Law practice initially was reserved for the elite who could sometimes easily dispense with the legal fees of their clients. Times have changed; the same is not so in the 21st century. The legal profession is now an all-comers affair with a countless common man struggling to gain entry into the hallowed halls of the profession to earn a living. Presently, some people argue that there are too many lawyers already in Nigeria and so the profession is no longer lucrative while others say we do not have enough lawyers; we need more. This paper seeks to examine whether the legal profession in Nigeria has already been saturated and if not, what prospects have the vocation for new entrants. In conducting this research, the author has carried out a jurisprudential analysis with the help of statutory enactments and case laws. The paper finds that the Nigerian legal market is still big enough to accommodate the upcoming young lawyers who can embrace less developed areas of laws such as telecom laws, cybercrime law, ADR, intellectual property, ICT and online legal market etc. The paper concludes that the 21st-century lawyers and law students in Nigeria have bright or better future than ever before as their strength lies in their knowledge of the ICT as a practice tool which places them above older lawyers in the global market.
Keywords: Legal Profession, 21st-century Lawyers and Law Students, Legal Education, Prospects, Nigeria.
In our 21st century, the world has undergone revolution in all spheres, including the legal profession and the role of lawyers in society. Therefore, 21st-century lawyers in Nigeria must positively adapt themselves to the reality imposed by their environment and modernity. It must be understood also that legal practice is now globalised and the market expanded, and as such, a lawyer must be well trained for competition and relevance in the global market place. It is common knowledge that the legal profession in Nigeria owes its origin to the English legal system that was introduced in the second half of the 19th century. The first Nigerian to qualify and enroll as a lawyer was Mr Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams, who was sworn in on 30th January 1888. Sir Olumuyiwa Jibowu, who was enrolled on 9th August 1923 and appointed a judge on 14th November 1938 was the first indigenous judge in Nigeria. He was also the first Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria. From the foregoing, it is clear that the history of the legal profession in Nigeria is relatively young. However, there is a perception fast gaining ground both among the learned and unlearned, that there is a glut of lawyers in Nigeria. That is to say that there are too many lawyers already in the Nigerian legal market and so the profession is no longer lucrative. They argue that there are several lawyers walking the streets and hanging around the court’s premises, looking for charge and bail client and that they are not too inspiring in their physical appearances thus giving the impression that all is not well these days with the profession, especially for new wigs. Furthermore, in recent times and as one legal year rolls into another, many conversations among lawyers centre on young lawyers and their welfare. At the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) elections, many of the candidates seem to be making the issue of welfare of the young lawyers a central focus of their campaign. Therefore, it is logical in the light of this perception for any lawyer or law student to ask whether the profession he aspires to still has any prospects for him or her, which is the concern of this paper.
The General Role of a Lawyer in the Society
The Legal Practitioner’s Act defines a Legal Practitioner as a person entitled in accordance with the provisions of this Act to practice as a barrister or solicitor either generally or for the purpose of any particular office or proceeding. Therefore, a Legal Practitioner in Nigeria is a person qualified to practise as a barrister and solicitor. It must be understood that the definition of a legal practitioner in section 24 of the LPA, 2007 excludes the definition of a Lawyer. The question that begs for an answer is: who is a lawyer? The simple answer is that a lawyer is a person who has undergone some form of training or has acquired some specialized skills and is qualified to give legal advice to people in legal matters and represent them in courts of law and in other forms of dispute settlement. In the United States of America’s jurisprudence, a distinction is drawn between a lawyer and an attorney; when the two terms are used in terms of their legal knowledge, they are synonymous. The authors of Words and Phrases define a lawyer as one skilled in the law while an attorney is an officer in a court of justice who is employed by a party in a case to manage it for him. A law student fresh from his school and not a licensed officer of the court may well be termed a lawyer but not an attorney. In England, there is a marked distinction between a barrister and a solicitor. A lawyer can only practise either as a Barrister or a Solicitor. In Nigeria, the Legal Practitioners Act , as earlier pointed out, has no distinction between a barrister and solicitor. Lawyers qualify both as Barristers and Solicitors and therefore have the option to render legal services in those capacities. Accordingly, lawyers as legal practitioners may serve as judges, magistrates, solicitors, teachers, directors or secretaries of companies, civil servants, advisers to institutions, consultants, publishers, researchers, and so on. The roles of lawyers in Nigeria and other jurisdictions may also include: oral arguments in court, research and drafting court papers, practice before administrative courts, client intake and counselling (with regard to pending litigation), legal advice with regard to all legal matters protecting intellectual property, negotiating and drafting contracts, conveyancing, carrying out the intent of the deceased, pro bono or legal aid services, prosecution of criminal suspects, arbitration and mediation, adjudicators in courts and tribunals. Section 1 of the Rule of Professional Conduct (RPC) further highlights the general responsibility of a lawyer to the society thus: a lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner.
