Toss traditional lawyer in archives
We've grown in numbers. Gone are the days of the classes of 20 or 30. Even gone are the days of the classes of 100+. Currently, the class of 2015 of the Norman Manley Law School (NMLS) is 270 strong. Similarly sized is the class of 2016. We've been placed into to morning and evening streams to maximise the use of our present physical structure. We're even moving into a new building in September because we're bursting at the seams. But have we expanded our thinking?
Even as we've grown in numbers, the form and substance of the teaching, by and large, has not changed. The programme taught at the NMLS is, in essence, the same that has been taught over its 75-year history. Bread-and-butter courses essential to a career as 'the traditional lawyer' are still taught, including: Probate, Civil as well as Criminal Practice and Procedure, Remedies, Conveyancing, Landlord and Tenant, Evidence, Advocacy and Ethics. However, this influx of students of the legal profession requires a trip back to the drawing board.
Right across the board, there have been those for and against the expansion. The Government of Jamaica holds the view that there is no space in the profession for this many lawyers and, accordingly, has substantially reduced its funding of students at the NMLS. The Faculty of Law, UWI, Mona, offers a programme where the student bears the brunt of 100 per cent of the economic cost of the tuition, priced in US dollars, with very few students benefiting from the government-subsidised tuition programme.
As a member of the class of 2016 of the NMLS, I have been a beneficiary of the expansion, but I still think there's more to be done. There are many students leaving law school with traditional lawyer training to enter into a non-traditional work environment. And as our numbers grow, there's even more need to set oneself apart.
The number of students who leave law school to go on to do further studies before ever entering traditional practice is steadily increasing. There will be even more students who leave Law School who may ultimately never practise law in the traditional sense but will, rather, go on to play a part in corporate and policymaking bodies, not just locally, but also regionally and internationally.
There will be yet another set of students who leave law school and immediately go into business for themselves. Just as long gone are the classes of 20 or 30 students, so, too, fading in the distance are the days of job security and leaving law school to get a job gaining experience with an established firm or senior attorney in practice.
As our Government strives to harmonise the various governmental agencies and simplify the process by which the public engages these agencies, the modern-day lawyer will have less 'bread and butter' matters to handle. For example, in days gone by, a company was usually created with the assistance of a lawyer. Now, many Jamaicans own and operate companies successfully without having used a lawyer for the incorporation process.
We have legislation such as the Rent Restriction Act having a lease and a notice to quit in the schedule, which gives the layperson the framework to handle their own legal needs. What was considered the exclusive domain of the lawyer, and hence bread-and-butter work, is shifting. We're not too far from laypersons handling their own sale of land and probate transactions, particularly as the transaction costs continue to erode any benefit they stand to gain.
Critical analysis and advocacy are invaluable skills that can be imported to any profession, as evidenced by the many graduates of the law schools in the region who have parlayed their legal training into their roles as successful CEOs, Government officials, consultants and entrepreneurs. It will soon be commonplace that the modern-day law-school graduate won't just be a lawyer.
As citizens of a global village, we must be minded to ensure that modern-day lawyers learn about advocacy not just for the local courtroom but having regard to treaties, involving various types of parties, and before various tribunals. This is evidenced by the recent case of Shanique Myrie v Barbados before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), in its original jurisdiction regarding the Treaty of Chaguaramas. Also, the 2005 case of Boyce et al v Barbados, where Boyce et al, being on death row, sought reprieve from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, since Barbados was a state party to the American Convention on Human Rights.
As we position ourselves internationally as the place to live, work and do business, we must heed the international treaties to which we are signatories and this will soon become commonplace for the modern-day lawyer.
The growth of financial offshore sectors and the steady stream of multinational corporations that have invested in the region and will constantly need to resolve issues or ensure compliance with domestic and international laws are just a few examples of a growing need in the region for lawyers with this skill set. Even as Jamaica positions itself as the logistics centre of the region, we will have even more need for persons with that particular international skill set and even more so with maritime experience. Even more evidence of the global village can be seen in the fact that crime committed in Jamaica no longer affects only Jamaicans.
The recent lottery scam dilemma, as well as the Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke extradition and the Tivoli incursion, has indicated clearly that crime is no longer just a domestic issue. As criminals become more sophisticated, so, too, must the laws and lawyers. Tackling this problem must be in the skill set of the modernday lawyer. Continuous revision of and updates to the legal framework of our society is critical to our socio-economic success, and lawyers are critical to this process. This calls for training in legislative drafting and public policy.
Further, with our rich culture and heritage and as our entertainers, poets, artists and athletes get more and more world exposure, there will be even more need for lawyers who are knowledgeable in protecting not only tangible personal property and real property, such as house/land/car, but also intangible property such as copyrights and trademarks.
This is even more so with the introduction of legislation such as the Security Interests in Personal Property Act, 2013 which seeks to allow “intangibles, including intellectual property and other forms of personal property, to now become part of the collateral that can be pledged to secure financing for business”. The modern-day lawyer must have this in his or her skill set!
From the bedroom to the boardroom, as persons grow more discontented with the litigation process and seek to utilise more alternative disputeresolution mechanisms, the modern-day lawyer must also be competent in mediation, arbitration and negotiation. Training students to be traditional lawyers, to attempt to enter a saturated profession with an overworked and underresourced justice system, won’t work.
We have to re-envision, retool and equip the lawyer to be a modern-day powerhouse to tackle the issues that modern society faces – whether it is that we do that by continuing legal education or by soliciting postgraduate offshore institutions, or expanding the programme at the UWI to accommodate relevant postgraduate programmes.
Perhaps it even calls for a comprehensive overhaul of the way the law programme is taught; shifting certain courses taught at the NMLS to the undergraduate level so that there can be more room for these courses at the NMLS.
The Council of Legal Education must revisit the content and delivery of its programme.
Expanding physically will do more harm than good if we do not expand mentally.