All the disputations and prejudices which in most areas of philosophy surround the notions of definition and of meaning, have contributed to the endlessly debated problems of the definition of law. Even as we recognize that no definition is wholly acceptable, let us succinctly define law as a set of enforced and enforceable rules under which a society is governed. Though there are many theories that seek to unravel the origin of law in the society, but the fact is that as far back as we can pry into history, we see man setting out laws and regulations to govern him. Even in Hobbsessian state of Nature, where life was that of survival of the fitness, men still belonged to groups, and each group had codes of conduct that governed them.
When you critically appraise the spirit behind law-making, you may be convinced that most lawmakers almost always have the good of the society at heart. Thus, the aim of most laws, within the society of men, is purposively positive in-so-far-as it aims at the preservation of social order through the control of the anarchic tendencies of men. St. Thomas Aquinas was at this when he defined law as the ordinance of reason, promulgated by a legitimate sovereign, for the good of the society.
The law however beautiful and noble its aspiration would encourage the very anarchy it aims to protect were its interpretation open to all men. Thus, the task of interpreting and expounding the principles of law is for highly skilled men trained for the purpose – lawyers. Because of this unique role, some people hold them in rarely disputed pre-eminence.
One interesting fact about lawyers is that they exemplify versatility difficult in some other professions. They are, at times better at politics and statecraft than some political scientists. In fact, over 70% of the Presidents of the United States of America were lawyers. Nigeria may not have produced a President who is also a lawyer, but lawyers are active players in our political field. Talk of the economic field, lawyers are also equally represented and surprisingly, each field they enter, they strive to dominate it and unquestionably rival the best.
Law making bodies throughout the world, including those of our country, have large number of lawyers as members. Lawyers have proved to be good administrators and managers of men. Lawyers do very well in journalism, human rights advocacy, and in the fight for the people’s freedom wherever it is threatened. These and many more are compelling reasons why people hold them in the highest esteem.
Against the above laudable praises, we will place some of the ignoble things that make lawyers, in some quarters, to be so unbearably criticized. The familiar belief that lawyers, unlike others, are buried differently, probably exaggerates, but nonetheless reflect, the people’s contempt for lawyers or do I say for some lawyers.
First is what could be called “the poverty of legal education.” Besides the knowledge of legal principles, the other popular method of teaching law in the universities is the case method. This method glorifies the mastery of relevant cases that had been decided before (stare decisis).
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Consequently, rote learning, adverse to scholarship, is invariably encouraged. What does it profit a student that he crams many cases soon to be forgotten after examination? In-so-far-as legal education deals with principles and cases, the minds of young law students are narrowly circumscribed, thus stifling the growth of sound critical judgement. This is why many people, including this writer, want a complete re-appraisal of the method of studying law. There is every need to encourage the compulsory study of more courses from philosophy, history and the humanities, that are concerned with the nature of man and the profound problems of life. This is precisely why law is always a second course in some countries. If you care to observe, you will notice that lawyers who read other courses before law are generally better distilled.
Lawyers are known for their love of wrangling, and the childish vanity of entrapping an adversary by the use of bewildering arguments. Most of these arguments are contrived to uphold the principles of law. This should of course not be interpreted to mean that all lawyers are liars. But often we hear the tales of lawyers who coach witness in concealing and misrepresenting relevant facts. In some cases, they urge their clients to outrightly deny the commission of the offences they are charged with. Some actively connive with their dubious clients on how to commit crimes to avoid being entangled by the law.
During the reign of the military we all witnessed the atrocities that were committed by their aides. It is instructive to note that a lawyer like Chief Gani Fawehinmi, in obedience to his conscience, declined to represent Al Mustapha in the early period of his tribulations. However, they are still being represented by some of our senior lawyers. Even though it is in agreement with the principle of fair hearing, but under the Practitioners’ Act, one is permitted to refuse briefs that are clearly against one’s conscience. Agreeing to represent a known criminal, in spite of hiding under the cover of the law is, to me, the legal practitioners’ correlate to the condemnable act of sale of fake drugs by dealers. To encourage such is to promote the Machiavellian end justifying the means. I say this because a lawyer may take a particular brief for money, to him whether the client is a devil does not mean anything to him provided that money is forth coming.
Further to the above is the propensity of men of law, on the bench and at the bar, to protract and complicate the procedures of trials, to multiply and divide the issues by unnecessary pleading and needless adjournments. Some are skilled in the use of highfalutin language that leaves most laymen utterly perplexed.
If we may indulge ourselves in one more look at the men called lawyers we shall find that most of the time, they suffer from “superiority-instigated” delusion of grandeur. A certain false notion of their self-importance is always detectable. This feeling of grandeur is seen in operation in the way lawyers address one another: “My learned friend”. With this, they want others to believe that they have the superiority of learning. I think it was Lao Tse who said that a person who knows others is learned, while a person who knows himself is wise. Some argue that every other person, however his position, comes to them when they have problems, especially with the law. This is one of the reasons why most men, especially in the academia, treat lawyers as a special tribe of men under strong delusion.
The most important of the duties that lawyers owe to themselves is to seek means by which they may destroy these delusions. They can never do more than continue to mislead them. Let me proffer some suggestions!
In his political treatise, The Republic, Plato talked about the philosopher-king, Hippocrates talked about physician-philosopher. I suggest that the goal of legal education would be towards the training of philosopher-lawyers.
The philosopher-lawyers of my conception are the one that will cultivate inner humility. These are lawyers who will recognize that the key to wisdom, as Socrates said, lies in acknowledging one’s own ignorance; thus opening oneself to knowledge. We need lawyers who will recognize that inasmuch as other people from different professions come to them for legal matters, likewise they go to them for other matters. Lawyers go to the medical doctors for health matters and to the Civil Engineer to erect his building. Jurisprudence, an essential law course, still traces its foundations to philosophy. We need lawyers/Justices, like Lord Denning and Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, who could introduce a measure of morality while expounding legal principles.
We have many professions and courses one can study in higher institutions. Philosophy is regarded as regina scientarium (Queen of the Sciences), because it used to encompass all knowledge. However due to the development recorded in many fields, including scholarship, knowledge has been divided into many branches, thus we talk of many courses today. Each course, I insist, is good where it belongs; it is immodesty for any to lay claim to superiority.