Clinical Legal Education is a learning method that is focused on enabling students to understand how the law works in action. It is essentially a multidisciplinary and multipurpose type of legal education which seeks to develop the skills and competencies needed to strengthen the legal system, providing opportunities for learning social justice concepts.
It serves as a link between the law and social justice issues. Clinical Legal Education bridges the gap between theory and practice. The experiential nature of clinical courses brings abstract notions of justice to life. A product of Clinical Legal Education would be able to contribute to national development and social change in a much more constructive manner.
Prior to the emergence of Clinical Legal Education in Nigeria, the legal education curriculum had been very rigid and confined to theoretical methods of teaching. This theoretical approach in the universities did not present law students the platform for developing practical skills which caused them to be ignorant of the professional skills that are important to the profession. These skills include research skills, communication skills, interviewing of clients and witnesses, counseling, drafting, negotiating and problem-solving skills.
There was also the absence of teaching methods on how to build rapport with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds, which is evidenced in the Clinical Legal Education, through the rendering of pro bono services to the local communities by law clinics. This is so many ways has integrated into the students not just good communication skills with people from diverse backgrounds, but also social justice consciousness.
Network of University Legal Aid Institutions (NULAI) Nigeria in its bid to improve legal education and legal capacity in Nigeria had developed and institutionalized Clinical Legal Education. This feat was achieved through the undertaking of expository and intellectual seminars and workshops which yielded tremendous results. Among these events undertaken by NULAI are the 1st Nigerian Clinical Legal Education colloquium on the 12th -14th February 2004 at Abuja. The participants included 22 Law Faculties and the Nigerian Law School, the Federal Ministry of Justice, the Council of Legal Education, the National Universities Commission, the Legal Aid Council, non-governmental organizations involved in the delivery of legal aid in Nigeria, and print the and electronic media. The overall objective of this colloquium was the integration of Clinical Legal Education into the Nigerian Legal Education.
NULAI Nigeria also participated in the 1st African Clinical Legal Education teacher training at Durban South Africa 4th-9th October, 2004 with 4 Nigerian teachers trained, and also at the 2nd African Clinical Legal Education Teacher Training, Durban South Africa 20 -24 November, 2006 where 8 Nigerian Law teachers were trained on Street Law and Trial Advocacy.
NULAI Nigeria in collaboration with Open Society Justice Initiative and with assistance from the University of Kwa –Zulu Natal, Durban South Africa organized the 1st Nigerian clinical legal education teacher training workshop, 2nd-5th February 2005. In attendance were 16 Law Teachers from 14 Law Faculties in Nigerian Universities and the Nigerian Law School, as well as representatives from Open Society Justice Initiative, Legal Aid Council, and representatives from the University of Kwa Zulu- Natal. The teacher training focused on the teaching methodology of Clinical Legal Education. Resource materials and books on clinical legal education were given to the participants to assist them in teaching the various subjects under the Clinical Legal Education programme.
In January 2006, to promote a standard for clinical legal education curriculum for Nigerian universities law clinics, and NULAI Nigeria constituted a Clinical Legal Education Curriculum Development Committee with members drawn from NULAI and University Law clinics. The Committee embarked on a study tour to the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Law Clinic and the University of Johannesburg Law Clinic from the 29th January – 3rd February, 2006. Committee members also facilitated a Curriculum Development Workshop leading to the publication of Clinical Legal Education during this period.
NULAI also organized the 1st Nigerian Client Interviewing and Counseling Skills Competition, which was held at Maiduguri in Borno State of Nigeria, on the 17th-18th February 2006.
The summary of the report of the Council of Legal Education Committee on the Review of Legal Education in Nigeria submitted on 29th July 2004 was to the effect that law faculties and the Nigerian Law School should “as a matter of urgency” introduce clinical legal education and that “the faculties are required to provide appropriate facilities, such as clinical consultation rooms” and that “for purposes of achieving interactive teaching, proper training will have to be given to lecturers at the various law faculties and the Nigerian Law School….” NULAI also participated in the stakeholders meeting on the Nigerian draft Legal Aid Bill to fine-tune the draft bill which has provisions for supporting legal clinics in the universities. Consequently, in 2011, the Legal Aid Act by its Section 17 recognizes law clinics as legal aid providers.
Due to the advocacy efforts of NULAI Nigeria on the subject of integration of Clinical Legal Education into the Nigerian Legal Education, the National Universities Commission’s draft benchmarks and minimum academic standards in the law programme released in August 2004 has identified cognitive and skills competencies as a learning outcome and also introduced “a community based course: community legal assistance to the poor, minority and the under privileged” in the 4th year class. Benchmark was reviewed in 2010/2011 CLE Curriculum compulsory for new faculties to have law clinic.
From 2005-2014, NULAI Nigeria has seen to the establishment of 17 Law Clinics in Nigerian Universities and the Nigerian Law School. These law clinics are spread over the six geo-political zones of the country, See Map
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