What Do We Desire/Expect From our Legal Apprentices Otherwise Referred to as Pupils?

What Do We Desire/Expect From our Legal Apprentices Otherwise Referred to as Pupils?

By Charlotte O. Kwakye-Nuako, Esq, PhD[1]

 Legal practice is basically an apprenticeship backed by law—at least at the beginning. The Legal Profession Act, 1960 (Act 32) (as amended)[2], allows for persons who have been trained as lawyers to serve under senior lawyers for a period of six months prior to obtaining their licenses. In a recent document, the General Legal Council has laid out the requirements and expectations of Pupil Masters and pupils and has indicated what their respective roles should be during the pupillage period. They, however, failed to make the targets easily translatable into an easy assessment. As a behavioural scientist cum lawyer, I assess what has been developed by the General Legal Council and arrive at assessment criteria suitable for use by Pupil Masters. Its ability to be a painless assessment process will largely depend on the agency of the Pupil Master and the ability of the firm to use key portions of this assessment to manage the totality of the Pupil experience. As a working document, it would be further strengthened when there is feedback and information from readers. I begin with a discussion of the competencies required of lawyers. I also use behavioural and other psychological principles to discuss the pupillage learning experience and the need for personality testing.

Competencies and skills

The competencies of successful lawyers have been noted in some papers[3]. It has been found that for a lawyer to succeed, they require not only the left-brain hemisphere traits of analysis and logic but also creativity, attention to detail and social intelligence. Logical reasoning and analysis are important for lawyers to make meaning of cases and laws that are read and to apply their reasoning to the facts presented to them. They also require this trait in writing opinions for clients and for arriving at conclusions based on the various premises they are provided with. On the other hand, lawyeringis a service and, therefore, people skills are important. At the root of legal practice is people—a lawyer will deal with clients, other lawyers, judges, and the general public. It is, therefore, expedient that she should have a basic understanding of the people she meets and deal with them with utmost courtesy and decorum. Body and verbal language that denote arrogance and condescendence must be reduced to the minimum. The service of justice is expected to be a therapeutic need—people seek justice to assuage the pain of injustice and the lawyer is the instrument for this purpose. The manner in which the lawyer relates to her client (like a doctor to his patient) goes a long way to determine how the client experiences the justice process.[4] It, therefore, stands to reason that lawyers should be intentional in their dealings with their clients to enable them feel at ease and have a good psycho-legal experience. To accomplish this, they will require both the knowledge of the law and their empathetic skills.

Additionally, some underlying competencies and soft skills are valuable. People management, written and oral communication skills, conscientiousness, and ICT skills are important skills for the lawyer. In terms of people management, it is important that the lawyer appreciates and respects even the least of her clients and even the most annoying. It has been said that the clients who pay the least are the most worrisome[5]. That may be true, however, corporate clients may be as challenging, if not more. Although the corporate clients may pay better, their egos must be massaged and pampered sometimes which may be quite tasking to even the most agreeable lawyer.

Written and oral communication are sine qua non for legal practice. What a lawyer writes will be scrutinized by people even after the lawyer is dead (e.g. a drafted Will, contract or conveyance). There is, thus, a need for a lawyer to hone her written skills. Oral communication is clearly as important. If a lawyer is to go to court, communication would most likely be oral, if a lawyer is to speak to clients, oral communication is a must. In court, a lawyer requires oratory skills to put her points forcefully, but respectfully, across. Jumbled presentations smack of unpreparedness or immaturity; and judges are able to decipher that. Taking pains to learn the best possible language for written and oral communication should therefore be something a lawyer should always do. For some, oral intelligence and oratory skill is a gift (take Barack Obama or Ghana’s former Speaker of parliament Rt Hon Peter Ala Adjetey, for instance) but for others, it is a learned art. A Pupil may fall into one of these categories and would have to train herself to excel because it would be one of the main points of assessment. Even for persons with oratory skills, they need good content to speak about. It is always good to listen to a person who can speak well and sensibly.

Tenacity, dedication to duty and the ability to see things through are also important traits for the lawyer. Since cases take long periods of time, a lawyer has to be amenable to staying with issues for long periods of time and not giving up. They must also know how to do things well. In the current information age, computer skills are required. Most law offices do not retain typists anymore; lawyers are required to prepare and type out their own processes and so without these skills a lawyer would not have the most efficient practice. Shuttling between secretaries to make corrections to a process you need to file quickly is not something a lawyer should aspire to. Additional computing, basic data management and statistical tools are also worth learning for a lawyer. It is also said that a good lawyer knows where to find the law. Currently, the laws may be found online together with various forms and drafts. We are in the age where good research skills actually mean good internet surfing and research skills.

Above all, integrity is the bedrock of a lawyer’s practice. In Ghana, the Disciplinary Committee of the General Legal Council is alive to reports of ethical mishaps involving members of the Bar–and rightly so, because without integrity at the Bar, the legal profession will cease to be a profession. This is because one of the features of a profession is that it should have a standard of accountability that it holds its members to. The Bar code of ethics serves that purpose and as it continues to keep lawyers in check, it serves its purpose of maintaining legal practice as a profession of repute.

The other weightier matters

In this section I use principles of learning to discuss the issue of Pupil Masters and to advocate for personality testing.

As we learn from behaviourists, there are three main ways of learning from a behaviourist perspective[6]: classical conditioning, modelling and operant learning. In classical conditioning, an organism learns by associating one thing with another. For instance, we are attracted to models of cars because in advertising, these cars are paired with beautiful female models, success etc. Tinned tomato pastes are often paired (not with success at work) but with success at home—with a fulfilled wife and mother. Thus, the love we have for things that exist is associated with mundane things and as the pairing continues, we tend to transfer our love into those otherwise mundane things. In operant learning, a person learns by the rewards and/or punishment they receive from an action they undertake. If a person is punished for taking a step or for doing something, they are less likely to repeat it. However, should they be commended for it, they are more likely to repeat it. In modelling behaviour, a person learns from another (the model). Advertisers go to great lengths to obtain artiste and celebrity endorsement to make us think that if this person whom I like can do this, then I can also do same. And so we follow in their footsteps and patronise the product.

