How to qualify as a lawyer in Nigeria

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INTRODUCTION

The Nigerian legal system runs a common law system of administration. It is centred on the English common law by virtue of colonisation, the Constitution,  legislative enactments, customary law, Islamic law and case law (judicial precedents). The legal profession in Nigeria is fused; a legal practitioner who is enrolled in Nigeria practices law as both an advocate and a solicitor.

Legal education commenced officially in Nigeria in 1962 with the enactment of two principal pieces of legislation: the Legal Education Act 1962 (this Act was re-enacted and is now contained in the Legal Education (Consolidation, etc) Act, Chapter 206, Laws of Federation of Nigeria1990.)  which set up the Council of Legal Education and established the Nigerian Law School to train individuals seeking to practice law in Nigeria; and the Legal Practitioners Act 1962 (this Act was re-enacted as the Legal Practitioners Act, Chapter 207 LFN 1990) to regulate the practice of the Law in Nigeria. Prior to 1962, all of the people enrolled to practice law in Nigeria were trained in the United Kingdom, such that a call to the English or Scottish Bar qualified a Nigerian to be enrolled and practice law in Nigeria. This was made possible by virtue of Order xvi Rule 1 of the Supreme Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 1 and 6 made pursuant to the Supreme Court Ordinance 1876, which empowered the Chief Justice to approve, admit and enrol as a barrister and solicitor, any person who is entitled to practise as a barrister in England or Scotland.

EDUCATION

In Nigeria, the education of a lawyer starts at university. A person aspiring to study law at university in Nigeria is required to have completed secondary school education and passed the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Exam with at least 5 ‘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 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Exam (UTME). Direct entry candidates are admitted into the second year of the five-year LLB 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.

It takes five years to complete a law degree in Nigeria. Upon completion, graduates are awarded an LL.B ‘Bachelor of Laws’. The undergraduate curriculum requires law students to study 12 compulsory core law courses and 11 optional law courses. The compulsory core law courses are essential for the obtainment of a Qualifying Law Degree (QLD). The law courses are as follows:

Core law courses Optional Law courses
1. Legal Methods 1. Administrative Law
2. Nigerian Legal System 2. Banking and Insurance Law
3. Contract Law 3. Conflict of Laws
4. Constitutional Law 4. Law of Conveyancing
5. Company Law 5. Criminology
6. Commercial Law 6. Family Law
7. Criminal Law 7. Industrial or Labour Law
8. Law of Equity and Trusts 8. Islamic Law
9. Law of Evidence 9. Public International Law
10. Land Law 10. Revenue/Taxation Law
11. Law of Torts 11 Intellectual Property Law
12. Jurisprudence  

There are a plethora of universities in Nigeria where a qualifying law degree can be obtained as most of the universities in each of the 36 states of Nigeria have a law faculty. These include: University of Nigeria, Nsukka; University of Lagos; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; University of Ibadan; and University of Benin. A law student must obtain a ‘pass’ grade to be awarded the LL.B degree. No additional tests or practical training are required at undergraduate level.

VOCATIONAL TRAINING

Vocational training is mandatory for persons seeking to practice law in Nigeria. The Nigerian Law School educates and trains law graduates in vocational knowledge and practical skills that would enable them function as barristers and solicitors. The vocational training process at the Nigerian Law School lasts for one year. The following bodies and institution take charge of the legal practice qualification in Nigeria.

Council of Legal Education

The Council of Legal Education is the supervisory body responsible for the accreditation, control and management of legal education in Nigeria. The Council of Legal Education runs the Nigerian Law School.

The Council of Legal Education also recognises some foreign law degrees from approved overseas universities for purposes of admission into the Nigerian Law School. These foreign degrees must be from common law countries.

Nigerian Law School

The Nigerian Law School is a vocational institution established to provide practical training for law graduates at the second and final stage of formal training of lawyers in Nigeria. Its headquarters are located in Abuja and there are three other campuses of the Nigerian Law School in Enugu, Kano and Lagos. The Administrative Head of the Nigerian Law School is the Director-General, currently Dr Tahir Mamman. All persons who have obtained a university law degree and want to practice as lawyers in Nigeria must attend the Nigerian Law School.

