Reflections from A Young Lawyer, Ikeja Bar, Lagos Nigeria -By Adeyemi Abijo, Esq.
Let me begin by saluting the courage and convictions of all the Leaders of the NBA, Ikeja Branch from creation of the Branch that has become now quite formidable in the comity of Branches. The very essence of this salutation is to give honour to whom honour is due so I can have my space and at the same time, not falter. It is my firm belief that the Elders of the Branch wantour growth so we, the younger generation can sustain the good works they have all brought to bear in IkajaBar over the years spanning decades.
Let me also state that I became inspired to put up these reflections as a result of the banters, intellectual discourse and the catch-ups experienced on the Branch’s official platform we(Silks, Seniors and younger Counsel too) all engaged ourselves quite frankly over the propriety or otherwise of the call for extension of deadline for payment of Practicing Fees. This episode actually threw up a few issues that are indeed germane and must be revisited in the interest of all but ultimately, in the best interest of the Branch, going forward. Some of the issues include the following;
- Payment of Bar practicing fee in good time.
- Remuneration of young Lawyers in Ikeja.
- The running of the business of law.
- PAYMENT OF BAR PRACTICING FEE IN GOOD TIME
The need for a Lawyer to pay up his/her practicing fee in good time cannot be over-emphasized for it is the plank upon which the right to practice stands. This was the argument of the Learned Silk, Kayode Enitan when he opined that there was no reason for any extension of payment deadline. This is the position of the law. The call for extension of payment deadline coming from one of the past Chairmen of the Branch,M.O Ubani, ESQ. could not have come at a better time given the very unusual time we all found ourselves-COVID-19 Pandemic ravaging every nook and cranny of the world’s space. It is noteworthy that some Colleagues will usually choose to pay towards the deadline or even on the last day. This may not be against the law but very dangerous as it has now turned out.
I believe that the two scenarios can stand alone separately in the sense that they are debatable though, if placed against the law as already finally laid to rest by the NBA President (in his address to all members on the 1st of April, 2020), the law prevails., That is the position for now until a Court of law in the future rules the other way.
The take home for us young Lawyers: it is best to make hay while the sun shines. It is clearly discernible that any young Lawyer who had chosen to pay up in good time would have felt less bother and watch the debate on the platform with some pity for the Colleagueswho areyet to pay. I can imagine a situation where the failure to pay within the deadline would ordinarily disentitle a Lawyer to practice in that year even if he pays afterwards as it is now. The effect of such a situation would mean that everyone will try as much as possible to pay-up within the time frame- this should be the proper approach as business-minded professionals that we ought to be. Please note that this is not my argument against the need or call for extension of deadline for the payment of Bar Practicing Fee, 2020.
It is my position that if we run our law practice as a business entity and understand the essence of regulatory compliance as we do in the case of Clients, it will not be a big deal paying up in good time. Like we jokingly say in our Chambers, the amount payable for practicing fee cannot compare with the fee you charge as a Lawyer for the smallest brief if indeed, we put our mind to it as Professionals in business. It may not be out of placethat some of our Colleagues are disenchanted about the leadership and the running of the NBA to the extent that they feel paying yearly fee is a total waste in the first place. My answer to this as an active Barman is that every person should endeavor to be involved so we can contribute to making the running of the Bar better instead of staying aloof and complain or wail always.
YOUNG LAWYERS‘ REMUNERAYION IN IKEJA.
The salary payable to young Lawyers featured also in the friendly face off on the platform. This seems to be the most important aspect of the discussion to a young Lawyer like myself and fellow young Lawyers. This is an issue we must review always at every opportunity it presents itself especially in our jurisdiction(Ikeja). Though, as young Lawyers we must not be deluded that the need is only restricted to us because if we consider what obtains in some other jurisdictions where Lawyers ply the same trade, we will pity their situation enough to make us drop our own call for more money.
What is the average salary of Lawyers in Ikeja? N30,000, N40,000 or N50,000. The joke is on us all.
Before delving too much into the main issue, let me also raise this rhetorical question;Can a Lawyer be adequately compensated by another Lawyer?
