The Gambia Bar Association issued the following press release supporting the Legal Practitioners Bill 2015 which requires a newly qualified lawyer to work for a period under a lawyer who has been in practice for ten years:

The Gambia Bar Association welcomes the advent of The Legal Practitioners Bill 2015. The bill will improve the standards of the Legal Profession and legal practice and seeks to assure the quality and standard of legal professionals by introducing a system of apprenticeship known as pupillage and tenancy before independent practice. The Bill also recognizes senior legal practitioners that have distinguished themselves and contributed positively to the development of jurisprudence and the legal profession.

The Gambia Bar Association conveys its appreciation and congratulations particularly to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, the General Legal Council and all stakeholders who have contributed to this bill as well as the National Assembly for passing the bill which is vital for the development of a sound legal profession.

The introduction of the University of The Gambia and the Gambia Law School has provided many Gambians the opportunity to become lawyers without the need to go for overseas training. This in many ways is helping enrich the legal fraternity and infuse our legal profession with more locally relevant training for the development of our jurisprudence in line with our cultural peculiarities. Continuous professional education through the system of pupillage, tenancy and other professional development courses must be established to ensure that legal professionals are equipped with the requisite knowledge, ethical comportment and skills to competently deliver services to the population. A pupillage is an apprenticeship programme that is an essential element of continuous legal education for a newly trained law school graduate. Pupillages expose newly trained lawyers to firsthand experience in various practice areas of how the law actually works in practice. This experience provides the bridge between academic knowledge and actual day-to-day practice of law. Prior to this new bill there was no formal system of pupillage, newly qualified lawyers could immediately return to The Gambia after having completed their law school abroad and set up practice with hardly any experience of legal practice.

Notwithstanding, many lawyers who returned home chose to work for the Attorney General’s Chambers or joined a senior lawyer’s chambers. The new Bill amongst other things will ensure that lawyers receive proper guidance and training post qualification before they embark on self employment as independent legal practitioners serving the public; in particular ensuring that lawyers uphold the highest level of professional and ethical conduct.

Under the Bill upon completion of a successful pupillage a newly qualified lawyer has the option to start their own practice provided that he or she undergoes a tenancy program under the guidance of a lawyer who has at least 10 years experience. A Tenancy gives a newly qualified pupil the opportunity to liaise with other highly skilled experts in the profession, gain exposure and have immediate access to otherwise limited resources, develop their legal identity, and manage heavy workloads, which are common in established law firms, but impossible to generate as independent, under-resourced, unpracticed and unknown lawyers. Graduates are subjected to intense practical training, similar to the residency training requirement after medical school and requirement for pilots to gain flight experience in some cases up to 10 years, before qualifying as a professional pilot, even after being issued a pilot’s license. The apprenticeship program through the pupilage is an inherent element of legal training of lawyers from common law jurisdictions for a good reason.

It is common in most English speaking African Countries (Ghana, Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mauritius, Zambia, Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, Malaysia, Seychelles) and indeed in many common law countries for law students to undergo a period of pupillage from 6 months to 3 years. It is also common to undergo tenancy of up to 7 years before being allowed to open a practice.

The introduction of the Legal Practitioners Bill and in particular the system of apprenticeship is in the interest of all lawyers present and future as it ensures that the quality of legal professionals is maintained for the interest of all stakeholders in the judicial sector most importantly the general public. The Gambia Bar Association looks forward to the successful assent of the new bill and further associated developments that will follow.