Pupillage is firstly an apprenticeship and thus as with all apprenticeships, a Pupil is required to study under a senior craftsman. The Bar thrives on seniority; it is, therefore, a requirement for the senior to know his craft well enough to teach it and for the Pupil to have enough faith in the senior to be willing to respect and learn from the senior. Going by the behavioural principles, a Pupil Master may teach by modelling but can also teach by what the Pupil believes to be factors associated with success and by the rewards they themselves learn to obtain by certain actions (they are adults after all). In a reflective piece by Gurah Sampson[7], he mentions how the senior under whom you work shapes your practice. In a sense, he got it right—sharp practices are learned from sharp practitioners. Where a Pupil Master is diligent and has integrity, he tends to pass this on to his Pupils.

I am also advocating for personality tests to be used to assess Pupils to ensure that they are placed in the right areas of practice[8]. Personality tests are generally questions asked to determine the prevalent traits of an individual. I must point out though that the test to be used depends on the theoretical focus of the user. For instance, if one believes in the teachings of Sigmund Freud and others similar to him, the Myers-Briggs test may be used. However, if one is a Trait theorist and believes that personality is made up of persisting traits that an individual exhibits in different situations over time, then other tests may be used. The relevance of these tests is to as much as possible prevent the ill-placement of pupils and lawyers. The legal profession is generally built on level of extraversion and good social skills meaning that one must be able to relate well with others and to network and receive energy from interacting with others. It,however, offers opportunities for persons who are introverted. The backbone of any good legal practice is research and a person who is always energized externally may not be able to sit for long hours to read and write detailed opinions[9].

Pupils are individuals and they are different. Not everyone who graduates from law school can work in dispute resolution or litigation, neither can they all work as legal librarians or law reporters/editors. A good fit is thus essential for placing pupils in the right departments and areas so they can flourish. In this regard, I would recommend that the assessment should give Pupil Masters the opportunity to put a weighting on the skills they assess. For instance, if a pupil is good at oratory and litigation, their weighting on the criteria on litigation should be higher than what is given for other parts of practice for instance.

Discussing the assessment framework

As already discussed, there are some competencies required of pupils as well as soft skills. These have been compiled in a tabular form into sections A-G with weighting to allow for an effective evaluation of the Pupil (see table 1). Each item of interest is evaluated on a 5-point Likert scale with 5 being the highest score and 1 being the lowest score. The scores for each section are then multiplied by the weighting factor. The total score corresponds to the total score received with weighting divided by the total scores multiplied by 100 to give a percentage overall score. The overall score is however, not to be the focus. I would suggest that the section scores be taken more seriously since it will show the area of competency of the pupil better. Comments are allowed at the bottom of the sheet to enter in the personality test scores and the overall evaluation of the Pupil Master based on the totality of the pupil experience and scores.


In conclusion, the legal profession is a service profession and for that reason, the internal processes required to make a person do well in this helping profession have been outlined and weighted in a scoring sheet. Hopefully, it will help to accurately assess persons who aspire to be a part of the profession. I accept that there may be practical challenges to assessing pupils. For instance, where there are no options for negotiations or corporate practice in a firm the Pupil Master would need to find other ways of assessing the Pupil of that skill. Thus, in short, what we desire of our legal apprentices should not only be what is assessed by the GLC, but there should be additional attributes and some of these have been discussed in this paper.  As mentioned in the introduction of this paper, this assessment tool will require feedback to help improve upon it.

Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash

[1] Charlotte O. Kwakye-Nuako is a doctoral-level clinical psychologist and a lawyer. She teaches at the Department of Forensic Science, University of Cape Coast, and practices law on an adjunct basis with ADU-KUSI PRUC. Her research is focused on making psychology relevant to law and legal practice.

[2]Section 8 of Act 32 reads as follows: a newly qualified lawyer shall not be issued with a solicitor’s license unless the General Legal Council (the “Council”) is satisfied that since qualifying as a lawyer, that person has read for a period of not less than six (6) months in the Chambers (including law firm) of another lawyer approved by the Council; of not less than seven (7) years’ standing.

[3] Susan Swaim Daicoff, ‘Expanding the Lawyer’s Toolkit of Skills and Competencies: Synthesizing Leadership, Professionalism, Emotional Intelligence, Conflict Resolution, and Comprehensive Law’, Santa Clara Review, 52.c (2012), 1–82.

[4]Therapeutic jurisprudence is a legal principle that interrogates how the role of laws, legal actors and the courts influence whether or not the court would have therapeutic or anti-therapeutic effects of users (Wexler, 2011, 2013).

[5]Sampson, F. G. (December 21, 2020). 20 lessons from 5 years of legal practice.https://ghanalawhub.com/20-lessons-from-5-years-of-legal-practice/

[6] The three main perspectives on learning are: cognitivist, behaviourist, and constructivist. In this paper I focus only on the behaviourist perspective.

[7] Sampson (2020)

[8] In the use of personality tests and other assessments, it would be expedient to seek the help of licensed professional psychologists (clinical; industrial or counseling). This is because their interpretation requires expert knowledge.

[9]This is an overgeneralization because personality is more nuanced than that and what helps mostly is conscientiousness and attention to detail and not necessarily extraversion or introversion. A person may be high on introversion but also high on conscientiousness.

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