The Law School Journey: Interview with Michelle Okyere, Esq. Pt. 1
Michelle is a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Ghana and is currently practicing at Bentsi – Enchill, Letsa & Ankomah, one of the leading and commercial law firms in Ghana. In this post, we take a look at her law school journey from her early days at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology.
Did you always know you were going to be a lawyer?
I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer and as such, I pursued law once I had the opportunity to do so at the tertiary level.
Can you briefly provide details on your post - secondary education journey?
I attended the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), where I studied law and graduated in 2015. The same year, I passed the law school entrance exam and gained admission to the Ghana School of Law aka 'Makola'. In 2017, I became a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Ghana. Just recently, I graduated with a Masters of Law at Nottingham Law School in the UK.
I’ve heard it is mandatory for all undergraduate law students to dress in any black and white official attire for all classes throughout their 4 years at KNUST. Is that true?
Yes, it is!
How did you feel about it?
I did not like it because undergrad is a time where you are freely allowed to
explore your options, including clothing, so this was a bit restrictive, but
after a while you get used to this requirement. Also, both in law school and in the law practice, wearing bright colors is prohibited so the undergrad experience was a good learning curve for the future.
Did you do an internship during your undergraduate studies?
Yes, I actually did 2 internships! My first internship was at Ghartey and Ghartey Chambers and the second internship was at a law firm of a family member.
After graduating from KNUST, what did you do?
I spent a couple of months preparing for the Ghana School of Law entrance exams, which I successfully passed and enrolled in law school in 2015.
Is a first degree in Law one of the prerequisites to getting accepted into the Ghana School of Law?
What is the process for someone who obtained their first degree in a non - law program, but is interested in becoming a lawyer in Ghana?
The normal duration for the undergraduate law degree in Ghana is 4 years, but if an individual has a degree in a different field, it can take ~3 or less years to obtain a law degree before one can be eligible to apply to the Ghana School of Law.
Does obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in law guarantee a prospective student a seat at the Ghana School of Law?
To be able to attend Makola, an entrance exam is required. Failure to pass th exam disqualifies a prospective student from attending the Ghana School of Law.
Does passing the law school entrance exam guarantee a prospective student a seat at the Ghana School of Law?
Yes, however, depending on how students fare during any given admission period, the pass mark may be increased or decreased.
Are there other institutions aside from the University of Ghana and KNUST which offer the Bachelor’s degree in Law program?
There are actually quite a number of universities in Ghana now such as Central University and GIMPA providing this program.
Is the Ghana School of Law the only school in Ghana where one has to go before becoming a lawyer in Ghana?
Yes, it is! However, the Ghana School of Law has branches on some campuses aside from that of Makola in Accra, so there is Ghana School of Law, GIMPA, and Ghana School of Law, Kumasi.
In the USA, students pursuing their first degree in a science program are still required to take some courses in the humanities and those pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree are also required to take courses in the sciences. Can this be said to be the same in Ghana?
I’m not fully aware of how the other universities or departments operate in Ghana, but during my time at the Faculty of Law in KNUST, we had different modules, some of which were optional, but most of the courses were law related and in the humanities. We were trying to encourage the ‘Heads’ to incorporate courses in languages and technology because of how globally connected and fast the world is changing, but I don’t know if there has been any recent implementation in that regard.
Interestingly, quite a high number of law school students in the USA have their first degree in a non - law related fields such as Engineering and History. Now that you have graduated and are currently practicing, has there been a time where you wish you had pursued a different course, other than law for your first degree?
Honestly, if I had the option, I would have pursued a different course other than law for my first degree. I feel like with law you need to have an open - mind to be able to do the program because it can be a bit daunting. However, if you are absolutely sure about wanting to become a lawyer, I'll say go for it. A number of people use law as a background for other things e.g. Compliance, so you will realize there is also a high number of people who have their first degree in law but don’t end up going to law school. I would have preferred to do a business course, because even though law is
general, at the end of the day you will have to specialize because law is very broad and covers a wide range of areas. I’m currently into energy and natural resources law and I feel it would have been easier if I had some previous background in this industry. For example, if one intends to become a Financial Lawyer, they will need to know about the finance market and have some background in the business sector to perform well on their job. Nonetheless, I do not think there is any one way to go about it. Most people tend to do undergraduate law, continue at the Ghana School of Law, and then obtain a Master’s degree in their specialty of interest.
Could you elaborate when you say, “If I had the option?” When it came to choosing your program at university, did you not have a choice?
Well, I applied and got accepted into the undergraduate law program that’s why I pursued it; there wasn’t really an option. Unfortunately, the Ghanaian system is not like the US system where you can easily change your program. Additionally, the thing with Law, as well as any career is, if you do not have anyone advising you, you’re more likely to do things as you may seem fit and learn from your mistakes.
Will you say your experience at the Ghana School of Law prepared you to be a lawyer?
Yes and no (laughs). No in the sense that working professionally in the legal sector is totally different from what you learn in school. Totally different! In law school you learn all the theoretical stuff, but when you come into practice, it’s different! I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s totally different! The thing about being a lawyer is, you need to know where to find the law and how to analyze it, so those are the 2 key points. In
undergrad, it’s more of memorizing the facts of the cases, as well as applying it. However, in the working world, there is nothing like “chew and pour”! When you are presented with a problem, you need to be able to find the solution to the problem. Obviously, you may have past cases you can refer to in defending your position to whatever solution you propose, but you don’t necessarily need to have them all in
memory, although it’s a plus if you do. The most important thing is to find what you are looking for and know how to research! Your research skills needs to be topnotch!
Was Research Methods taught at the Undergrad level?
There are modules like legal research and research methods, however, it is very rare for faculty to sit you down to tell you where to find stuff. It was through my school assignments, legal internships and work experiences that I upgraded my research skills. In Ghana, most of the information available is via hard copy, so you can imagine how hard it may be to access certain information, especially if its scarce. We do not have an electronic law encyclopedia like Lexis Nexis and West Law like the US and UK system respectively. However, some electronic law databases like Dennis Law has been developed in Ghana recently which have been quite helpful.
Michelle recently obtained her Master of Laws degree in International Business/Trade/Commerce Law from Nottingham Law School in the United Kingdom.
The second part of this interview highlights her time at the Ghana School of Law, Nottingham Law School, and the work she currently does. To be the the first to see Part 2 of this post, subscribe here.