I was sure that my Monday could not get any worse after losing the matter for Chief Fioladabira at the Lagos State High Court, and losing my voice in the same process. I WAS WRONG!
Fries Afrique, a notable hangout joint in Lagos Island usually attracts Junior Associates from my Firm with its orgasmic cat-fish pepper soup; a ritual which has earned a position either as item 4 or 5 on our monthly budgets. June 2014 was no different. Four of us drove down in Seye’s Toyota Camry “tiny light” from Court and had barely finished rolling our sleeves when a decently dressed man of about 35 years of age walked in holding two evidently hungry Rottweiler dogs. He asked the barman “do you serve lawyers here”? And just before I got up to ask if he was blind, the Barman nodded in affirmation. The customer seemed relieved when he said, “Give me two bottles of Big Stout for myself and give me two lawyers for my Rottweilers”.
We fled so fast, the Camry was left behind.
BUT WHY THE HATRED FOR LAWYERS?
The practice of law under English Common Law as well as in contemporary Africa has remained reputable for its nobility, distinction and immense significance to national development, economic and otherwise. The importance of lawyers cannot be divorced from the spine of any progressive community. From education to commerce, governance to inter-personal relationships, lawyers continue to be a constant denominator, serving as lamplights to individuals and corporate entities. From a corporate perspective, commercial transactions of mergers, acquisitions or joint-ventures between corporate entities cannot successfully be completed without a lawyer; on the other hand, individuals also cannot obtain divorce from their spouses without a lawyer; property cannot be purchased; cheats cannot be punished; artistes cannot be protected; knowledge cannot be personalized; human life cannot be safeguarded; fraud cannot be prosecuted; even idiots cannot be quarantined without establishing it in a law court! Yet, lawyers remain detested.
In Nigeria as well as across the globe, legal practice is governed by a multiplicity of codifications, and not the discretion, whims and caprices of individual lawyers, as believed by the layman. In clearer perspective, the grundnorm in Nigeria is the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria while various other enactments govern specific aspects of law (e.g. The Criminal Code and The Criminal Procedure Act, the Penal Code and The Criminal Procedure Code, The Companies and Allied Matters Act and the various High Court Civil Procedure Rules). There are also formal structures such as the Supreme Court, Federal High Court and other Courts, the Bar Associations, the Legal practitioners Disciplinary Committee, the Law Firms, and various committees that regulate the practice and business of law in Nigeria.
As part of my contribution to fostering love for lawyers, I have prepared a short speech;
Please be informed that there are actually guidelines which lawyers follow in their activities. We do not just choose to sound so verbose or Shakespearean when talking to you or insist on our perspective during an argument – most times, we are actually quoting the provision of a Section in an Act of the National Assembly or State Houses of Assembly. Also, it is not because our car brakes were faulty that we drove away when the Policeman complained about the crack on our rearview mirror – We actually knew it was not his duty to ask. Again, we did not just refuse to vacate your house before our rent expired even after you brought thugs – We just expected you to bring a Quit Notice! In a similar vein, the plan was not to intimidate you when the Shareholders Agreement we prepared was 48 pages after you said you wanted a one-pager – We are simply being conscious that the fact that both shareholders have been best friends from “days-in-diapers” is not enough reason to omit all relevant clauses from the Agreement, especially the Termination and Governing Law clauses. And it is definitely not because we do not trust your Pastor’s ability to settle your fight that we threw the Arbitration and Dispute Resolution Clause in as well. Similarly, please do not be upset when we lend you money and demand that you sign on a piece of paper – Just save yourself a possible jail term and loss of a pound of flesh by at least reading through it. Also kindly forgive us for going into contract with you using our company’s name and not our first name and surname – we know we may default and know that the company can be sued while we are on holiday in the Caribbeans. Please note also, that while we may spray perfume and wear our finest socks and expensive wrist watches just to use the toilet, we are simply conscious of our dignified profession and we must always look the part. Even the toilet cleaners are potential clients.
Thank you for your understanding
With at least 52 interesting postulations, the Rules of Professional Conduct is a guiding document to which legal practitioners in Nigeria are expected to be bound. The first and fifth rules mandate us to be punctual, regular, thorough, pay attention to detail, prompt, and respect constituted authority. The second rule is the reason we never take bribes or even offer them. Also, while the third rule is the basis on which we argue so much and sometimes choose to be reasonable even when we can cheat you lawfully, the fourth rule is the reason we do not do so. It compels us to be honorable. Rule 6 is the reason we are always on our toes, dress smart and keep our ties in place until we return to where we wore them. Interestingly, Rule 7 and 9 are directly linked to Section 36 (4) and (6)(c) which protect an accused person, however sure we are of his/her guilt. Lawyers have a legal obligation, if paid, to defend to the best of their ability, any “criminal” brought before the law, so we appeal to the general public to understand why we do not abandon them or even set them up. Personal opinions of the lawyer are immaterial to the case, and even where the accused person admits guilt to the lawyer in confidence, the admission is not enough reason for the lawyer to sell the accused person out for punishment. In like manner, lawyers are compelled by Rule 8 to defend or fight for prisoners, however poor they may be. The tenth Rule is the basis on which we do not accept all briefs, just because the potential clients are family or friends, once we already have an interest or are committed to the other party. The exception, of course is where the lawyer discloses his relationship or interest to both parties, who in turn approve his representation for both of them. For the members of the public who are usually amazed to hear that a prominent politician has engaged 14 Senior Advocates of Nigeria to handle the same case on his behalf, please refer to Rule 11. It is done because it is permitted. Rule 12 on another hand, explains why it seems as if a client storms into the lawyers office crying or panicking, yet the lawyer sits calmly smoking a cigar or sipping hot coffee until the frantic client is able to express himself clearly and fully. Similarly, while some highly intelligent clients with PHD in Metallurgical Engineering come to the Law Firm to dictate to the lawyer the legal process to be followed, Rule 13, 15, 18 and 20 prevent the lawyer from dogged obedience. It is a lawyer’s duty to ensure that the client is not misguided from the law and restrain the client, where possible from adding to the crimes committed. It is also important that we beg you to forgive your lawyer if he does not insist to the court that he trusts you or believes you never could have committed the offence levied against you. He may also not offer to be a witness for you in court. He is simply scared of contravening Rule 14 and 19. Kindly understand. On a similar matter, please forgive the lawyer for hugging your opponent’s lawyer after the heated argument in court. Remember that the case was between you and the other party, not your lawyer and the other party’s lawyer. Rule 16 says so, not me. I agree that you may believe that lawyers try to win cases based on technicalities, but I dare say that lawyers never do so; at least I know Rule 17 discourages it.
Boredom may begin to creep in if I continue to enlighten the public on the different rules governing the practice of law by lawyers. But while I again appeal to the public to love us as lawyers, this is the part where I confess that with this piece, I have simply done my part in upholding the provisions of Rule 1, 11, 21, 24 and 38 by reminding all lawyers of their responsibilities and liabilities. I have also successfully done my part as my brother’s keeper, lest the wrath of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee be invoked upon us all.
With that said, it is important to state that If lawyers have simply complied with all these Rules and carry out our legal duties based on the laws of Nigeria, at least to the extent that we are not yet disbarred or prosecuted, then I dare say this to all laymen, “don’t hate the player, hate the game”!
“I’m a lawyer, would you marry me?”