not exceed 750 words and, ideally, your essay should be between 500 and 600 words. The essay section is the chance for the applicant to demonstrate their writing skills, and their ability to think logically and construct an argument.

These papers are not evaluated by the service provider, but sent to the law schools to which the student has applied. The schools in turn will assess the papers based on their own selection and admission criteria.

Given the Nigerian situation and the fact that thousands of undergraduates get admitted into the LL.B programme every year thereby stretching the Law School facilities to its limits, there should be a limitation to the number of persons admitted to study law annually in Nigerian universities. This can be achieved by adopting international best practices as demonstrated in the examples above.

The entry requirements should be based on any of the following:

*a first degree with a good grade;

*Minimum of two to three subjects at Advanced level with good grades combined with at least four Ordinary Level credit passes;

*Establishing special tests for special candidates who wish to enrol into the LL.B course.

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