Legal education is at a crossroads as its model was under siege before the pandemic. In this piece, VICTOR OKEKE writes on how a new online platform is helping students weather the storm.
The Nigerian Law School (NLS) has been on lockdown since March following the outbreak of coronavirus in Nigeria. The law school, typically traditionalist, is run by the Council of Legal Education (CLE) with six huge campuses across the geo-political divisions of Nigeria. The Lagos Campus alone has over 1200 students for the 2020 batch.
With the coronavirus, higher education generally is confronting an existential crisis, and law schools are its poster child. Even before Covid-19, the law school business model, pedagogy, and culture have generated wild-spread ritualistic admiration as well as concern.
Law schools have staunchly resisted online learning until Covid-19 rendered it a necessity. The National Open University of Nigeria had last year announced the suspension of admissions into its Law programme following the refusal of CLE from admitting them into the law school.
The Chairman Council of Legal Education, Emeka Ngige, SAN, said “the Council being conscious of the standard of education, passed a resolution that part-time, evening law programmes and open law programmes is a no case, and therefore students with such educational background cannot be admitted by the CLE into the Nigerian Law School.”
However, the school has adapted with rare urgency to the continuing coronavirus pandemic. First, it introduced a video conferencing teaching method, the success of this yet to be ascertained. Then, it moved the electronic transfer of lecture slides into student mail boxes alongside class tasks on a daily basis.
In the light of this, a group of students from the Law School in the 2020 class explored the use of instant messaging app, Telegram which presents a quiz feature. With the App, the students were able to create questionnaires on the five subject areas- Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation, Corporate Law Practice, Property Law Practice and Professional Ethics and Skills.
Uchechukwu Ogugua-Eze, the lead project manager of the online learning experience dubbed QUIZATHON, a derivative of marathon, said the exercise which is in its phase aims to enrich the learning experience, while giving students more options to engage and express their opinions by way of selecting from various options.
He said “It is our vision at Law Companion to not only inspire and motivate Bar Finalists during the COVID-19 lockdown but also to support them financially for the year-long academic.”
“Already popular with students, these quizzes will make exam preparations and learning methods more interesting and participative,” Ogugua-Eze explained.
Quizathon, with over 3,200 active users will enhance the experience of law students to create opinions, generate polls and be used to create objective based learning through multiple choice questions (MCQs) and subject based quizzes.
The tech-enabled, crisis-created shift from classroom to online learning occurred with astonishing speed, pervasiveness, and seamlessness. The transition exposed technology’s latent potential to support new models for delivering and consuming legal education and training.
The quizzes are conducted daily at 7:15 pm with a test on one of the five subject areas featuring for the day. It climaxes with a one-hour marathon test on the entire week’s exercise.
Between August 3 to 7, the group “organized the first and largest online quiz contest among students of the NLS.” According to the project manager, the quiz was deployed in four phases with phase one covering weeks 1-7 of the academic curriculum. Phase two covers weeks 8-12, phase three covers weeks 13-17 and phase four- the ground finale-covers the entire curriculum.
Brisibe Preyakemefa who won the Obra Legal sponsored first prize of N100,000 said it was unbelievable at first while thanking organisers and sponsors including Obra Legal, Enugu for the competition. “On behalf of everyone that participated, we want to say a very big thank you to you,” she said.
There was a 2nd Prize sponsored by Softiris Africa Ltd and a 3rd Prize sponsored by Zuluscope Investment Ltd, 15 runners-up prizes and a special prize for students living with disabilities that was sponsored by Finance Treat and RHOGEE Company Ltd which was won by Komolafe Olayinka.
Some of the participants commended organisers saying the online quiz made it possible to have an entirely different question structure from what they were familiar with.
Patience Ugbaja from the Abuja Campus said “that group is the best thing that can happen to any serious minded NLS student.”
“I do not have to wonder if the answer is correct or not as I answer a question, the quiz programme tells the correct answer. We get immediate reaction to the answer,” Haruna Ahmed said.
Adebayo Lateef said “I can answer without feeling badly about having a wrong answer as it happens in a class. No other student knows my scores except the admin.”
Another student on the platform, Chidimma Njoku said the quiz was her best buy during the lockdown. “Even when I lacked motivation to read, I never missed the quizzes. They helped me to take stock, track my progress and to read ahead of the class.”
So, what will post-pandemic legal education look like? Legal education of tomorrow will provide a blend of practical and people skills, cultural awareness, and doctrinal knowledge. Students will acquire a more global perspective, better understand the speed, complexity, and mindset of digital business, and learn to be agile problem solvers, imbued with a customer-first mindset.
Legal education will be more accountable to its students and provide them with competencies required for contemporary legal careers, not vanishing ones. For most law graduates, law will be a skill, not a practice. That is because the practice of law is shrinking and the business of delivering legal services is expanding.
Legal education will be tech-enabled and scalable. Students and faculty will no longer be constrained by physical presence, proscribed times to learn and processes. Automation and sophisticated digital platforms will enable professors—wherever they are located and by whomever they are employed—to provide an individualized learning approach where student diversity, performance, behaviour, and career objectives are taken into account.
“Covid-19 is a Black Swan opportunity to reimagine legal education. Liberating its center of gravity from the physical classroom provides a wide range of pedagogical methods that include: flipped classrooms, micro-credentialing, personalized adaptive learning, utilizing interactive digital platforms to enhance and obviate the need for costly physical structures and maintenance costs,” Mark Cohen, the CEO of Legal Mosaic said in an article published in Forbes.
He accused American law schools which have similar English heritage like Nigeria’s of focusing on input— faculty pedigrees, publications, citations, library volumes, ranking, and a steady build-up of administration and staff.
Their objective is “to train students to think like a lawyer” and teach doctrinal law. “Thinking like a lawyer” is not a static concept, nor is it limited to critical thinking or legal basics. Digital lawyers must also be guided by data, not gut; assess risk holistically, not through a narrow legal lens; and satisfy the objectives of the client, not produce the best possible legal product regardless of its relevance or client value. Thinking like a lawyer is not as important as learning how to drive impactful, timely, responsive, cost-effective, data-backed, holistic risk-assessed, actionable counsel to clients.
Technology portends a new dawn for legal education, a brighter day for students, legal professionals, clients, those in need of legal services, and society. The Nigerian law schools will emerge stronger from this if they embrace change in response to a rapidly changing world that is transforming the legal function.