The Legal profession in Nigeria derives its origin from the English Legal System and Legal profession. 

It dates back only to the latter half of the 19th century.  This is as a result of our historical links with Great Britain.

         In 1861, Lagos became a British colony and came under British administration. 
By about 1906, the rest of what is now Nigeria also came under British rule.  It became known as the Protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria. 

         In 1914, these two protectorates were amalgamated and together with Lagos became the Colony and Protectorates of Nigeria. 

Prior to the advent of the British in 1861, the natives had a system of traditional adjudication.  It was designed basically to ensure the stability of the society and maintenance of the social equilibrium.  Its most important objective was to promote communal welfare by reconciling the divergent and competing interests of the different peoples. 
It was, however, regimentary and inadequate to cope with life and commerce in the new colony.  Therefore, with the establishment of the British Administration in Lagos, it began to introduce some workable system of law and legal institutions.

         Accordingly, in 1862, a Police Court was set up in Lagos to deal with cases which had arisen as a result of the growing commercial transactions in the colony.

         In 1863, the Supreme Court Ordinance of 1863 was promulgated. 
It constituted of the Supreme Court of Her Majesty Settlement of Lagos with effect from 9th April 1863.

         Between 1863 and 1874

 nine other Courts were constituted including
·      the Petty Debt Court,
·      the Court of Civil and Criminal Justice and
·      the Court of Request.

There was, however, a desperate shortage of suitable personnel to run the Courts and to perform the duties of advocate and solicitor.

         It is instructive that of the seven men to serve as Chief Magistrate in Lagos between 1861 and 1905, only three were qualified Barristers. 

Of the remaining four,
·      two were writing clerks,
·      one was a merchant and
·      the fourth a Commander of West Indian Garrison at Lagos. 
Of the fourteen who served as Police Magistrates,
·      four were merchants,
·      six were military officers and
·      one a Deputy Collector of Customs. 

         In fact, until August 1880 when Christopher Alexander Sapara Williams first appeared at the Supreme Court, there was no qualified practising lawyer in Lagos. 
To solve this problem, provisions were made in the Supreme Court Ordinance of 1876 for the admission of persons to practise as legal practitioner in Nigeria. 

For convenience, the development of the legal profession in Nigeria from then shall be examined in three periods as follows:

During this period, the Supreme Court Ordinance of 1876 earlier mentioned provided for three classes of persons to practice law in Nigeria namely.

a)                         Professionally Qualified Legal Practitioners
Section 71 of the Supreme Court Ordinance empowered the Chief Justice to approve, admit and enrol to practise as Barristers and Solicitors
such persons who have been called to the Bar or admitted as Solicitors in England, Scotland and Ireland.

Section 73 of the Supreme Court Ordinance empowered the Chief Justice to admit as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court any person
·      who had served five years continuously in the Office of practising Barrister or Solicitor residing within Jurisdiction of the Court and
·      who had passed such examinations of the Principles and Practice of Law before such persons as the Chief Justice (CJ) may from time to time appoint. 
This provision was intended to create the first opportunity for legal training for the Legal profession.  However, there is no record that advantage was ever taken of it.

Section 74 of the Supreme Court Ordinance empowered the Chief Justice to admit temporarily, as was necessary, other fit and proper persons to act as Barristers, Solicitors and Proctors. 
(Proctors are actually attorneys in spiritual Courts) subject to conditions and regulations as may be prescribed by rules of Court.

Order 8, Rule 1 of the Supreme Court Civil Procedure Rules made under the Supreme Court Ordinance, 1876 provided that their admission shall be by licence and shall entitle a person to enrol them for six months. 

The licence was renewable before or on the expiration of six months.  By virtue of this provision, a few not professionally qualified were admitted to practice and were called “local attorneys”. 
The Chief Justice could require appointees to sit for an examination to test their general education and knowledge as well as principles and practice of law.  They were to be of good character attested by a judge or two district commissioners.  The last of these local attorneys was enrolled in 1908.

Following the protest of professionally qualified lawyers in 1914, no further local attorneys were appointed.

THE PERIOD 1914 TO 1962
         During this period, legal practice was restricted to formally trained lawyers. 
However, there were no institutions in Nigeria to train aspirants to the Bar and, therefore, persons desirous of becoming lawyers travelled to England for formal training.

In England, aspirants to the Bar were required to join one of the four Inns of the Court, namely:
                                 i.         Inner Temple.
                               ii.         Middle Temple.
                              iii.         Grays Inn and
                             iv.         Lincolns Inn.

The educational qualification was West African School Certificate (WASC). 
The four Inns constituted the English Council of Legal Education. 
They arranged lectures for students on the subjects constituting the Bar Examination, that is, Bar Part 1 and Bar Final. 
The lectures were, however, not compulsory and many students did not attend them opting instead for private tuition or the correspondence course.

