27. Young lawyers who succeed without pupillage and those who fail in spite of it do so for the same reasons: the will to succeed or the lack of it. Those who have such will and also undergo pupillage become much more successful. Those who lack it will be unable to take advantage of the benefits of pupillage and when they eventually become independent, the signs of a successful pupillage will be lacking.
28. Strictly speaking, the pupillage that I envisage is not just apprenticeship but also discipleship. That is why I have recommended that the law firms that will be qualified to engage pupil-counsel must be selected by the Nigerian Bar Association. It cannot be open to all. Similarly, the process of pupillage cannot also be open to all
lawyers called to Bar. There are many lawyers today who although called to Bar, do not intend to practise law. It is the aptitude test that will weed away such lawyers and help them concentrate on what they really want to do notwithstanding their law degree.
29. I am not a Darwinian but I believe that the time has come if we are to enhance the capacity of the young lawyer in Nigeria not just to do it by pupillage as I have defined it but also to insist on the survival of the fittest. This is what a very wise Nigerian lawyer had to say about the qualification for becoming a Judge of the High Court in Nigeria:
“If we had our way, we would insist that no one without a good knowledge of Mathematics, or Logic and Methodology, and Psychology, in addition to his professional qualifications, should be elevated to the Bench. The rigorous mental drill which these disciplines enforce; the tidiness of mind and precision in thought and presentation which the study of Mathematics, Logic and Methodology inculcates; the dependable tools for the investigation, analysis and interpretation of facts which Logic and Methodology provide; and the breadth of outlook and a deep comprehension of ‘the complex of human passion’ which psychology imparts – all these, among other things are sine qua non of any healthy trial or adjudication of disputes.”
30. There is no doubt that we all as lawyers believe and admit that if our Judges must have these qualities, so also must our lawyers possess them. Every lawyer requires the tidiness of mind, precision in thought and presentation and a deep comprehension of the complex of human passion. These are not the requirements that a dropout can possess but it is the tragic reality of today’s legal profession that the study of Law is gradually becoming the escape route for the Mathematics and Science dropouts.
31. I make bold to say that the legal profession cannot be the safe haven for those rejected in other professions as it is increasingly becoming now. Candidates who find Mathematics difficult to understand or detest the Sciences simply think that the study of Law is the next best alternative. Our wise leaders think otherwise. A few examples will suffice. The revered Justice Andrews Obaseki, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and an eminent jurist first successfully completed a degree course in Agriculture before becoming a lawyer. Another eminent jurist, C. A. Oputa also a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, also successfully completed a first degree in Biology before reading Law. Aguda and F.R.A. Williams, established names in the legal profession, excelled in the Sciences but opted to read Law.
32. I do not intend to raise another debate as to whether it is necessary to make a first degree compulsory for admission into the Law Faculty. However, I believe the time has come for us to insist on an aptitude test for all those who intend to enter into pupillage and to open appointments as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, a Judge of the High Court or a Bencher to only those who have undergone such pupillage and have shown aptitude as recommended by that wise lawyer. If we are to enhance capacity building, there must first exist the capability for capacity building.
33. It appears we are unable to control entry requirements for admission into the law faculties in Nigeria which has now been reduced to a ridiculously low level. Law is now offered in more than twenty universities in Nigeria including a university specialising in Science and Technology. If we have no control over the entry requirement into the law faculty, we can have control over the entry requirement into the profession proper.
34. That is why pupillage offers the best if not the only opportunity for this to be done. Continuing legal education, mentoring, licensing and other methods of enhancing capacity building being presently developed by the NBA are ineffective without pupillage. It is necessary to first set in order the beginning of the young lawyer’s career before determining how the career can be shaped. When one embarks on a journey and he faces the wrong direction, he will never arrive at his destination no matter how efficient the conduct of the journey may be.
The Structure of Pupillage
35. It is necessary for me to outline the essential ingredients of the pupillage that I envisage for enhancing capacity building in the young lawyer. The first and most important is that such young lawyer must be focused on making a career in Law. Whatever might have been the reason for studying Law, he must now become single-minded and determined to pursue a career of Law and no more. Every literature read, hobby pursued, thought generated and association made must have as its main focus the goal of making that young lawyer an excellent one.
36. One of the problems that the young lawyer faces in Nigeria is the huge demand from those who expect a quick return immediately after graduation. They may be either parents or dependants who believe that the huge investment on the education of the young lawyer must yield instant reward. This is aside from the personal needs of the young lawyer particularly for basic amenities like a good accommodation, a car and a reasonable disposable amount in the bank account to guarantee comfortable standard of living.
37. That is why I have recommended that the apprenticeship in pupillage must be a PAID one. How do we determine a reasonable pay? The standard “entry salary” in many developed jurisdictions today is about $2000. In Nigeria, I recommend a starting salary of about N100,000 per month for a young lawyer based in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Warri and Abuja which are presently the four most expensive cities. In all other jurisdictions, it should not be less than N60,000. I have not come to these figures arbitrarily.
38. I believe that a young lawyer just graduating from the Law School now falls in the bracket of 22 – 25 years. A salary of N100,000 gives a total of N1.2 million out of which a decent flat of N400,000 per annum and living expenses of another N400,000 leaves him with N400,000 to invest in personal assets like furnishings and car.
