MATTERS OF THE BAR 4 – Rules of Professional (Mis) Conduct

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The law practice profession is, in my opinion, primus inter paires because it relates with the main tool of social engineering. It is the profession for ‘Caesar’s wife(ves)’ who must be above board. It is the noblest of the noble professions. It must be the exclusive preserve of the elitest of society.

The Rules of Professional Conduct have been put together to ensure that no lawyer is given the space to act in a manner that will bring the profession into disrepute or odium. They are the protective garbs of the profession against the vagaries of its own members.

However, the garb is gradually slipping into becoming preventive barrier of expression and fulfilment. Lawyers are feeling choked by the Rules as some of them affect the productivity and proficiency thus stifling capacity building and endangering the profession. They are fast becoming what Yorubas call ‘mashu mato’ (don’t defecate, don’t urinate rules).

In NBA v. Ibebunjo and Ukah & Ors. v. Onyia & Ors., the Rule that a lawyer should not engage in the job of a commissioned agent while practicing as a lawyer was interpreted to mean that a lawyer is not trained in the act of selling and buying of land.

The lawyer is forbidden from advertising, ‘ambulance-chasing’, champertney, trading among other restraints.

The biggest worries of Nigerian lawyers, especially the middle class and young lawyers, today is the dwindling class income particularly in the face of these practice restricting mashu-mato Rules.

After being educated in Land Law for 2 semesters of 500 level in the university, also in Equity and Trust, Conveyancing and Legal Drafting and Law of Contract at university and the Law School, that part of the ruling in Ibebunjo case is unfortunate.

Perhaps the thrust should be to avoid double portion and conflict of interest whence the rule should be that a person should not act both as the lawyer and as the commissioned agent in the same transaction.

In this I.T age, advertising has taken new dimensions. Those who have websites are advertising. In these hard times that jobs and briefs are hard to come by, advertising within the profession cannot be a sin.

For instance, a young lawyer could advertise to colleagues that (s)he is available to hold briefs in Ikeja for a fee. Or to conduct research for colleagues who may require it. Formally introducing one’s firm, in my view, does not put the profession into disrepute if there is no suggestion of proficiency, like ‘we have (won) cases in Appeal and Supreme Court’.

An ambulance-chaser educates victims about their rights. I dare state that in a third-world country, more damage is done to the justice system by ignorance than by instigating people to litigate. Let’s chase ambulance with dignity.

Foreign lawyers infiltrate our jurisdiction by chasing ambulances of plane crashes while we look on, pontificating theories of how to better the lots of young lawyers when many old lawyers are unsure of buying another car.
In a poor economy, most people who have right but do not have money do have money’s-worth.

I will prefer to take 10% of a vast land than #1million that will be paid in 10 installments. Why should that be wrong? We still call it instigating litigation.

For those who have earned enough to invest in other business, they should be free. I do not know how trading embarrasses the profession if the lawyer is not selling akara. Some unworthy trades could be blacklisted but a general ban is uncalled for.

Overall, the concern of the profession should be about integrity. Gone were the days of buoyancy that clients wait in queue at the reception of all lawyers. Today, only a very few are thriving. The Rules may kill the profession and its vaunted integrity.

TAKE NOTICE that any law that restrains the basic needs of mankind, like the new Okada law in Lagos State, is a failure ab initio.

There is urgent need for review.

S. O. K. Shillings Esq.

Call Bridget Edokwe Esq on 08060798767 or send your email to ngbarrister@gmail.com

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