Public Perception of Lawyers
Public perception of the lawyer in the society has been captioned by eminent political figures and acknowledged Professors of law, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, former Ghanaian President at the opening of the Accra Conference on Legal Education at the Ghana Law School on January 4, 1962, put the position in these words:
“In a developing country, the first priority is not for lawyers trained to conduct litigation between wealthy individuals … The lawyers needed in a developing state are, in the first place, those trained to assist the ordinary men and women in their everyday legal problems and particularly in the new problems likely to arise through industrialization … Secondly, and perhaps most important of all, we need lawyers in the service of the state, to deal with treaties and commercial agreements and with questions of private and public international law…”.
Similarly, President Kaunda, in describing the roles of a lawyer, said:
“The lawyer in a developing society must be something more than a practising professional man; he must be more even than a champion of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. He must be, in the fullest sense, a part of the society in which he lives, and he must understand that society if he is to be able to participate in its development and the advancement of the economic and social well-being of its members. The lawyer must go out beyond the narrow limits of the law, because … while the law is the instrument through which society is preserved, in its shape and character, it is the reflection of the society”.
Also, His Lordship Hon. Justice Orojo, the former Chief Judge of Oyo State explained the roles of a lawyer when he observed as follows:
“The Nigerian legal practitioner (as in other developing countries) bears a much heavier responsibility to the society than his counterparts in a highly developed country … Nigerian legal practitioners must be able not only to perform their traditional functions of catering for the professional needs of the citizens, of administering justice and manning the various legal institutions, but they must also be involved in social change: they must be committed to law reform to ensure harmonization of the law with the culture of the people, and they must strive to ensure strict adherence to the rule of law”.
The court of Appeal per Onalaja, J.C.A. (as he then was) in the case of Free Enterprise Nigeria Limited vs. Global Transport Ocean & Ors following the principle enunciated in the English case of Rondel v. Worsely stated thus:
“As an advocate, he is a minister of justice equally with the judge. He has a monopoly of an audience in the higher courts. No one, save he, can address the Judge unless it is a litigant in person … he owes allegiance to a higher cause. It is the cause of truth and justice. He must not consciously misstate the facts. He must not knowingly conceal the truth. He must not unjustly make a charge of fraud, that is, without evidence to support it. He must produce all the relevant authorities, even those that are against him. He must see that his client discloses if ordered, the relevant documents, even those that are fatal to his case. He must disregard the most specific instructions of his client if they conflict with his duty to the court. The code which requires a barrister to do all this is not a code of law. It is a code of honour”.
Furthermore, in the case of Adewunmi v Plastex Ltd , the Supreme Court of Nigeria per His Lordship Hon. Justice Eso, J.S.C (as he then was) described a lawyer in the following words:
“A lawyer is not a tradesman. He is not like a cobbler who deals with the awl and who can be jettisoned by a customer when the awl fails to perform. A lawyer is a professional, and vis-a-vis a client is to be employed at his discretion. After all, he is employed to deal with learned men in learned surroundings, and he himself is learned, while the client, even if he is a lawyer himself, is not learned for the purposes of the case”.
