“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass – a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish is, that his eye may be opened by experience – by experience”—Oliver Twist, 1838, Charles Dickens.
In April 2009, The Economist reported an encounter between an accomplished lawyer and a great engineer. The lawyer had been trained at Harvard while the engineer graduated in hydropower stations from Tsinghua University in Beijing. When the two met at a G20 Conference in their capacities as leaders of two powerful nations, their political governance personas appealed to the world more than what they studied in school.
Barack Obama and Hu Jintao are both out of political office but the world remembers the first black rhetorician who was the president of the Harvard Law Review and later President of the United States of America. Jintao is a celebrated engineer under whose leadership China became an industrial powerhouse. We haven’t bothered to study and analyse the influence of their professions on their careers but the world continues to walk in their footprints of excellence. Lawyers and engineers do not often disappoint.
The Economist asked: “Why do professional paths to the top vary so much?” This week, we are asking Ghanaians the same question. In our case, however, we would like to know why there is so much fuzz about who enters law school and how a person becomes a lawyer in Ghana. Is it suddenly a fad to study for a law degree in Ghana?
Arguments of law, especially when our trusted advocates employ the gobbledygook of legalese, sound erudite and persuasive. Even in its decrepit form, the legal profession still commands great respect and honour. Law is the career dream of many children and even adults who are already settled in decent professions. As if their occupations are unfortunate misadventures, they take breaks to pursue law–to validate themselves and be counted among the only profession that has a fraternity. Other professions have not cultivated the boldness to call theirs a fraternity.
What qualities do the average Ghanaian need to join the legal fraternity? Presently, there seem be too many people in Ghana trying many ways to be lawyers. Is it a case of exceedingly unimaginable numbers applying to the few law schools in Ghana? Maybe the training of lawyers is so complex and important to our democratic development–that only a few people should be allowed to be lawyers. The rest could be journalists.
We have heard many brilliant arguments about the unconstitutionality and illegality of the decision of the managers of our law training institutions to restrict people from pursuing their dream professions. If my childhood dream is to be a lawyer or train for paralegal work in my country, why should any institution stand in my way, especially when I am convinced I have the intellectual curiosities necessary for the practice of law?
Prof Stephen KwakuAsare and other respected legal minds have proffered some brilliant arguments about the need to open up spaces for as many people as possible who want to be lawyers–to at least get the opportunity to commence the training process. It is against their right to deny them the chance to begin a journey because only a few people can be accommodated when they get to the destination. How is that their fault? Why should I be made to account for my interest to pursue an occupation by writing a test to determine whether I have what it takes to have such an interest in the first place?
I look at my friend’s sister with mixed emotions. After successfully following a three-year programme in LLB at a private university in Accra, she applied to write the examination to enter law school in Accra. From a family of fishermen and nurses, she was determined to break away to join the noble fraternity of lawyers. Her two brothers had been successful as an engineer and accountant. She did not pass the examinations.
What do I call her now? Is she a failure, a would-be failure or a pre-failed qualified law candidate? She spoke of going to The Gambia to get the professional law education. Presently, she has taken up appointment in a law firm as a paralegal of some sort just to keep her dreams alive. Unlike me who have ‘mis-adventured’ from journalism to development communications to law (I am not a lawyer) and maybe to social policy soon, the determined young lady has only one thing at heart – law.
How did I come about my law qualification? Well, I don’t know if I could have done this in Ghana. With no legal background whatsoever, I applied for a Master of Laws degree (LLM) in London. I was immediately accepted and that began two years of academic work into some interesting and revealing aspects of law. I had joined a class of lawyers and other LLB qualified international students who had migrated to the UK for what appeared to be greener academic legal pastures. As a student of poetry, what would I be doing in the fraternity of lawyers when I didn’t have a learned friend?
Curriculum experts have predicted that in the next two decades, accounting, broadcast communications, tourism and hospitality, library studies and pharmacy degrees may not be studied any longer in schools. Not Law. Other degrees that will go extinct include Botany and zoology, history and Slavic languages. Law will rule the world. Since the 1830s when Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville noticed a prevalence of lawyers in America’s ruling elite, the true fact of the law being an ass appeared to have eluded many.
The rigid application of the law (the law as an ass) is perhaps the reason why it is unnecessarily difficult to be a lawyer in Ghana. Before Charles Dickens noticed the ass of the law, English dramatist George Chapman had used the expression in 1654. Incidentally, the title of Chapman’s play was ‘Revenge for honour.’
Anybody contemplating a career in law should know that while the legal profession has a lot of honour, there is revenge on the honour of any lawyer. The learned friend worth their wig and robes must have the ethos (credibility), pathos (persuasion) and logos (logic) to fight for their honour.
Tissues of the Issues
…with Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin