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Debate over number of years’ pupillage for young lawyers resurfaces

By John Chuks Azu & Adelanwa Bamgboye, Lagos The debate over the role and extent of pupillage for young lawyers before embarking on law practice…

By John Chuks Azu & Adelanwa Bamgboye, Lagos

The debate over the role and extent of pupillage for young lawyers before embarking on law practice to prevent professional pitfalls in the country has returned.

Pupillage is an apprenticeship period at a senior lawyer’s chambers before a lawyer ventures into independent practice.

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Various executives of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) have prioritised young lawyers’ training and capacity building.

At the just concluded Annual General Conference (AGC) of the NBA in Lagos between August 19 and 26, a session on Job fair was devoted to the Young Lawyers’ Forum on August 24, with Justice Rahman Oshodi of the Lagos State High Court among the panelists and Tobi Adebowale and Achanya Excel as coordinators and Sylvia Nzekwu as moderator.

A former Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice in Akwa Ibom State, Uwemedimo Nwoko (SAN), who is a member of the Body of Benchers, while speaking about a recent controversy involving a lawyer in the state, said the lawyer lacked mentorship.

“Since he left law school, he has not been mentored by anybody. He has not learnt the simple courtesy of telling the court, “As court pleases.”

“Where he is it is for him to learn to say, ‘As the court pleases.’ Lawyers don’t argue or quarrel with the court. We don’t insult the judges.

“If he feels dissatisfied with his conviction, he will go to the Court of Appeal and the relevant people would meet him there.”

Earlier, Dr Remi Olatubora (SAN) said there was a need to set rules that would require lawyers from the law school to have a minimum of five years of tutelage under a senior lawyer to master the ropes in the trade.

“With five years of tutelage, the new lawyer would have the opportunity of being around when papers in a new case are filed when interlocutory applications are made, when the trial is conducted, when the final address is prepared, adopted, and argued in court, and judgment is rendered,” he said.

“Even if a person wants to leave the legal profession to advise companies or go into corporate practice, they must first practise as a barrister. They should know how documents prepared by solicitors are rejected in court. They should have seen lawyers contesting the admissibility of documents and other things.

“My colleagues who, from the onset, had pupillage with prominent and senior counsels had a lot of advantages over us (that did not have pupillage). It was easier for them to become senior advocates earlier than us because we had to ‘pick’ our own training along the line.”

But other lawyers insist that pupillage is not compulsory if it is too long.

For his part, a human rights lawyer, Abubakar Sanni maintained that lawyers don’t need to undergo pupillage for more than one year.

Similarly, Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) said pupillage is not compulsory or mandatory for lawyers practicing today but rests in the realm of choice.

“However, it is professional wisdom for a newly qualified lawyer to understudy a worthy senior for a proper foundation in the practice of the law profession,” he said.

“The way to develop meaningful passion is to understudy a role model and mentor. 

“In my honest view, whatever level of passion may not develop into thoroughness and effectiveness without the benefit of learning from a senior.

“Nonetheless, the prime role that grim determination and providence play in the race of life cannot be underestimated.”  

E.M.D. Umukoro Esq said that there might be an exception to every rule where long pupillage may not be required for a successful legal practice or any other profession.

“Tutelage is supposed to build, mold, and prepare and train the young lawyer into a dependable lawyer ready to contribute to the growth and development of the administration of justice system to all,” he said.

“The duration of tutelage is another thing as it depends on the pupil, his zeal, rate of growth, and the principal.”

He said a young lawyer need not set up his own practice if the law firm of tutelage has a place for his growth and tutelage.

He said sometimes striking out on their own could expose the lawyer to so many pitfalls and learn the hard way.

“The idea of pupillage is good if the necessities for its sustenance are in place. Pupillage need not be too long so long as all go well,” he added.

In his view, Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq said pupillage is not compulsory but necessary in getting the legal practice done much more professionally.

He said, “A lawyer in an exceptional case might do well or catch up without pupillage but in most time, it is just advisable and the reality will prove to the lawyer that his lack of or insufficient exposure to the legal practice which would aid him in his legal practice which would have made him acquire such practical skills.”