Jane Bryant, an American Journalist, wrote; “Lawyers are operators of the toll bridge across which anyone in search of justice must pass”. Without law, there will be anarchy, and without lawyers, the law cannot operate or function.
The basic principle on the role of lawyers in the society was also enunciated by the Eighth Congress of the United Nations at Havana, Cuba in September 1990 and accepted by the General Assembly in its resolution 45/166 of 18th December 1990, which states inter alia that:
“Lawyers at all times shall maintain the honour and dignity of their profession as essential agents of the administration of justice. That lawyers, in protecting the rights of their clients and in promoting the cause of justice, shall seek to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized by national and international law and shall at all times act freely and diligently by the law and recognized standards and ethics of the legal profession”.
If lawyers are agents of the administration of justice and promoters of the cause of justice, it necessarily follows that lawyers exist for the good of the rule of law and society. Indeed, civilisation must be founded on law, and if there is law, there must be lawyers. Absence of law means the enthronement of the rule of might, anarchy and jungle justice. Peace and order in such circumstances would disappear. Such a society without law, where it exists, will be akin to Thomas Hobbes’ conceptualisation of man in his original state of nature where “life of man was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. One great thinker, Dean Rusk in his book titled: As I Saw It states:
“Five great intellectual professions relating to the daily necessities of life have hitherto existed in every civilised nation. The soldier’s profession is to defend it. The Pastor’s to teach it. The physician’s keep it in health. The lawyer is to enforce justice in it. The merchant is to provide for it”.
His Lordship Hon. Justice G. B A. Coker, JSC (as he then was) in appreciation of the legal profession stated thus:
‘If I come to the world ten times over and over, I will always be a lawyer.’
The author associates himself with His Lordship’s views and adds that as lawyers we should always strive to establish and promote the common good and betterment of the society in our daily practice in order to elevate the legal profession to an enviable standard for which it was known.
Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, after sampling all other professions, such as carpentry (taking after his father, Joseph), Medicine (healing thousand and making them whole), Environment (cleaning the temple), Teaching (in his great sermons such as the sermon on the Mount), Building and Architecture (destroying the temple and rebuilding it in 3 days, though not physically but spiritually), became and is still a lawyer! Yes, you heard, right. Jesus is a lawyer! A most Senior Advocate at that! After His sojourn on earth, Jesus went back to heaven to become a lawyer. The scripture in 1 John 2:1-2, says:
“Write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous, and he is the propitiator for our sins; and not for ours only, but also the sins of the whole world”.
As an Advocate Jesus holds a brief on behalf of all mankind before God, the great judge! Only a Lawyer could do that! Or what do you call one who is in the business of pleading the cause of others? Jesus is a Lawyer-lover and not a Lawyer-hater.
It must also not go unmentioned that in Nigeria, Lawyers played prominent roles in pre-and post-independence political governments, and some became known more as politicians than as Lawyers. In the first republic, lawyers have also continued to play prominent roles in politics and in subsequent republics, including the present one. As a mark of the recognition of the importance of the profession, all our Constitutions from 1960 till date have entrenched and reserved the post of Attorney-General for Lawyers. No other profession enjoys that privilege. Presently, the vice president of Nigeria Professor Yemi Osinbajo is a lawyer.
Prejudice Against the Profession
If lawyers exist for the good of society, as enunciated above, why then in the eyes of many persons, lawyers are ranked among the scorn in the society? Many view the lifestyle of lawyers, conduct and character with disdain or cynicism. The origin of these scorns lies in antiquity. They are as current as they are historic and are hardly peculiar to Nigerian society. The following comments are apt: The Vice -president of the Nigerian Bar Association, late Godwin Bayo of blessed memory in his address delivered at the Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association held in Benin City on August 1969, quotes Frederick the Great of Prussia, as describing lawyers as leeches and pernicious reptiles. Indeed, he inhumanly promised to sting up any lawyer who brought his client’s petition to him and to hang a dog beside him in case the public required further evidence of his attitude to the profession.
