Lift the Artificial Barrier to Entry in the Practice of Law

Professors S. Kwaku Asare and H. Kwasi Prempeh

A fortnight ago, over 1,000 LLB graduates converged at the N Block of University of Ghana to take an entrance examination, whose outcome in addition to an interview, will presumably determine who among them would be allowed to pursue the Professional Law Course in the forthcoming academic year commencing in October 2015.

These students matriculated at and graduated from the Faculties of Law of the Public and accredited Private Universities and have therefore taken and passed the courses approved by the National Accreditation Board and the General Legal Council (GLC). All these faculties market their LLB programs as designed to meet the criteria required by the GLC for admission to the Ghana Bar.

Unfortunately, and through no fault of the students who have incurred significant financial expense and sacrifice to obtain the LLB, only 250 of them will be given an opportunity to pursue the Professional Law Course. To get a shot at being part of the fortunate quartile, graduates must incur additional costs, study materials from 9 areas of law, take an entrance exam, meet an unspecified threshold on this entrance exam, and attend and presumably pass an interview.

The emotional distress visited on these graduates, all of whom have qualified to pursue the professional course according to the GLC’s own standards, is obvious. Needless to say a system that admits only 25% of the otherwise eligible pool of students based on an entrance examination and an interview can only
breed corruption and favoritism.

What is the rationale for this glaringly arbitrary ceiling? We are told that the Ghana School of Law’s facilities at Makola, GIMPA and KNUST can only accommodate 250 students overall. We do not find this to be a persuasive reason. In fact, to the extent that this is simply a capacity problem, it can and should be easily remedied by, for instance, allowing the various Law Faculties to add an extra year beyond the LLB during which period LLB graduates will receive additional training for the Professional Law Course and Examination. This will free the GLC to administer the Bar Exam and to concentrate on maintaining quality control, including offering continuing legal education and ethics training.

The decentralized system proposed above is hardly novel. Various professions use this model and effectively so. For instance, the Institute of Chartered Accountants simply administers its examinations and allows the students the choice of how to prepare for the examinations. This has the added advantage of introducing competition and quality in the market for the exam preparation, benefitting the students, the lecturers and the profession.

Some have justified the entrance examination on grounds that it restricts the supply of lawyers and protect the lawyers from competition. However, the belief that “there are too many lawyers in Ghana” is based on a view of the legal market taken from the vantage point of someone concerned only with the needs of those in the small commercial segment of the Accra legal market, not with the vast and diverse needs of Ghanaians of all walks of life. That view also fails to appreciate the comparative disadvantage that Ghana increasingly faces in international transactions requiring certain highly specialized legal competences.

Moreover, many lawyers do not practice law even after receiving their license. So, just using the raw output of Makola or the law schools to draw crude conclusions about oversupply of lawyers is something the GLC should not be doing. Neither the GLC nor the state has an obligation to find work for lawyers. Those licensed lawyers that can’t fend for themselves in the legal market are free to do other things with their lives. They do not become a public charge. As most Ghanaians are priced out of legal services, we only make the situation worse, not better, by placing a crude, artificial cap on the number of law licenses that may be issued each year.

The rigid ceiling imposed by the GLC on the number of LLB graduates who would be allowed an opportunity to train and qualify to become lawyers is grossly arbitrary and unfair and counter to the overriding national interest. If the GLC has problems with the quality of the output from the growing number of LLB-awarding institutions in the country, it must resolve the matter with the accrediting authorities through tighter quality control at the LLB entry stage, not after the fact.

The GLC must concern itself with quality control in legal education and practice, and it should do so by setting and enforcing meritocratic and ethical standards for qualification and practice as a lawyer, not by imposing a rigid quota on the number of lawyers. The Ghana legal profession should be an open, ethically-regulated meritocracy serving the legal needs of Ghana and all Ghanaians, whoever and wherever they may be, not a cartel serving the high-priced legal needs or economic interests of a privileged few.

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