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Confluence of professional ethics, corporate governance and training of lawyers in 21st century

By Omoniyi Bukola Akinola
20 December 2022   |   4:00 am
Each vocation has its own Code of Conduct for regulation. Regulation plays a major role in attaining the purpose for which the profession is created.

[FILES] Lawyers

Each vocation has its own Code of Conduct for regulation. Regulation plays a major role in attaining the purpose for which the profession is created. From the beginning of creation, the Almighty God gave an instruction to Adam not to eat the fruit of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, and that should be his professional ethic, while the commandment for him to tender the garden is the corporate governance of the entity called the Garden of Eden. Adam, therefore, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Garden of Eden Incorporated.

Eve could be likened to a company secretary, while the Almighty God is the Chairman of the Governing Council on a part-time basis overseeing the affairs of the Garden of Eden Incorporated. It is in this vein that the twin pillar of professional ethics and corporate governance are essential tools in qualitative corporate production or output.

The word ‘ethics’ is a generic one. It is simply a rule of conduct. It is also a branch of philosophy that seeks to determine the correct application of moral notions such as good and bad, and right and wrong or a theory of the application or nature of such notions. Ethics and professional regulation are not exclusive to the field and practice of law. There is medical ethics within the field of Medicine, business ethics for businessmen, accounting code for accountants, and so many others. Regulation dignifies the profession because it helps to separate the wheat from the chaff. Within the legal hemisphere, Professional Ethics is vital to the training of lawyers, and in this respect, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is vital legislation in the regulation of the profession of law as it creates the courts and bodies for regulating the Judiciary in Nigeria.

Within my sojourn in the world of professional ethics as a law teacher at the prestigious Nigerian Law School over the years, I have participated actively in the curriculum development and its implementation at the Nigerian Law School. In the course of doing this, we have implemented some components of Clinical Legal Education, which is a universal practice in the training of lawyers, into legal education through the introduction of functional law clinics within and outside the Nigerian Law School. Today, there are over 39 Law Clinics in our Universities in Nigeria. This has enhanced the quality of lawyering skills among law students, especially with interests in clinical activities and social justice. I have come to terms with the reality that legal ethics is vital to building a virile constitutional democracy in Nigeria.

Corporate Governance
Corporate governance refers to the mechanism of internal and external controls of the actions and inactions of the organs of a company in a manner that ensures compliance with public policy, the interest of stakeholders, and the avoidance of corporate failure/corporate collapse and abuse. The basis for corporate governance includes corporate transparency, accountability, credibility, integrity, and trust.

It would be a disservice to this audience if this lecture did not point out the legal framework for the various sectors of the Nigerian economy as far as codes of corporate governance are concerned. They include the Nigerian Code of Corporate Governance 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission Code of Corporate Governance for Public Companies 2019. For the banking sector, the Code of Corporate Governance for Banks and Discount Houses issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2014, as well as the Insurance sector housed in the National Insurance Commission Code of Corporate Governance for the Insurance sector in 2009.

In the same vein, the pension sector has the Pension Fund Administrators Code of Corporate Governance issued by PENCOM. Code of Corporate Governance for Finance Companies in Nigeria (CCGFCN) was issued by the CBN and came into force on April 1, 2019. Also, we have the Nigerian Communications Commission Code of Corporate Governance for the Telecommunication Industry. Time will not permit us to delve into the details of the provisions of the above-mentioned codes in order to narrow it to the essence of this lecture which is its roles in the training of lawyers in the 21st Century.

To this end, Universities enjoy a corporate personality outlook and are legal persons being a creation of law. Universities enjoy corporate governance structures such as the Governing Council, Senate, and Congregation. Universities operate in diverse statutory and ad-hoc committees to ensure checks and balances in order to achieve the purpose of their establishment.