In the same vein, Napoleon Bonaparte was known to have threatened to cut the tongue of any lawyer who used it against his government. This contempt for the profession is most forcibly demonstrated and exemplified by the story of the Christian gentleman who was asked to subscribe one pound towards the funeral expenses of his neighbour, a lawyer. He not only very readily gave the sum requested, but also happily donated two hundred pounds for the burial expenses of 200 more lawyers dead or alive. Jonathan Swift , in his book, describes lawyers as a society of men… bred up from their youth in the art of proving by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black is white, according to as they are paid. Sir John Simon joined a host of other critics when he regarded a lawyer in the following terms: an unprincipled wretch, who is constantly engaged in the unscrupulous distortion of the truth by methods entirely discreditable and for rewards grotesquely exaggerated. Dick, in Shakespeare’s King Henry the Sixth, says: The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. “History has it that one Herbert in 1640 said “lawyers” houses are built on the heads of fools. In Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, the Mafioso Chief, Don Vito Corleone holds the view that a lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns. An English proverb has it that a good lawyer must be a great liar. This, according to Donald Bond, a Professor of English, implies that “they are slippery creatures, thriving on the skillful manipulation of half-truths. On the humorous yet scornful side, there is the saying that “the greatest asset of a lawyer is his lie-ability; when he dies, he lies still”.
His Lordship Hon. Justice Chukwudifu Oputa J.S.C. (as he then was) in his book, Modern Bar Advocacy says:
“There is a seeming paradox in the lawyer‘s life and role. All through the ages, in different climes and different places, the lawyer advocate has always appeared to most people as an enigma. The advocate says he is honourable, yet he has as his clients murderers and cut-throats, high-way robbers and burglars and criminals of every type and description.
The question has always been asked: how can the lawyers -advocate possibly and in conscience -defend a guilty man?”.
Mark, Mccormack in his book, The Terrible Truth About Lawyers has this to say about Lawyers:
“In the general view, lawyers are a clubby group who, with the benefit of an arcane body of knowledge and under the smokescreen of an elaborate system of professional courtesies and rituals, look out for their own – at the expense of the rest of us. Successful lawyers wield more power than most people. They make more money than most people. Typically, they are called in after ordinary reason has failed, when people are already angry, disillusioned, and ready for a fight. For all these and other reasons, lawyers are the target of an enormous amount of resentment. Much of that resentment is well deserved. The terrible truth is that lawyers – to be blunt – tend to be a real pain in the neck. In the world where time is money, lawyers are masters at stalling. In business contexts, where clear communication is crucial, lawyers hide behind mumbo jumbo that nobody else understands. In a society where justice, in theory at least, is held up as the highest ideal, lawyers are always looking for technical and sometimes dubious means of bending the law to their advantage”.
In his view about lawyers, John Gay states that:
“Your Wife may steal your Rest, Sir, A thief may steal your goods and plate, Sir, A fox may steal your hens, Sir, But, if a lawyer’s hand is fee’d, Sir, He steals your whole estate”.
An eminent Scottish Judge, Lord Justice Brougham, sadly, himself a lawyer said:
“A lawyer is a gentleman, who secures your estate from your enemies and keeps it to himself”.
Indeed, the great preacher and protestant reformer, Martin Luther, preached in the 16th Century that one could not be a good lawyer and at the same time be a good Christian. It would appear that not even in the Bible were lawyers spared admonition and condemnation. Jesus Christ once said:
“Woe upon lawyers, for loading men with packs too heavy to be borne with one finger… woe upon you lawyers for taking away with you the key of knowledge, you neither entered yourselves nor let others enter when they would”.
There is no gainsaying the fact that over the years, the legal profession in Nigeria has suffered an unprecedented decline in its glamour and prestige. The question is whether, against the background of collapsed values, moral decay and the institutionalisation of corruption, it would not be unrealistic and hypocritical to expect the legal profession – Bar and Bench -to be an island of moral rectitude? Ironically, our society is said to be one where lawmakers are lawbreakers, where many thieves are made chiefs, where many police officers are rogered collectors; where many courts deliver judgments not justice, and where many lawyers are liars, among others.
