This article centres on the organization of the legal profession in the Nigerian legal system. It also examines the step-by-step process to become a lawyer in Nigeria and the career entitlements which one enjoys on attainment of the position of a legal practitioner.
The legal profession is a very noble and honourable one and involves persons who engage in the business of interpreting the law and administering justice. As such, the major aim of a student who is studying law is to become a lawyer. Not only to become a lawyer, but to also enjoy the entitlements that come with it.
NATURE OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION
There are two branches of the legal profession — barrister and solicitors/conveyancers. We will examine the two branches briefly.
- BARRISTER: A barrister is one who argues a case in court on behalf of either party to a suit. He is also called an advocate.
- SOLICITOR: A solicitor is a legal practitioner who does non-litigatious work. He engages in drawing up conveyances, contracts, will, administration of estates, trusts and advising clients. He is the general legal adviser to the citizens. A conveyancer is one whose business is that of drawing deeds, leases or other writings for transferring the title to property.
It is pertinent to note that in Nigeria, the two branches of the legal profession are fused. Every lawyer who has been enrolled in the roll of Legal Practitioners kept by the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court can practise both as a barrister and solicitor in any court of law in Nigeria. This is different from what obtains in the United Kingdom where a legal practitioner can only practise as either a solicitor or a barrister.
WHO IS A LEGAL PRACTITIONER?
S. 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act defines a legal practitioner as “a person entitled in accordance with the provisions of this Act to practise as a barrister or as a barrister and solicitor, either generally or for purposes of any particular office or proceedings”. A legal practitioner could also be called a lawyer or attorney. He must fulfill some requirements before he becomes eligible to practice as one.
HOW TO BECOME A LAWYER
- Firstly, a person who is on the path to become eligible to practise as a legal practitioner must have obtained a law degree from a recognized university after undergoing the relevant educational process and training.
- Secondly, he must also have been called to the bar and must produce a certificate of his call to bar to the Chief Registrar of the Supreme court. Not only that, a person who is to practise as a legal practitioner must have his name on the roll of Legal Practitioners kept by the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court.
- Furthermore, an individual desiring to become a legal practitioner in Nigeria shall produce to the Body of Benchers, responsible for formal call to bar of persons seeking to become legal practitioners, qualifying certificates and as well satisfy the Body of Benchers that he or she is of good character. The qualifying certificate includes a law degree from a recognized university and the completion of the practical training course at the Nigerian law school.
- The character of a prospective legal practitioner is of utmost importance. Law is a noble and honourable profession that has no place for persons with doubtful character. Before admission, a prospective lawyer must obtain letters from two members of the Body of Benchers certifying that he is a fit and proper person to be admitted into the profession.
- After enrollment in the roll of legal Practitioners of the Supreme Court, a lawyer pays his practising fees. Subsequently, he maintains his name in the roll by paying his annual fees not later than 31st March annually.
ENTITLEMENTS/PRIVILEGES ACCRUABLE TO A LAWYER
By entitlement, we mean what lawyers or legal practitioners have right to by virtue of their profession. Some of these entitlements are conferred by virtue of legislation or convention. Some others are vested automatically upon qualifying as a legal practitioner. For some other rights and entitlements, they may come by attainment of certain number of years or experience in the profession.
In the first place, it is only legal practitioners that have the right to represent litigants in any judicial proceedings in all courts of law sitting in Nigeria. However, a legal practitioner can only represent a litigant in court provided he has met some requirements which includes that he has paid his practising fees, that he is properly dressed, among other things. By virtue of S. 22(1) Legal Practitioners Act, impersonating as a legal practitioner is an offence and is punishable with a fine and two-year imprisonment or both.
Also, provisions are extant which give legal practitioners the entitlement to prepare documents relating to proceedings court. The right to prepare any conveyancing instrument or land document is exclusively reserved to legal practitioners. Similarly, pursuant to S. 22(1) (d) & (4) Legal Practitioners Act, only legal practitioners have the exclusive right to prepare legal documents relating to probate or letters of administration.
Another privilege enjoyed by legal practitioners is that legal practitioners are needed in the registration of a company. The Corporate Affairs Commission would not register a company or business name where the persons forming it do not have and present certificates showing that they are represented by a legal practitioner. Section 40 of the Company & Allied Matters Act expressly states that a legal practitioner must statutorily declare in the prescribed form that all the requirements of the Act have been complied with before the documents can be accepted for registration.
Furthermore, only legal practitioners can be appointed as judges of superior courts of record. However this subject to attaining the prescribed number of years of post call or experience at the bar. For instance, by the provisions of Sections 231(3) and 238(3) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended), a person shall not be qualified to hold the office of a Justice of the Supreme Court and Justice of the Court of Appeal unless he is qualified to practise as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and have been so qualified for a period not less than fifteen and twelve years respectively.
Appointment to the position of Attorney General of the Federation requires a person who is a legal practitioner. Section 150 & 195 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria is to the effect that only a legal practitioners with an experience of ten years at the bar is qualified to be appointed as Attorney General of the Federation and Attorney General of the State respectively.
Finally, only legal practitioners can be appointed as legal advisers/Board secretaries of government agencies and corporations.
Finally, having had a broad knowledge on how to become a lawyer and what the legal profession is all about, a prospective law student is all the more encouraged to study law as it is a passage that grants one qualification to being a legal practitioner and as such guarantees one the entitlements/privileges as that which is in the profession.
- Company and Allied Matters Act 2020
- Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(as amended)
- Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009
- Land Instrument Registration Law 1959
- Legal Practitioners Act Cap L11, LFN 2004
- Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, ‘Conveyancer’ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conveyancer Accessed 19 April 2021
- Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency Act 2007
- Ogbu, N. Modern Nigerian Legal System (3rd Edn, Snaap Press Ltd 2013)
- Rules of Professional Conduct
- Udeh, K. Legal Profession in Nigeria [lecture material, 2021]