“Everyone wants to be a Lawyer” by Jonathan Abotiwine Alua

I understand the rage. I am actively in the picture. I don’t know what to think. I guess “sitting on the fence” may be inaccurate an expression for me because I may just sleep on that fence. I want that wig, the gown, too. I want to be a lawyer so bad. I see the public rage and outbursts about the seemingly oppressive stance the General Legal Council has taken. I hear the choruses of “conservative agenda” all around me. Last week, I stayed away from social media because everyone seemed to have an opinion about the state of affairs and the way forward for legal education in Ghana. The General Legal Council has been the victim of so much abuse, I don’t know if they deserve the lambasting. I do know, however, that they deserve to be heard.  You see, we have been told time and again not to cry over spilt milk but nobody ever tells us to be sure not to keep spilling the milk. You may just end up with no tears on your cheeks and no milk as well if you didn’t endeavor to prevent subsequent spills. While you’re reading this piece, please send a word to the proprietors of the language. That expression is incomplete. I don’t care if you cry all day. Just don’t spill any more milk.

I didn’t write this to discuss milk. This piece is really an attack on our conscience. It is a signal in the right direction that our rage should go. It is an indication of the real issues we should be talking about. I’m a desperate young man who just wants to wear a bib without the justification of an impending meal.

The Legal Profession has always courted respect and attention. The impression is that lawyers have it all – the money, the fame and the prestige. Everyone wants a good life. My little niece walked up to me in the kitchen over the holidays and asked “Why do you want to be a lawyer and not a bank manager?” I only smiled and told her to ask her dad. She came back a couple of minutes later and said, “Daddy said bank managers don’t own the money in the bank but lawyers own all the money they have so I want to be a lawyer” I laughed it off. Childish thinking! Today I attach a bit more relevance to her aspirations than I did then. Of course we grow up wanting to be great. It’s only human nature to want for oneself all the good things in life. If today everyone wants to be a lawyer, it is only reflective of the perception of society. Lawyers are rich, a lot of people want to be rich so a lot of people want to become a lawyers. Logically this makes all the sense in the world. I know I’m not being fair to some of you guys out there who don’t care about the money, prestige and fame. Yeah, those of you who want to be the voice of the voiceless and the defender of the defenseless, that one too is there.

The General Legal Council should be celebrated for attempting to sanitize the legal profession. That’s their mandate. If the standards are to be maintained, then desperate measures have to be taken in desperate times. It is my suggestion that we’re only here today because the National Accreditation Board has failed us as a nation. Let’s review some sections of pieces of legislation to explain my point. Section 2 of the National Accreditation Board Act, 2007, Act 774 is reproduced below.

Functions of the Board

  1. (1) The Board is responsible for the accreditation of both public and private institutions as regards the contents and standards of their programmes.

    (2) Without limiting subsection (1), the Board shall

          (a) determine the programmes and requirements for the proper operation of an institution and the maintenance of acceptable levels of academic or professional standards in the institution in consultation with that institution;

         (b) determine the equivalences of diplomas, certificates and other qualifications awarded by institutions in the country or elsewhere;

        (c) publish as it considers appropriate the list of accredited public and private institutions and programmes at the beginning of each calendar year;

        (d) advise the President on the grant of a Charter to a private tertiary institution; and

       (e) perform any other functions determined by the Minister.

Now let’s take a look at section 1 of the Legal Profession Act, 1960, Act 32

Section 1—The General Legal Council.

(1) There shall continue to be a body, to be called the General Legal Council, which shall be concerned with the legal profession and, in particular:— (a) with the organisation of legal education, and (b) with upholding standards of professional conduct.

(2) The constitution of the Council shall be as set out in the First Schedule to this Act.

(3) The Council may hold land and other property and do all such other things as may appear to them to be required for the purpose of performing their functions.

(4) The Council shall appoint a Director of Legal Education, and such other officers as they may require, and in the case of officers required for the purposes of Part II of this Act the appointments shall be made on the recommendation of the Director of Legal Education.

(5) The Council shall in the performance of their functions comply with any general directions given to them by the Minister

A solicitous reading of the two sections of these Acts of Parliament brings to bear the seemingly contradictory mandates of these two bodies. A little application of legal principle however clears the shroud of contradiction: generalia specialibus non derogant, between these two Acts of Parliament, the General Legal Council, as tasked with the role of the organization of legal education, takes precedence over the Accreditation Board’s general mandate to determine the content and programmes that both public and private institutions run. The Accreditation Board has no mandate determining who should become a lawyer and who should not; the study of law is incomplete without the professional qualification. The reality is the NAB could not have performed their job of accrediting public and private institutions to train lawyers without encroaching into the powers of the General Legal Council. I daresay, therefore, that while the GLC has been working hard to execute their legal mandate, the NAB has been countering their efforts by accrediting all manner of institutions to run the LLB programme. The problem we have today is as a result of the NAB’s erroneous adherence to the law by its letter. I wonder where the powerful and incessant ‘public good’ litigants were when the NAB started accrediting questionable institutions to run the LLB program. At this point, permit me to mention that the GLC, which by its composition is the most legally resourced council in the country should have known better than to allow the NAB to fly on the wings of an ill-fated flight, in what seemed like a perfect execution of their legal mandate.

Today we stand in frightful confrontation with the beast of a problem we have watched grow from infancy into adulthood. If the bed is thorny, remember thorns don’t grow on cushion. The thorns were either brought there by yourself or someone else. I know I sounded all defensive of the GLC in the beginning. Truth is, they are a part of the problem. I appreciate however their efforts at remedying this wrong. If nothing changes at all about these institutions that are everywhere purporting to be training lawyers, I’m afraid the efforts of the GLC may just be in vain. We’ll always be at this point. Get the GLC and the NAB into a room; give them a pair of boxing gloves. I think this is their fight. Go GLC, I’m rooting for you. I don’t care that there’s an LI in parliament which may be annulled. I’ve bought my pen, that entrance exam eh, we will write.