It is a pleasure to be in Makurdi for the NBA Makurdi Branch 2018 Law week. I am here to give a lecture on “The Place of Pupilage and Mentorship in the Future of Legal Practice in Nigeria”
Pupillage generally connotes the concept of understudying or working under another with a view to better one’s knowledge, understanding and grasp of a skill or profession.
Pupilage, in law, entails continuing legal education coupled with work experience. It is a period of practical training where fresh law graduands work, for a specified period, under the watch of an experienced lawyer. It seeks to develop vocational skills and deepen the pupil’s understanding of various practice areas.
Mentorship provides a platform for lawyers to look at senior members of the Bar to guide them, and from whose pattern of practice they would learn and expand. It creates a voluntary relationship which can be mutually beneficial for professional growth, career development and fulfillment.
Pupilage and Mentorship in the way it is defined currently has no laid down framework in Nigeria. There is, however, a general consensus that where it is properly adopted, it would, no doubt, increase the quality of lawyers in the legal practice as they would have gained sufficient work experience from tutorship.
The whole essence of the advocacy for mentorship and pupillage revolve around the under-listed, and non-exhaustive benefits thereof:
Ø Organized work experience and exposure; Ø Deepening of ethics and rules of the legal profession for the young lawyer;
Ø Guide from mentors with established practice;
Ø Guide on translating and applying learned theoretical concepts to real life situations;
Ø Provision of a framework or platform for mandatory practical continuing legal education; and
Ø Ultimately, improved standard and quality of lawyers in Legal Practice. Current clamor for pupilage and mentorship is anchored on fallen standards of practice as well as on the need for economic well-being of junior lawyers. Some contemplate medical houseman-ship program with legal pupilage.
The United Kingdom has one of the most organized pupilage system for training of lawyers in the world. In the UK, the role of the Barrister is clearly distinguished from the role of a Solicitor.
Pupilage in the United Kingdom, is the final stage of training to become a Barrister, and it usually last for a period of one year, split into two different stages – 6 months of non-practicing period, and 6 months of practicing period. During the first stage, the pupil shadows a supervisor senior, observing him at court, conferences, meetings and provides assistance with related paper works. The next stage – the practicing period – sees the pupil undertaking practical legal assignments, including exercise of right of audience in Courts. At the end of the first stage, the pupil receives a Provisional Qualifying Certificate from the Bar Standard Board, and on completion of the pupillage program, the pupil would receive a Full Qualifying Certificate as a Barrister.
Remuneration of the pupil during the Pupilage is also well taken care of as the Bar Council stipulates a minimum wage of £1,000 per month.
The Nigeria legal practice currently has no legal framework or guideline for pupilage or mentorship of young lawyers. At present, a person called to the Nigerian Bar can decide to open up his own legal practice with little or no experience. The closest to pupillage under Nigeria legal practice is the Externship programme of the Nigerian Law school, which is for a period of 6 weeks, which is not long enough to instill the needed skills into young lawyers.
There is, however, a Legal Profession Regulation Bill currently before the National Assembly. The Bill seeks to introduce a framework and regulation for mandatory pupilage in Nigeria. Section 86 (1) of the Draft Bill makes it mandatory for every person called to the Nigerian Bar to undergo pupilage for a minimum period of two (2) years in the office of an experienced legal practitioner.
The Bill establishes a Remuneration and Welfare Committee whose responsibility among others is to determine the remuneration for lawyers. This provision of the Bill is in apparent heed to the outcry around the welfare and remuneration of such young lawyers. We note however, that the Bill is silent on what the minimum remuneration package should be, particularly, for the young lawyers undergoing pupillage.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSION ON PUPILLAGE
We should determine whether it should be part of the qualification process or post-qualification experience. Compare with UK and SA and also with medical houseman-ship. There is a need to have defined Institutional and Regulatory framework for pupilage and mentorship. Who regulates it? Council for Legal Education? Body of Benchers? Nigerian Law School? NBA?
In other climes, pupilage is for Barristers. But then, in those climes, there is a clear divide between Barristers and Solicitors. Need to decide what we need. Note: mentorship is different from pupilage.
Standards need to be monitored and looked into generally to ensure that they are maintained. Pupils need to be taught the right standards and practices and that means there must be minimum standards that Law Firms must have to qualify as mentoring centers.
Current clamor tends to confuse pupilage for training purposes as distinct from pupilage as a way of ameliorating economic circumstances of young lawyers. Pupilage in other climes are primarily for training purposes and that should be our emphasis.
Mentorship is not part of a training or qualifying program. It’s generally voluntary and has no set tenure or timeframe.
Mentor may not have any economic benefits howsoever, unlike pupilage where the pupil must work and would be adjudged based on Work Products.
Onus is therefore more on mentee to seek out mentors. Ø Mentorship program may not be formal or structured.
In adopting Pupilage and Mentorship programmes in Nigeria Legal practice, the following are recommended:
• Borrowing a leaf from other jurisdictions, particularly the United Kingdom, in setting up a framework for pupilage, we must take into cognizance our own local circumstances – adequate remuneration for lawyers undergoing pupilage must form a key consideration for such practice.
• In addition, there should also be an associated mandatory obligation for established legal practitioners to take in, and adequately remunerate a prescribed minimum of mentee young lawyers every year. Conclusively, Pupilage and Mentorship is not only necessary but absolutely essential for the professional growth of lawyers, in particular, and the enhancement of quality legal practice in Nigeria, in general.