Adewumi and Pitan 37
Social distancing was introduced as a means of reducing the spread of the pandemic.4 Following the
announcements, there was a global lockdown of almost all the sectors of the economy, including
the education sector, which forced many schools to remain closed temporarily. To protect and respect the
right to education despite the closure of schools, UNESCO has recommended that ‘Online learning
should be used to mitigate the immediate impact of lost normal school time… through the adoption of a
variety of hi-tech, low-tech and no tech solutions to assure the continuity of learning’.5
Legal education refers to the ‘process which equips the future lawyer, judge, administrator, counsellor
and legal scientists to know how legislative, executive, judicial organs of the government are designed
and how they operate’.6 Succinctly, legal education prepares a student to become a legal practitioner
properly positioned to effectively function wherever the services of his profession are needed. Thus,
functionalism in legal education means that students are not just prepared with the ultimate mindset of
becoming lawyers but becoming lawyers and partaking in functional roles in the society.
Adopting a multidisciplinary approach for a contextual analysis, this study utilized the functional
theory of law and the social science quantitative research study to assess the perception of Nigerian Law
students towards the emergency online teaching occasioned by the lockdown. The functional theory of
law, otherwise, known as legal functionalism, is a theory associated with social anthropology in the
twentieth century.7 The theory became prominent as a sociological theory in the 1950s and has become
a theory of law referred to as ‘legal functionalism’.8 This theory is preoccupied with the process through
which individual needs within a societal context are satisfied while also considering the effects of societal
constraints on an individual.9 Its objective is to evaluate a societal action or decision in order to reveal
the connotation of the decisions.10 This gives rise to the fundamental question: will legal education still
be able to fulfil its functional roles in the society, considering the developments that have emerged in the
educational sector as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
To put this in proper perspective, the study evaluates the effect of the lockdown on legal education
and the feasibility of online learning in legal education. The study was conducted among the Nigerian
Law School students and undergraduate law students from private universities who were exposed to
learning through the use of online platforms as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The
federal and state universities were left out because their lecturers embarked on a strike action shortly
before the COVID-19 lockdown, which prevented academic work in these universities during the
lockdown. The quantitative research was adopted because the current situation with legal education is
novel in Nigeria and the researchers also went through legal education without being exposed to any of
4 K. Goniewicz & A. Khorram-Manseh, Maintaining Social Distancing during the COVID-19 Outbreak, 10 SOC. SCI. 14 (2021).
5 Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response. available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/19/
6 M. R. Burra & V. N. Madasu, Importance of Internet Facility in Support of Legal Education and Legal Research. 2(5)
ABHINAV J. (2013), cited by I. A. Olubiyi, A. J. Olaniyan & N. Odiaka, The Role of Technology in the Advancement of Legal
Education and Practice in Nigeria. Paper presented at the Nigerian Association of Law Teachers [NALT] conference, Afe
Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria, June 2015, available at https://www.thelearnedfriends.com/the-role-of-technology-in-
the-advancement-of-legal-education-and-practice-in-nigeria/ (accessed 13 June 2021).
7 A. Lesser, Functionalism in Social Anthropology, lecture delivered at the American Anthropological Association, the American
Folk-Lore Society, and Section H of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Pittsburg, 27 December 1934,
available at https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1525/aa.1935.37.3.02a00020 (accessed 13 March 2021).
8 M. P. Golding, Realism and Functionalism in the Legal Thought of Felix S. Cohen 66(5) Cornell L. Rev. 1032 (1981).
9 A. Barnard, History and Theory in Anthropology (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
10 G. Sciortino, Functionalism and Social Systems Theory, in The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory (B. Turner ed.,
Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2009) 106.