To buttress this assertion, the case of Carlen v University of Jos is instructive in this respect. In this case, the court applied the alter ego doctrine, which is one of the sedimentations of corporate personality to institutional bodies and even, by extension, to registered bodies and statutory organizations. As this lecture progresses, it is apposite I state some of my contributions in my chosen field of expertise over the years.

Confluence of professional ethics, corporate governance, and the training of lawyers
Research has emphasized the need to improve the training of lawyers in the 21st Century. Business ethics is the study of the ethical dimensions of productive organizations and commercial activities. This entails ethical analyses of the production, distribution, marketing, sale, and consumption of goods and services. Law as a profession is governed by rules and regulations. To this end, legal education as a specialized field of law requires thorough corporate governance in order to achieve its outcomes.

The regulators of the legal education sub-sector in Nigeria include the Body of Benchers, the Council of Legal Education National Universities Commission, and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). These are major stakeholders in the training of lawyers even after graduation from the university and the Nigerian Law School. It is apposite to state that continuous professional development responsibilities saddled on the Council of Legal Education are also shared by the NBA by virtue of Rule 11 and 12 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007.

Law students should not only be exposed to Law as a course by way of lecture delivery but to such other learning methods as simulation, quiz, role plays, street law programmes, small and large group discussions, presentations, moot and mock trials, legal drafting, and filing of documents in the various modules. A law lecture should be richer in terms of students’ engagement to stimulate their minds to be analytical and proffer on-the-spot solutions to legal problems. The practice of giving students areas of concentration should be condemned by all. This is because clients do not give areas of concentration when bringing legal problems.

Another dimension to the training of law students in the 21st century is the need to care for the rights of disabled law students. There is a need for universities to put specialised training in place for the training of persons with disabilities in one form or the other. The budgetary allocation should be made by Universities and the Council of Legal Education for the acquisition and maintenance of facilities specially designed for the training of persons living with disability in Nigeria.

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria “enjoins the State to carry out its social objectives towards ensuring that all citizens without discrimination on any group whatsoever have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment”. This is in line with the spirit and letters of the 1999 Constitution. Hence, there is a need for all citizens to join hands in combating discrimination as social malaise under any guise.

In this wise, there should be constant ‘train the trainer’ initiatives to enrich faculty members in the training of persons with disabilities among law students. This lecture posits that disability should never be a disadvantage for candidates seeking admission into Law programmes across Nigerian Universities, especially where such candidates meet other qualifying requirements. Rather, it should be an added advantage as part of our contribution to humanity.

In this light, we propose that the Council of Legal Education should give each Faculty of Law in our various Universities special quota consideration for aspirants to the Nigerian Law School living with a disability. To drive this home, where the quota for a Faculty of Law is 50, we suggest that there should be accommodation for the aspirant with disability outside of the 50-student quota mandated by the Council of Legal Education. Existing capacity and facilities for the training of persons with disability, which is available at the Nigerian Law School Headquarters in Bwari, Abuja should be improved upon to attain its desired goals.

There is a need for regulators in the legal education sub-sector to adhere to the provisions of the Disability Rights Act, 2018. The National Commission for Persons with Disabilities should engage stakeholders in the legal education sub-sector to ensure the protection and enforcement of disability rights. In taking this further, Agugua and Akinola recently posited that Covid-19 pandemic and other pandemic are antithetical to the various inalienable rights to persons with disability in Nigeria.

This lecture will not end without the need to emphasise that students’ apathy to learning and hard work is a bane of the training of lawyers in the 21st century. The era of note-taking for the teaching of law as a course is gone. It is not fashionable in the 21st century for a law teacher to sit down in the class only to dictate prepared or pre-written notes to students whose only duty is to copy the notes, and leave without an experiential impartation or understanding of what they have copied.

Law students should be given tasks from handbooks and engage in role plays, simulations, small group tasks, and a quiz to provoke their fresh legal minds to generate new legal ideas to boost our societal development. It is difficult to find 20 law students using the Law Library at the same time per class. The advent of mobile phones is killing their initiatives. In the alternative, we can run mobile classes on their phones, laptops, and other gadgets by converting what they see as adult toys into learning tools to save our next generation.