Admission into the Nigerian Law School is open to persons who possess a Qualifying Law Degree and have obtained at least a ‘pass’. Degrees obtained through part-time studies, long-distance learning or study as an external student are not recognised for admission to the Nigerian Law School.
 

Body of Benchers

The Body of Benchers is responsible for the formal admission of successful students from the Nigerian Law School to the Nigerian legal profession. The Body of Benchers also issues a ‘Certificate of Call to the Bar’ which qualifies a person to be enrolled at the Supreme Court of Nigeria as a barrister and solicitor.

Admissions and Entry Requirements

Applications for admission into the Nigerian Law School commence in June/July of each year and entries are closed in August. The bar programme which is known as Bar Part 1 starts off in October and runs through to August of the following year. Law graduates can apply online.

Bar Part 1

Foreign trained graduates, who have obtained their LL.B Degree from universities outside Nigeria, are required to undergo the Bar Part 1 programme, which is designed to introduce the general principles of Nigerian Law to the foreign trained students. The Nigerian Law School only admits those holding a law degree from foreign universities approved by the Council of Legal Education. Only foreign universities in common law countries or teaching common law courses are approved by the Council. Furthermore, the Bar Part 1 programme is also open to students who passed the English Bar finals or the Legal Practice Course in England & Wales.

Foreign graduates are required to provide evidence in the form of an academic transcript to prove they studied the following core law courses at undergraduate level: law of contract; law of tort; constitutional law; criminal law; land law; equity and trusts; law of evidence; and commercial law.

The Bar Part 1 programme lasts for a period of six months, within which time students are required to study and pass the following subjects in the Bar Part 1 examination: (a) Nigerian Legal System, (b) Nigerian Land Law, (c) Nigerian Constitutional Law, (d) Nigerian Criminal Law. Application for admission into the Bar Part 1 course commences in April and ends in May each year. The Bar Part 1 programme begins in June at the Nigerian Law School Headquarters in Abuja. Students can apply online.

Bar Part 2

Upon the successful completion of the Bar Part 1 programme and exams, foreign graduates proceed to the Bar Part 2 programme. Graduates from universities in Nigeria are exempt from the Bar Part 1 programme because they have studied the foundation of Nigerian law at a university undergraduate level. Graduates from common law jurisdictions who have taught law for a minimum of five years in a Nigerian Faculty of Law are exempt from the Bar Part 1 programme. Also, graduates from non-common law jurisdiction that have taught law in any Nigerian Faculty of Law for not less than ten years are exempt from the Bar Part 1 Course.

At the Bar Part 2 programme, students undergo intensive training to equip them with the relevant knowledge and skills to effectively practice law in Nigeria. They study the following compulsory courses: criminal litigation; civil litigation; corporate law; property law; and law in practise. The Nigerian Law School runs an integrated curriculum that helps students develop knowledge, skills and ethics for the profession. The knowledge-based studies are comprised of 20 weeks of lectures wherein students are trained in the abovementioned courses. The skill-based studies include moot/mock trials and 10 weeks of court and law firm placements wherein students experience the law in practice. Lectures are delivered through interactive workshops in the form of discussions, simulation clinics and activities, role play, problem solving exercises, quizzes and tests etc. The Nigerian Law School’s curriculum and teaching method was revised in 2008 to adopt a new system which integrated the acquisition of the knowledge of the law, legal practice skills and professional ethics. The newly-adopted system of teaching and learning transformed the vocational training process and boosted students’ performance at the Bar finals examination. In the year of its launch in 2008, there was a dramatic shift from a usual range of 55-65 per cent passes in the Bar examinations, to a pass mark of 82 per cent with the quality grades of upper second (2.1) and lower second (2.2) much more predominant than before. (Facts and figures obtained from a paper delivered by the Director-General of the Nigerian Law School; Dr Tahir Mamman at a business luncheon on 19 November 2009). The Nigerian Law School’s curriculum and teaching method was revised in 2008 to adopt a new system which integrated the acquisition of the knowledge of the law, legal practice skills and professional ethics. The newly-adopted system of teaching and learning transformed the vocational training process and boosted students’ performance at the Bar finals examination. In the year of its launch in 2008, there was a dramatic shift from a usual range of 55-65 per cent passes in the Bar examinations, to a pass mark of 82 per cent with the quality grades of upper second (2.1) and lower second (2.2) much more predominant than before. (Facts and figures obtained from a paper delivered by the Director-General of the Nigerian Law School; Dr Tahir Mamman at a business luncheon on 19 November 2009).