A Peep Into the ’70s and Early ’80s Legal Profession in Nigeria
The nagging question is whether there are still prospects for new entrants into the legal profession in the 21st century or whether the profession is already saturated. Some believe that the profession reached a height in the ’70s and early ’80s and that since then it has been on a steady low course. Those who believe that the profession has reached a low course and is cascading down foresee a bleak future for young lawyers. They base their contention on the following premises:
- That there are already too many lawyers in Nigeria;
- That too many law faculties are churning out thousands of lawyers annually, who are not well-trained thus leading to dwindling standards;
- That there is already an acute admission problem at the law school, with law graduates waiting for one or two years before going to law school;
- That the standard of practice has grossly degenerated and will continue to do so, thus affecting the image and pricing of lawyers’ service;
- That many other professionals such as estate valuers are making steady inroads into the legal profession, thus reducing the prospects available to lawyers.
As a result, some people have already started clamouring for a systemic down-sizing of lawyers by:
- reduction in the number of faculties offering law programmes;
- reducing the in-takes into the Faculties of Law;
- raising the entry requirement for law programmes to a minimum of the first degree in another field;
- increasing the length of time spent at the law school;
The author does not share the view of this class of people for the following reasons:
- To date, the total number of lawyers enrolled in Nigeria is still less than or about 100,000;
- Out of this number, thousands have died, retired from active practice, or veered into other human endeavours. Thus, the actual number of active lawyers in Nigeria today will be in the region of 80,000.
- Relative to a population of over 180 million people, this number still shows a gross shortage of lawyers in Nigeria.
- The true situation is that while we have many incompetent, lazy and mediocre lawyers, there is a gross shortage of sound, competent and outstanding lawyers. Thus, there is still a lot of room and need, for sound, competent and outstanding lawyers in the system.
- While it is true that standards are falling, this has nothing to do with the fact that lawyers are many or too many, rather it arises from several other factors such as university closures, examination malpractices, et cetera. Furthermore, this is not limited to Law but it affects the entire educational system in the country. I believe very strongly that the future is very bright for any aspiring lawyer who dares to stand out amid unbelievable mediocrity currently pervading the profession. Right now the very good lawyers are over-worked while the mediocre, though all over the place have little or nothing to do, giving a false impression that there are not enough jobs to go round lawyers.
The frontiers of legal practice have expanded and will continue to expand as we progress further into the 21st century. New areas of practice have and are opening up. New sets of opportunities are emerging, and the style of practice is also changing. Younger elements are introducing fresh ideas. Law is now run more like a business, and the face of legal practice is truly changing. As against the traditionally regular general practice, the following are areas waiting for the 21st century lawyer to explore: commercial litigation and practice; banking and finance; telecommunications; admiralty; aviation; insurance; capital market; oil and gas; property; international economic transactions; constitutional and administrative law; arbitration and ADR; government and its agencies; the bench both at the lower and higher levels; politics; taxation; insolvency; intellectual property; law publication; data privacy laws; data protection laws; cybercrime laws.
God has blessed Nigeria with a huge population. With political stability and sound economic policies, there is bound to increase in growth and development in the economy. As interpersonal and business relations grow, there are bound to be conflicts and hence the need for lawyers. As the century witnesses more and more business investments, lawyers will be increasingly required for both pre- and post-conflicts. Even the smallest business person is becoming aware of the need to have a Lawyer or Legal Adviser nearby, not to mention properly incorporated companies, private and public. Government ministries, agencies, parastatals, federal, State and local governments, now require lawyers to advise them. There will be many lawyers who may not be in the big cities and yet will be doing well, as a result of ‘jobs generated by local economic activities around them.
