Samson’s Take: Fear of the floodgates and a country in bad need of more lawyers

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A nation that produces a thousand law degree holders each year but has space for less than half that number to go on to become lawyers, cannot be solving the problem of a serious deficit of lawyers. It is true that not every LL.B holder desires or must become a lawyer.

But that should constitute a very small number who, in truth, are denying others the chance of fulfilling the first condition to become a lawyer. You either drink deep or taste not, for an incomplete learning of the law can be a very dangerous thing. 

The situation of this LL.B-only category must however be distinguished from the many others who get to become lawyers without the intention to practice. Medical doctors, engineers, economists, clergymen, etc have studied law for its all-important almost unavoidable overarching utility in every sphere of life. 

A favourite Justice Antonin Scalia who sat in the U.S Supreme Court from 1986 till he died last year, once observed that America is a better country because it has many lawyers. I used special occasions to argue for expansion of the law school while I was the SRC President. I was excited, later on, to learn about the opening of two additional campuses. 

I still joined Prof. Kwaku Asare, law teachers Prof. H. Kwasi Prempeh, Maxwell Opoku Agyeman and Ace Ankomah in 2015 to argue for better access to the Ghana School of Law. Myjoyonline reported our crusade under the heading: ’’Restrictions on entering Ghana Law School arbitrary, unfair’’. It was shocking that at this time, the school had managed an intake of only 250 from the 100 or less that stretched its two lecture halls at 2008. 

It has now improved that quota to some 450 of potentially 1000 LL.B holders churned out annually by a dozen law faculties. The Attorney-General’s Department has never recorded the requisite, not even a quarter of the number of attorneys it needs here in Accra. It can't get lawyers in some regions and has had to cope, in some instances, with a single lawyer for a whole region. 

That is the terrible reality of the short supply of lawyers. It has long been the desire to replace police prosecutors with attorneys or to have sufficient enough attorneys to supervise their work in the interim. The Supreme Court’s judgment proscribing non legislated entrance exams and interviews for automatic entry of qualified LL.B holders however becomes part of the real solution only if a radical facility expansion drive commences now. 

The resort to quotas from licensed law faculties does not guarantee objective selection criteria by the faculties. It actually also compromises the strict compliance with the law as being sought, and worsens the situation for the students. A quota system ought not be used to force the faculties to admit too small a number of students. Automatic entry is presently as impractical a solution as the quota system is. 

The resort to passing a law to back the entrance exams and interview selection process also does not provide the solution. The solution is for major expansion of the school’s facilities including more campuses or properly regulated privately run schools for the professional course with the General Legal Council being the only body responsible for the exams leading to a certificate and licence to practice law. 

The fears of opening the floodgates should never frustrate the genuine need to produce more lawyers and facilitate the right of people to pursue their dream professional career. The 2014 new rules of conduct for lawyers that didn’t see the light of day sought to “decriminalise” or remove advertisement by lawyers as an offending conduct. 

This tells me the fear of “fake” practitioners destroying the image and prestige of the profession isn’t much of an issue anymore. Water will always find it level. It should not be a joke to be in a profession that requires you to obtain a licence each year to be able to practice.

Samson Lardy ANYENINI

July 1, 2017