People spending hours revising and probably praying not to fail.
People trying to memorize statutes, cases, journal articles and other
primary/secondary legal resources in order to get the best grades on an assessment.
The question remains whether such a method is the most effective or relevant in
determining a law student’s capabilities.

This post stems from an observation made in relation to the
University of York Law School. As part of its curriculum, it adopts the Problem
Based Learning (PBL) method of teaching where law students work on a problem as
a group and come for discussions led by a tutor. There have also been
suggestions that the examination systems could be abandoned in the near future
depending on the willingness of the board of education to subscribe to reform
proposals raised by the University. This raises certain questions as to whether
the examination system is still of great relevance in the legal curriculum. I
am examining this issue with respect to professional legal education and in
particular, the Legal Practice Course. The law school curriculum is divided
into five main courses: Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation, Land Law, Legal
skills and Legal Drafting. At the end of the course, examinations are
undertaken in all courses. There are certain issues with respect to the current
mode of examination that suggest the system is in need of reform:

1.      Examinations
to a large extent operate as a test of memory. They test how much information
is in the head of the individual. Apply this to the litigation courses for
example: The litigation process entails advocacy (including witness
examinations), drafting of pleadings (which includes legal research and
writing) and oral submissions in the courtroom. Aside from the brief oral
submissions made in court during opening and closing arguments, there is very
little need to regurgitate information recorded in human memory under pressure.
A great deal of the information tested in the exam hall is always available and
there is little need to commit it to memory.

2.      Examinations
test the ability to produce under pressure. Apply this to the reality of
litigation: actions are filed, time is given to parties to respond
appropriately. Time is given to prepare statements and arguments. The
examination questions are not known until the day of the examinations. The
pressure in the courtroom is different from the pressure faced in the exam

3.      Examinations
in the manner currently conducted give less opportunity for developing logical
and methodical approach, considering the limited time available to consider an
approach. The litigation process stretches over a period of time, giving
counsel the opportunity to think, adopt strategies and review adopted
strategies. This is not available in the current examination setting.

4.      Examinations
do not assess the ability to communicate ideas in alternative manners.
Examinations conducted under the Nigerian Law School training course are purely
written. Litigation involves both written and oral communication. The focus of
the Law Training Courses on the written aspect of litigation is well-known.
Aside from moot courts and interactive tutorials, there is little by way of
specific measures targeted at enhancing and assessing the capability of the
prospective litigation lawyer to communicate ideas orally.

are we now trying to say? Should examinations be dispensed with? Not at all.
Should the examination system for postgraduate law practice qualification
courses be reformed? Absolutely. The aim of the Nigerian Law School is to equip
lawyers for a career in law practice/teaching. Thus, the assessment system
should be developed in accordance with the requirements of law
practice/teaching. A litigation examination for example should in my view have
both written and oral segments which should be evaluated equally.

there is no reason why assessed exams should be reserved for a specific day.
The entire programme should be divided into periodic assessments with measures
put in place to systematically examine and develop the skills of the student in
relation to those things that are relevant for litigation. Thus, the overall
grade of the student is determined by the sum of the different assessments.
Analytical reasoning, critical thinking, inquisitorial capacity and concise
expression of ideas are skills normally required for being an excellent
litigation lawyer. These skills are developed systematically over a period of
time and even the most comprehensive and well-rounded legal training course is
insufficient to enhance these abilities in the manner required for a successful
litigation career. Where assessments are undertaken, credit and grading should
be determined in the context of the student’s development over the period of the
course. There are several reasons why a brilliant litigation lawyer may not be
able to perform well in the final examination. However, developing a
skills-centred curriculum and reforming the mode of assessment to suit the
enhancement of these skills will in my view improve the quality of litigation
education at the foundational level and ensure that prospective litigation
lawyers are set in good stead to rebrand the system.

Fifehan Ogunde

Ogunde is an research specialist and consultant with research interests in
human rights law, criminal law and constitutional law. He has a Master’s degree
in Human Rights Law from the University of Nottingham and a Bachelor’s degree
from the University of Sheffield. He is also a barrister and solicitor of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria, having been called to the Nigerian Bar in February