Law students should be made to purchase books in hard and soft copies for their various law subjects. It is in this wise that we introduce Research Methodology as a course for the 400-level students in the faculty. This is because we cannot allow research to take the back seat in the 21st century training of law students. This will surely assist the potential final year students to prepare for their Long Essays to generate a robust contribution to learning.

The art and use of technology in the training of law students in the 21st century cannot be over-emphasised.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the indispensability of technology in the training of lawyers in the 21st century. Addiction to social media should be monitored among law students and law teachers and corporate governance has a duty to watch out for strange cases of insomnia, which might lead to critical cases of attempted suicide. Taking caution with students who might strangely want assisted euthanasia and other backdrop effects of mental health issues should be given the attention it deserves.

To achieve the optimum output in terms of training of lawyers in the 21st century, the confluence of professional ethics and corporate governance deserves special attention. Effective checks and balances must be carried out on law teachers to ensure that students are trained in the art and practice of law without the laxity of abuse of academic freedom. In essence, good corporate governance in the training of lawyers demands paying attention to the law teacher and the learner at the same time.

The Next Phase of my Academic Sojourn
Being a beneficiary of mentorship from eminent legal scholars such as Professor Ademola Popoola (FNIALS), Professor Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), Professor Mohammed Mustapha Akanbi (SAN), Professor Rasheed Ijaodola (SAN), Professor Wahab Olasupo Egbewole (SAN), Professor Ernest Maduabuchi Ojukwu (SAN), Professor Festus Emiri (SAN), Professor Olanrewaju Onadeko (SAN), Professor Isa Hayatu Chiroma (SAN), and Pastor Samuel Osamolu, I am determined more than before to learn from, and mentor young academics to contribute their quota to the development of legal scholarship among others.

This, I have started upon the assumption of duties in Redeemer’s University. I have been able to publish two articles with younger colleagues in the Lecturer Grade II cadre. Currently, I am writing papers with three of my colleagues in the lower cadre in the faculty and two of my colleagues, desirous of joining academics but currently practising at the Bar.

My research focus will henceforth X-ray issues such as restoration of values among law students, discipline, and publishing ethics among younger colleagues. Issues of disability rights and development of the proper framework for internship for richer experiential learning among law students. Issues of mechanisms for reduction of industrial crisis within the university community will be tackled using the instrument of alternative dispute resolution which explores systemic provisions for disciplinary and grievance procedures in our various universities.

Currently, there is a collaboration among law clinics of Redeemer’s University, BAZE University, Nile University, and Adeleke University. This research collaboration should yield the expected outcomes in a few years to come toward the production of ethically sound and skilled lawyers. My knowledge of competition and consumer protection will develop faculty members to collaborate with the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) by making the Law Clinic of the Faculty of Law at the Redeemer’s University the research hub for the Commission in the years to come in the Consumer Protection Law Clinic.

This is because as the days go by, networking in the proposed Consumer Protection Law Clinic will generate feedback from our host community of Ede and other towns in Osun State to enrich subsequent amendments to the FCCPC Act by the National Assembly. This is with a view to examining the problems and prospects of implementing the Act.

It is apposite to conclude this lecture by reiterating the fact that corporate governance is the spine upon which the training of law students in the 21st-century leans. From the Visitor to the Chair and members of the Governing Council, the Management and Staff across all our universities, we must promote systemic and procedural efficiency in university administration in order for each University to achieve its vision and mission statements.

Virtues and values which enrich better learning culture should be promoted. University culture should be promoted. New members of staff employed in the University should be given adequate orientation on the sensitive nature of the job at hand. This is because whatever we enjoy or suffer today, as a nation, were the governance actions of our decision-makers yesterday.