39. I strongly support that we take care of our parents and dependants but as the saying goes in the airplane, if there is a sudden loss of pressure in the cabin, you must first wear your own oxygen mask before helping others. I am of the opinion that a very bright junior can double this pay in the first two or three years. However, if the young lawyer’s expenses are more than these, he can only have himself to blame.
40. The next requirement is the desire for continuing education both in law and also in other areas particularly the Arts and Humanities. This comes out of self-motivation and initiative. A young lawyer who lacks initiative and self-motivation has already made pupillage very difficult. These are innate qualities that have to be possessed by those who want to make the Law a career. When a young lawyer is armed with these qualities, he will be result-oriented and will have the ability to continue to develop himself until he becomes an excellent lawyer. That is why no lawyer in pupillage must see himself as an employee.
41. The desire of the employee is only for the bottom line and not for self-development. Many young lawyers have had what would have been an otherwise excellent career truncated by constant job changes in the search for increase in wages. In an apprenticeship, the aim is not wages but competence with the assurance that as competence increases, the capacity for increase in wages is enhanced. One of the things that I look for in employing young lawyers is career stability. It is very likely that a lawyer who has changed jobs four times in three years would eventually have a stultified legal career.
42. The next requirement for a successful pupillage is rainmaking. The young lawyer must immediately understand that it is the clients’ fees that sustains and improves a law firm. Every lawyer thrives on the ability to deliver qualitative service and charge appropriately for it. The young lawyer must understand that the best form of marketing is referrals from satisfied clients. Therefore, every single brief must be handled as the source of another brief.
43. The young lawyer must demonstrate professional competence doing all that is necessary to protect his client’s interest without compromising on professional integrity. The way to achieve this is to put one’s self in the position of the client without necessarily becoming the client. The requirement of an independent and dispassionate view must be kept at all times. There must be no undercharging or overcharging the client.
44. All these techniques are learnt from choosing the right pupil master. The young lawyer must have his own focus of how he intends to build his practice. He would now carefully search for a principal that has these qualities that he wants to emulate. That is why it is necessary to be a member of a local Bar where one can get details of such firms and then determine where to go.
45. The last requirement is cultivating the legal language. Language is an essential tool for reasoning. Poor language begets poor reasoning. It is important that the young lawyer cultivates appropriate legal language as this is the only way that his professional competence will be outwardly measured. When the young lawyer begins to master legal language, he develops an ability to communicate with the client and simplify complex procedures. Competence is best determined by an ability to simplify what would have otherwise been a puzzle.
46. It must be the aim of every young lawyer to continue developing his understanding of English Language which still remains the language of legal practice in Nigeria. Aside from this, the young lawyer must develop skills in critical thinking in order to sharpen his mind and become more analytical in his reasoning. As language enhances reasoning, so also does reasoning help language. Both are interdependent.
47. To sum up, I believe that the time has come for us to separate the wheat from the chaff in the legal profession. This is by looking for ways and means of confining legal practice to those who have the drive and zeal for it. Those who lack such zeal will still be legal practitioners but not lawyers in practice. I recommend pupillage as I have tried to define and explain it in this paper as the best way to achieve it.
48. There are many points of controversy in the legal profession today. Are we over-producing lawyers? And is the declining quality the result of such over-production? Should we fix the maximum number of lawyers that can be called to Bar in any year as South Korea has done? Should the possession of a first degree be an entry requirement into the law faculty? Should the establishment of an independent legal practice immediately upon being called to Bar be prohibited? Should the entry requirements for admission into the law faculty, even if it will not be a first degree be improved upon by insisting on credits in Mathematics and a Science subject? These and more are the current debates going on.
49. I do not think we should tie ourselves down to all these. A properly structured and well-organised pupillage is likely to solve all these problems. It will sift away those who should not have gone to the law school. It will help give focus to those who are left. The only urgent question is how we can secure the future of the legal profession with those who have already qualified. When those who have already qualified are properly sifted, those who are aspiring to be lawyers will take the hint.
50. I have deliberately avoided the thorny issue of the declining quality of our young lawyer upon graduating from the university which some believe is attributable to examination malpractices in our secondary schools and universities. It is the popular view that as a result of the erosion of academic strata between the lecturer and the student which has led to undue familiarity, the gradings in these educational institutions are now suspect. This controversy need not be examined too seriously having regard to the solution that I am proffering. Since it is beyond debate that the entry requirements into our law faculties have become abysmally unacceptable, it is to be expected that unscrupulous students and lecturers may compound the bad situation by colluding to fabricate false grades and results. The NBA has very little control over JAMB and the university. However, we can determine what happens after the law school. Pupillage is a veritable tool in exposing examination cheats and fraudulent results. It is the weapon that we should constantly sharpen in our determined desire to sift the lilies from the thorns. That is why I recommend pupillage as the plank of enhancing capacity building in the young lawyer. If well developed and coordinated, it will signal the return to the acceptable standards set by the founding fathers of the Nigerian legal profession. We must ensure that the labours of our heroes past must not be in vain.