The Way Forward for 21st-century Lawyers
No doubt, the competition will become more intense in the years ahead. Only the brightest and rugged will excel. To succeed at the Bar in the 21st century, you require the following:
An Excellent Academic Pedigree
The quality of your degree certificate is going ‘to be increasingly relevant. A 3rd class or ordinary pass is not likely to find top chambers to practise. These days the top law firms want only the best, and many of them will not employ you unless you have a minimum of an upper 2nd class or a solid 2nd class lower. Higher degrees in law are also now being considered not only by the top firms but also by clients. Blue-chip corporate clients now require a profile of the law firm they want to deal with, and they will mostly deal with firms with lawyers with high academic qualifications, with at least a Master of Laws. It will, therefore, be a wise strategy to aim at having not just a very sound first degree but also a higher degree. This is as relevant in private practice if you want to go into the top Chambers, as it is if you’re going to work with the Banks, Oil Companies or any of the blue Chips. Also, to increase your competitive edge, you will need to consider having an extra qualification in another field, e.g. an MBA, ACTS, ICAN, Equally, in the area of Law that you desire to specialise, you should consider having a specialist training in addition to your basic Law degree. For example, if you want to go into Admiralty or Shipping Law practice, you might consider having a post-graduate diploma or degree in Maritime Law. If you are going to have an edge in Commercial Practice, you might consider having additional training in commercial law, Banking and Finance etc. If you are going to go into Insolvency practice which is one of the new areas that are becoming increasingly relevant, it will do you a lot of good to go for some training such as a post-graduate diploma in receiverships and liquidation. If you want to be a capital market Solicitor, you will have an edge if you go for specialised training in capital market operations, stock-broking etc.
New career paths always crop up daily, and funny enough, all these career paths crop up in favour of the young, 21st-century lawyer, particularly one who is tech-savvy. An older lawyer would be unable to keep up with the pace of development going on around the entire world, but a 21st-century lawyer would. And this creates a considerable room for development of core competencies in certain specialized areas: Internet of Things (IoT); Smart Contracts; Data Privacy, Data protection & CyberbreachesApp developments, Privacy issues, Intellectual property and the current intricate web of areas that interconnect into it); Blockchain technology; Al — the list is endless. And there won’t be a shortage of same. With increased knowledge and specialisation in the areas above, companies and firms would automatically seek out the savvy 21st-century lawyer who is well versed in these esoteric, specialised worlds to deliver solutions-focused legal advisory services that can protect their businesses from potential liability. It is noteworthy that even though the room for entry into the specialised zones is open to all lawyers, an older lawyer would have a difficult task ahead of him if he were to start trying to learn all about new tech and the diverse, complex mechanisms of its workings. A 21st-century lawyer, on the other hand, would find it to be a walk in the park and less challenging than it would be for his older counterpart. This will potentially open up a lot of doors if he is willing and able to leverage the knowledge into landing great advisory roles and seats on boards to tackle difficult legal issues.
Hard work! There is no substitute for hard work if you want to succeed at the Bar. It was so in the past; it is so now, and it will be even more so as we go further into the 21st century. Lazy Lawyers will remain poor and hungry, while those ready to go the extra mile will reap bountifully. It is true what the Good Book says about the diligent man standing before kings and not mean men. I am yet to know a hardworking lawyer who is a failure.
If there is one thing lacking in large measures at the Bar these days and which is desperately required for success, it is integrity. Honesty must be your watchword to succeed in the new century. It is an ingredient for success much needed but sadly in very short supply. When clients and colleagues can take you for your word and have confidence and trust in you, the most significant and most sensitive briefs will come to you. Integrity is what makes you keep a client for years. Lack of it results in high client turn-over. They come today and go tomorrow. A client may be unhappy that you refuse to compromise to enable him to win a case, but will respect you for it and will come back to you when he has a matter which requires an uncompromising counsel. On the other hand, a client in whose interest you compromise though may win, will detest you secretly and take his briefs elsewhere when he has a case requiring a tough counsel, as he will not be able to vouch that the opponent won’t compromise you!