To Law Students: 1) There is an urgent need to instill discipline and inculcate a sound value system of respect, sacrifice, hard work, and honesty in law students in line with their approved university code of conduct and rules of professional conduct for legal practitioners. 2) Law students should develop interests in clinical legal education components such as full participation in the activities of their various Law Clinics in order to acquire experiential learning to reduce the challenges associated with pupillage upon being called to the bar.

To Law Teachers: 1. There is a need for attitudinal re-orientation for law teachers, non-teaching staff, support staff, and paralegals in the training of law students in our various faculties in the 21st century to reflect contemporary realities of producing skills-based lawyers. 2. The teaching of law is a component of the practice of law. Therefore, law lecturers should have not less than three years’ experience in legal practice to enable them to impart to students with the right legal skills and develop an analytical mind for their research. The further engagement of law teachers in continuous legal practice should be without conflict to their terms of employment.

University. 1. The scarcity of trained law teachers should be assisted with properly structured ‘train the trainer’ programmes, geared towards enriching the quality of faculty members. In this way, there is a need for radical and positive improvement in the welfare of all staff in the University to reflect societal realities and current hyperinflation in the country. In essence, university workers should earn a robust living wage per time. 2. Use of technology in the training of 21st-century law students cannot be compromised under any guise. Research tools and kits for the training and re-training of 21st-century law students should be provided. Sabotage and reselling of gigabytes subscribed to, by university authorities, to another purchaser by Internet Service Providers (ISP) has proven to be retrogressive to modern-day research culture. 3. Proper funding of law clinics in line with global best practices. The law clinic should be adequately equipped with modern tools required for sustainable clinical practice such as computers, and recorders for client interviews. Funds for capacity building by way of workshops, colloquium, and seminars, for student clinicians and law teachers, should be included on a year-to-year basis in the Budget of the Faculty of Law.

4. There should be proper record keeping in the university, and especially in the various Faculty of Law. A situation where students’ results are mismanaged under the guise of missing scripts should be frowned upon because it is antithetical to the psychological development of a total student who should be found worthy in character and learning. 5. Universities across Nigeria should, as a matter of policy and given the urgency it deserves, promote climate change for a sustainable learning environment for students.

Government. 1. Funding institutions such as Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) and other regulators should relax administrative bottlenecks and contribute their quota towards building modern facilities such as hostels, lecture rooms, libraries, and Moot Courts for both public and private universities. This is especially needed by private universities that are also assisting the government to carry out part of their educational objectives for the citizens. The presence of private Universities in Nigeria has filled a huge gap that would be created in meeting educational objectives in Chapter II of the constitution. 2. Introduction of Clinical Legal Education components across all Faculties of Law. This should be made a mandatory requirement for the sustenance of accredited law courses. This is because Clinical Legal Education enriches the teacher and the students towards lasting skill acquisition and attainment of social justice. 3. To improve the quality of training of law students in our various universities, the Federal Government should as a matter of urgency approve the new Minimum Benchmark for the various programmes in Nigeria.

Society. 1. In addition to the above, philanthropists are encouraged to contribute to humanity by donating generously towards endowments of professorial chairs, and building facilities such as lecture theatres, libraries, and moot courtrooms in order to write their names in gold and leave lasting legacies for the coming generation. 2. Corporate governance should take the front seat in university administration. The abuse of corporate governance for selfish reasons should never be allowed to see the light of the day. This is because the university prepares the next generation of any nation for governance. 3. Above all, all citizens should walk toward the restoration of our collapsed value system. Africans have good traditional values and should be inculcated in our students. Too much concentration on social media and dictates of the Western world in terms of evil vices such as pornography and cybercrimes is antithetical to the training of lawyers in the 21st century, and should be discouraged by all. 4. Internet service providers should abide by the terms of the contract for the supply of the right gigabytes to universities.

Professor Akinola delivered this as an inaugural lecture at the Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State.