Professor Patrick Osode is a professor of law at the Nelson Mandela School of Law, University of Fort Hare. He completed his LLB and LLM at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, and then completed his doctoral degree in law from the University of Toronto, Canada.
In this interview conducted by Zibalule Mdeni, Prof. Osode shares his experience from having completed his education in an international university and some wise words for prospective legal scholars, amongst other things.
What do law lecturers/scholars do besides teaching?
Being an academic allows to develop advanced skills and expertise, and it allows to address high-level audiences in particular subject areas. Through this, you will find some academics having to work for international organisations such as the United Nations, the African Union, African Development Bank, to mention a few.
Legal academics can be also be appointed to become judges. In addition, legal academics can take up the role of being special advisors in government agencies where special expertise are required.
Young people must know that the academic track allows players on that track to develop high-level expertise which is acknowledged. For instance, academics publish work and through your published work you get recognition beyond your university.
Through your recognition, you can get external invitations to be part of other academies.
What interpersonal skills should a prospective academic look for in themselves or develop?
While in university, a student can identify a number of skills that would give her an indication that she will not only be effective but be happy as an academic. You won’t last long in the academy if you are not happy about being an academic.
Academy is not just a job, it’s a calling.
Firstly, to be an effective academic, you must love learning. Be passionate about obtaining more information. Secondly, you must curious. You must ask pertinent questions. Thirdly, you must love the process of learning. You must enjoy the process whether you are on the learning side or the teaching side. Fourth, academics feel strongly about what is just and unjust. Academics have a strong sense of fairness.
Lastly, you must love excellence. You must love to see excellence being done in schools, society and in all human spaces. If you possess the above attributes, you might be effective in future as an academic.
Do you think practical experience as a lawyer is necessary for one to be a successful legal academic?
Practical experience in law is useful for the academic. As to how much, would be an issue of debate. I would recommend an aspirant legal academic to get a minimum of two years of practical experience.
If you aim to do a Masters’ degree or PhD, the lack of practical experience beyond LLB can present a challenge. Practical experience after your LLB can open your mind. It allows your mind to understand how the law works in the real world.
Practical experience can help you challenge the current thinking of the law. It is not helpful to have an academic who has no idea how the law works in practice.
Be that as it may, too much practical experience can be also a problem. The work of legal academics is distinct in a lot of ways from what is done in practice. Therefore, you must not go too far.
Academics focus more on research and are rarely exposed to the day-to-day issues dealt with by practising lawyers. But there are scholars who are successful without any legal experience.
Does the way in which the LLB program is structured from one Law School to another have a bearing on the quality of the qualification?
Not necessarily. A course can be done from the second year or final year in various law schools, respectively. A lot depends on the individual student, not so much at the arrangement of the qualification of the curriculum.
If a student is diligent, they can do well and obtain a quality qualification. The key is that you as a student must learn it well. A student must focus on the quality of the work taught, not so much on how the curriculum is structured in their university.
Would you advise students who wish to enrol for a postgraduate degree to complete their degree at an international university (like you did)?
There’s a lot of factors that attract student to pursue their postgrad studies to prefer an overseas opportunity. Completing your studies overseas can expose you to an environment with more resources.
As an assumption, most international universities have more resources to support the work of a postgraduate student. The opportunity to study overseas can help you learn more about the world. It exposes you to a more diverse world than the one you’re familiar with. This can be useful, as you will work with different people, from different backgrounds as a professional.
Studying overseas can help you develop new coping mechanisms and capacities as a person. This will help fast-track your personal development, as opposed to you being in a familiar environment. Studying overseas can offer you a more financially beneficial opportunity. Scholarships can be very generous when you study in an international university.
Additionally, studying overseas can help build your competence. This can help a student become a global player and produce work for global consumption. If you study in your home country, you won’t stretch yourself enough as international opportunities can influence to write differently about your chosen subject.
Are you happy with female representation in the legal academic space?
I will say that things are improving. There is an upward trajectory. In the next five to ten years, [female representation] will be in a better position. There are good initiatives in place to support the recruitment and progression of legal academics in South Africa.
If the leadership of universities can stay the course, the next five to ten years will be good. It’s an ongoing process.
The status quo is not one which can be celebrated yet.
(Zibalule Mdeni is a tutor at the University of Fort Hare and a mentee in the Upeksha Mentorship Programme)