This is tied to the creation of room for more specialisation above. The 21st-century young lawyer can become adept in IP Law and its attendant services, more so than an older counterpart. The reason is simple: with the shift from the conventional system to a flexible, cloud-based system for countless businesses across the globe (with several companies and firms all over Nigeria keying into the trend), Intellectual Property issues have become one of the hottest trending topics of the day. Trademark battles are fought, copyright issues cropping up with dizzying speeds, patents applications coming before the relevant regulatory authorities. . . The list is endless. And not only are these happening; businesses and firms are also aggressively seeking out the services of IP-competent lawyers who can develop legal and protective frameworks for their companies to protect their Intellectual Property against shady employees and competitors.
Amazingly, the 21st-century lawyer who leverages Intellectual Property knowledge would be more adept at handling Intellectual Property matters than an older counterpart. The reason isn’t far-fetched. Intellectual Property ties to Technology; IP issues crop up mostly and almost exclusively about tech. Thus, they require lawyers who are Tech Natives to handle them, to wit: a the21st-century lawyer who has gained a working mastery of tech systems and the inter-connectivity between IP and tech.
No Location Barriers
The world of today power via the Internet and people are brought closer and closer together as physical barriers become broken with faster Internet speeds, newer gadgets and better services. So, even though the 21st-century young lawyer may lack long experience and physical office space, he is hugely more advantaged than his older counterpart, which relies only on the persons within his physical location to transact. Young lawyers of today are transactional lawyers, handling complex commercial and contractual transactions for firms and businesses across jurisdictions without ever leaving their physical homes. They manage Online Dispute Resolutions (ODR) as online mediators; they interact and collaborate with Lawyers across other jurisdictions to pen down business-focused white papers, articles, newsletters and the like while throwing their names out to the broader world and being regarded as authorities in their fields. In other words, they have the world as their playground. All they have to do is to leverage the power of the keyboard and other communications media to break barriers.
Online Marketing and Platforms
As enumerated elsewhere in this paper, the highest-earning lawyers are not necessarily those that know the Law, but those that can market themselves to attract the type of clients they want for their law practice. Many new-generation lawyers are certified digital marketers, and one would (scathingly) wonder why a lawyer would descend into the digital marketing arena. They do it so they can gain deft knowledge of the digital sphere, understand online marketing fundamentals, and gain exposure to the best digital platforms that can further drive their names and push their brands to the outside world that may be potentially in need of their subject matter expertise in different areas of the Law. And, because the 21st-century lawyer is a Tech Native, the transition into digital marketing and available platforms become seamless, and all for minimal cost too, in return for potentially huge returns over the passing years.
Data Protection Law
Unfortunately, unlike other countries that seek the protection of their citizens’ data, Nigeria completely lacks a comprehensive data protection law. So many people in the business/corporate world have noted this down. Many lawyers who are the ones that pen down legislations are entirely oblivious of the full meaning and implications of data protection, particularly as it pertains to the collection and use (both by the initial data collecting firms/web sites and third-party affiliates) of individuals’ personally identifiable information (which includes names, addresses, IP addresses, browsing preferences & online behaviour patterns), geo-location tagging, and a whole host of other potentially commercially viable information being utilised as Big Data or Small Data by the firms that operate the Sites where all this information is collected.
A 21st-century lawyer who is well-grounded in technology will understand all the factors above and can come up with comprehensive data protection guidelines for Nigerian government parastatals, e.g., the Nigerian Communications Commission. They can also draft laws in this direction, something their older counterparts will most probably be unable to do because of lack of specialised, technical knowledge in that respect. Furthermore, there is a new guideline that has been the major talk in legal circles around the world known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was set in place by the European Union. It is the most significant change in data protection in the EU within the last 20 years, set to impact countless countries around the world when it came into force in May 2018. Unfortunately, only a few lawyers understand the GDPR and its full potential sphere of influence, and it is the few that understand it that can leverage it as a fantastic opportunity for their career to provide stellar advisory services for corporate clients whose businesses cut into the EU.