In addition to academic learning, students undergo training on the ethics and traditions of the legal profession, such as comportment and dressing, and other non-academic rules that they must abide by as members of the Nigerian legal profession. They must also attend three formal law dinners; two in the course of the Bar Part 2 programme and one after the Call to Bar Ceremony. Students are prohibited from advising clients or appearing in court proceedings prior to being called to the Nigerian bar.
 

Qualifying Examination (Bar Finals Exams)

All Bar Part 2 students must write the Bar finals examinations in August of each year. The exams are assessments based on all the courses studied and training undergone at the law school. Students who are successful at the Bar finals examination receive a qualifying certificate from the Nigerian Law School which they must present to the Body of Benchers in order to be called to the Nigerian Bar and issued a ‘Certificate of Call to the Bar’.

Call to the Bar Ceremony

The call to the Nigerian Bar refers to the formal admission of persons to the legal profession by the Body of Benchers. Section 4 of the Legal Practitioners Act provides that anybody (either a citizen of Nigeria or a non-citizen) shall be entitled to be called to the Nigerian Bar if he  (The legal profession in Nigeria refers to legal practitioners irrespective of gender as ‘gentlemen’, thus there are no ladies at the Nigerian Bar) produces a qualifying certificate from the Nigerian Law School to the Body of Benchers, and he satisfies the Benchers that he is of good character. The Body of Benchers issues a Certificate of Call to the Bar to all students called to the bar in each year. The Call to the Bar ceremony takes place every year in November at the Nigerian Law School Headquarters in Abuja.

Enrolment of Legal Practitioners

Section 2(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act stipulates that a person shall be entitled to practice as a barrister and solicitor in Nigeria if his name is on the Roll of Legal Practitioners maintained by the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Section 7 (1) of the same Act states further that a person shall be entitled to have his name placed on the Roll of Legal Practitioners if, and only if, he has been called to the Nigerian Bar by the Body of Benchers, and he produces a Certificate of Call to the Bar to the Chief Registrar. 

Right of Audience

A Right of Audience is granted to legal practitioners in all Courts of Law in Nigeria by virtue of section 8 of the Legal Practitioners Act. Legal practitioners in Nigeria are required to be fully robed in wig and gown in order to made court room appearances before a judge. All legal practitioners are required to pay an annual practicing fee which varies according a person’s age at the Bar. Non-payment of practicing fee is a ground for denial of right of audience in the courts of law.

REQUALIFICATION

Foreign qualified lawyers wishing to re-qualify to practice law in Nigeria must successfully complete the six months Bar Part 1 course and the one year Bar Part 2 course at the Nigeria Law School. The laws in Nigeria limit eligibility for requalification to holders of qualifications from common law jurisdictions. Thus foreign nationals from Civil Law Jurisdictions or the European Union cannot re-qualify to practice law in Nigeria.

Upon successful completion of the professional training offered by the Nigerian Law School, foreign qualified lawyers are entitled by Section 4 of the Legal Practitioners Act to be formally called to the Nigerian bar and issued a certificate of Call to the Bar authorising them to practice law in Nigeria.

Section 2 (2) of the Legal Practitioners Act allows any person who is entitled to practise law in any country whose legal system is similar to that of Nigeria to make an application to the Chief Justice of Nigeria for the issuance of a warrant to practice as a barrister in Nigeria for the purpose of proceedings described in the application. The Chief Justice shall consider the application and determine whether it is expedient to permit such a person to practice as a barrister for the purpose of such proceedings. When the application is granted, the Chief Justice may issue a warrant under his hand authorising that person to practice as a barrister for the purpose of those proceedings and of any appeal in connection with those proceedings. The person issued a warrant to practice is required to pay some statutory fees to the Registrar of the Supreme Court.

Although Nigeria is a member of the WTO and ECOWAS and is engaged in other bilateral and multilateral treaty arrangements with other countries, it has made no commitments to liberalise the legal service sector, hence currently, no special treaties exist in respect of legal services with other legal jurisdiction.
 

Useful links

Nigerian Law School: http://mynlsp.com/

Nigerian Bar Association: http://www.nba.org.ng/web/

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Written by Chinwendu Okoroma

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