The prescribed Dinning terms were compulsory and the candidates must keep 12 Dining terms of which there were four in one year. 
A student who passed the examinations and kept the Dining Terms was entitled to be called to the Bar by the Benchers of his Inn. 

Thereafter, he is formally enrolled at the Supreme Court in England.  A three-month post-call practical course and one year pupilage in a Law Chamber was also required for a Barrister who intended to practice in England. 

Previously, he paid a fee of 100 Guineas to the Head of the Chamber but this is no longer the case.  He, however, cannot earn any fee during the first six months of his pupilage. 

Although a law degree was not required to be a Barrister, most English aspirants had University law degree.
 A law degree with second-class honours exempted a student from Bar Part 1 examination. 
Also graduate Barristers in the Nigerian Civil Service had an advantage over non-graduate ones because they earn higher salaries.

To qualify as a Solicitor, a person was required to be articled to a firm of Solicitors in England for at least four years. 
The educational qualification was WASC. 
The Law Society which is the Governing Body for Solicitors organised Solicitors’ Part 1 and Final Examinations which a candidate must pass.  A law degree was not required.

In 1922, a school was established to organise a course for Solicitors and attendance was mandatory. 

In England, the Legal profession is divided into two classes, Barristers and Solicitors.  A person can only train and practice either as a Barrister or a Solicitor. 

There is a marked difference in the legal duties performed by each class.  A Barrister’s business consists mainly in advocacy.  He has a right of audience in the Courts. 

On the other hand, the best-known area of operation for Solicitors is in non-litigious work.  This includes drawing up of documents such as conveyances, contracts, wills; administering estates and trusts and advising clients generally.  For litigious work, that is, work which involves litigation, a Solicitor instructs a Barrister.
In Nigeria, however, the Legal profession is fused and aspirants to the Bar are trained as Barristers and Solicitors. 


1.   An English-trained lawyer, having trained as either a Barrister or Solicitor would be deficient being enrolled in Nigeria to practice as both a Barrister and Solicitor.
2.   This deficiency is that in England he studies English textbooks and case law or law reports.
3.   In England, in Constitutional Law, he studied the Unitary System of Government whereas Nigeria is a Federation.  He also did not study Nigerian Land Law or Nigerian Customary Law.
4.   In England, up till 1967, there was no mandatory course of lectures for aspirants.  A university degree was also not required. 
5.   Furthermore, lawyers who had trained and enrolled in England and who did not intend to practice in England were not mandated to take the three months post-call practical course or serve pupilage for one year in a Law Chamber.

This position was, however changed by Order 16, Rule 1.   It provided additional grounds for some form of practical experience for the enrolment of lawyers in Nigeria as follows:

The Chief Justice may in his discretion approve, admit, and enrol the practice as Barrister and Solicitor, any person who inter alia:

1)   Has read in the Chambers of a practising barrister or Advocate of more than 5 years standing, for at least one year or has practised in the Court of the country in which he had been called or admitted for at least two years subsequent to the call or admission or

2)   Has subsequent to his call to bar, read in Nigeria in the Chambers of a practising Barrister of more than 10 years studying for at least two years, or

3)   Has practised as a barrister or Solicitor in the Courts of British Colony or protectorate for at least two years.


         In order to correct the anomalies earlier mentioned, the government appointed a Committee in April 1959:

To consider and make recommendations for the future of Legal Education and admission to practise, the right of audience before a Court and the making of reciprocal arrangement in this connection with other countries.


1)   The Federal Attorney General, E. I. G. Unsworth. (The Chairman)
2)   The Regional Attorneys General.
3)   The Solicitor General of the Federation.
4)   The Legal Secretary of the Southern Cameroons.
5)   Six distinguished Legal Practitioners.


         The Committee published its report in October 1959 as follows:

1)   Nigeria should establish its own system of Legal Education.
2)   A Faculty of Law should be established first at the University College, Ibadan and subsequently at any other university to be established in the future.
3)   A Law School to be known as “The Nigerian Law School” should be established in Lagos to provide vocational course.
4)   Qualification for admission for Legal practice in Nigeria should be:

a.    A law degree of a university whose course for the degree is organised or prescribed by the Council of Legal Education.
b.    The vocational course prescribed by the Council at the Law School established by it.

5)   Any person graduating in Law from a university which has not accepted the syllabus recommended by the Council should be required to take further take its examination as the Council may prescribe.
6)   The Council of Legal Education should be established.

Most of these recommendations were implemented through the Legal Education Act of 1963 and the Legal Practitioners Act of 1962. 
The Law School was set up in 1962. 

It ran a 3-month course in January to April 1963 for graduates who had been called to Bar in England while Law graduates who had not been called to Bar had to do a one-year Course starting from October 1963.


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