Knowledge of ICT on the part of a young lawyer can be a potential gold mine for that lawyer in the long run. Firms, organisations, corporations need people who are ICT- complaint to be part of their working team. A young lawyer who is conversant with the workings of ICT can develop comprehensive working guidelines: rule books; employee contracts and bring your own devices (BYOD) policies that can protect corporate clients in their employees and third-party contractors.
Biotech and Food Technology
Numerous inventions are up in the areas of biotechnology and food technology both within and outside Nigeria. These inventions come in the innovative processes, and with the increasing development of food technology as a high-end export industry, firm reliance on intellectual property attorneys become essential. And protecting all these innovations is the first step to take. The skilled 21st century young lawyer can take advantage of this area (provided such lawyer trained in intellectual property protection), providing patents/ trademark applications as needed, facilitating the licensing of already secured trademark, watching already deployed services and managing intellectual property portfolios for clients in the agri-business, all to the exclusion of his older counterpart.
Conclusion and Recommendations
This paper has attempted to identify the place, roles and prejudices against lawyers in the society. The paper further draws attention to, and answers, the question as to what the 21st-century legal profession holds for new entrants in Nigeria. The study shows that there is still great future for 21st-century lawyers and law students in Nigeria and points out that their prospects lie in their knowledge of ICT as practice tool which places them over and above their counterpart older lawyers. The author argues that the recent clamour that the legal profession in Nigeria has too many lawyers and so the profession is no longer lucrative is just an illusion which is not well appraised given the recent specialisation in the international and national legal markets. It is part of the findings of this paper that one of the best ways a 21st-century lawyer can succeed in the legal profession in Nigeria is specialised practice. Indeed, there is increased demand for specialisation in the area of training in the global legal services sector that requires multidisciplinary skills, for instance, a decent knowledge of accounting and finance, taxation, cyberlaw, telecom in order to have a basic understanding of corporate government and money market is important. It is also our finding that the dramatic change in information sharing has repositioned legal practice and 21st-century law in Nigeria to a greater height and most successful legal research and practice today is as a result of the utilisation of ICT through the use of the e-Law report, e-library, e-journals, e-books, among others.
The author suggests that to be relevant in the unfolding global trend, there is an urgent need for every 21st-century lawyer to urgently discover his area of most robust interest and expand its frontiers. The author submits that even though there are several challenges facing the 21st-century lawyers in his practice of Law as clamoured by his adversary, the true position is that in our contemporary society diverse opportunities have opened up to him such that he can easily be engaged in both legal and quasi-legal roles which cut across legal, technical research and business, areas that his older, more traditional counterpart would be lost in if he tries to tackle.
The paper further recommends that to overcome the challenges of the 21st-century lawyers in Nigeria, the academic and professional curricula have to be redesigned. At the academic level, the law libraries should be equipped with legal resources and all the ICT equipment in the law office including fax machines, scanning machines, computers and intercoms. Thus, training on how to use these ICT tools is vital. Also, new less developed areas of Law such as ICT, Telecom, Cyberlaw, ADR, intellectual property, piracy law and Data protection laws and clinical legal education courses should be expanded and made compulsory for all law students. In addition, law clinic should establish linkages with some reputable law firms so as to enable the student to have early exposure to practice while in school. Finally, as Nigeria grows, it requires more lawyers who are diligent, hardworking, and ready to maintain a high level of legal practice with knowledge of ICT to take our legal profession to next level, at the global market.
About the Author
Udosen Jacob Idem Ph.D is a Lecturer, Department of Private and Business Law, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti; Email: [email protected]; Phone: +2348023719463
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Author: ABUAD Law Review
The ABUAD Law Review (ALR), is a Journal published by the Afe Babalola University Law Students’ Society. It aim is to contribute to law and policy reform, not just in Nigeria, but the world at large by fostering rapid dissemination of preliminary research results by students, legal practitioners, teaching and research scholars.