It is pertinent to mention in my reflection that as far back as2013, Eight(8) years ago when I was the Vice-Chairman of the YOUNG Lawyers’ Forum, NBA, IKeja Branch an event took place. We had the first ever Young Lawyers’ Forum Symposium in the Branch where one of the Speakers, Wemimo Ogunde, S.A.N who has been in the fore-front for the financial emancipation of Young Lawyers in the branch delivered a paper. In his paper, he suggested that there must be a peg to the remuneration to young Lawyers within our Jurisdiction and he put the figure at N60,000(Sixty Thousand Naira)and above. The other resource person who is also a respected senior member of the branch, Mr. Taiwo Kupolati was very much in support of this position.
I have come to understand the following from interaction with Senior members of the Bar especially when I served the Branch as the Assistant Branch Secretaryfrom 2014-2016.
What I think the younger generation like me should keep in mind is that just like God Almighty, the Legal Profession will always remain relevant and will also remain a means to an end. We therefore need to always ensure we remain relevant by sharpening our skills with the sole aim of getting better for the purpose of attracting more money or more pay as the case may be. It should however not be lost on us that what we make of the profession is what it comes back to give us. That is, if you invest in the profession, it will definitely harvest itself for you. Your investment in this context is your sacrifice, your perseverance, the knowledge acquisition, the pupilage and your loyalty to the profession. All these can only come from a disciplined mind, a mind that started out with planning oneself to learn first, crawl first before running for the top position in the profession.
For me, there is no better profession on earth. This is a noble profession that gives you a place in the society even before you enter into it. You are only required to fit into it the way you perceive best. For some of us, right from the Law School you should be able to picture what kind of a Lawyer you want to be. The Law School experience comes with some advantage now given the externship programme in Law Firms and the Court. Two Colleagues from our Law Firm, The LegalHub Partnership, Ikeja are presently paying back to the profession as External Assessors with the Nigerian Law School for not less than 5years now.
Fellow Young Lawyers, the purpose of this reflection is not meant to say that should any fail to start from Law School you have no place doing well in legal practice today or tomorrow. This is just a wake-up call for us to begin to see that learning first and planning our law practice just like learning and planning for a lifetime is key to a satisfying legal practice at some point.
I should not end this reflection without stating that where and how a Lawyer picks up his practice today determines the Lawyer’s practice tomorrow. Are you doing enough to remain relevant in the Firm? Are you getting better in knowledge acquisition because this is better than making money now and nothing to offer later. Remember that you will be 5yrears older as a Lawyer in 5yesars’ time and would have become a senior Lawyer, what relevance would you bring to bear? How much would you pay to your own younger Colleagues?
RUNNING THE BUSINESS OF LAW.
This is s a fall out from the intellectual discourse on the official Branch WhatsApp platform. What I can deduce form the whole discussion is that as Lawyers a lot of us do not see our practice as business in the real sense of it rather, we just get along with it as it comes making as much or as little income without really applying our minds to it.
We must have some level of financial literacy sufficient to know that payment of practicing fee is sine qua non to having a business or practice for the year. It is akin to failure of a Companyto regularize with the Corporate Affairs Commission thereby denying access to process any registration or post-registration activities. For instance, failure to pay Annual Returns is fatal to post-incorporation process with C.A.C. Legal Practice is supposed to be a business where the attitude to corporate compliance is that of strict adherence to set down Rules. In this case Rules of Professional Conduct comes to play.
That means when we make money in a given year, we must save a portion (not to be spent come what may) for the purpose of paying our practicing fee early enough between January and February yearly is my suggestion. In the most unlikely circumstance, where we are not able to save enough for the purpose of paying in good time, we must endeavor to raise the fund even by borrowing because our business must be good enough to pay back such debt during the business/practice year in focus.
It follows therefore, that as a Lawyer one must learn the art of business alongside that of Legal Practice. I should also like to conclude that, to be a successful Lawyer in this day and age, you must not only be knowledgeable in legal content but also be business-like or business-minded in your approach to practice. Anything short of this may be fatal to reaping the fruits of your unquantifiable labour for LL.B and B.L put together.
The understanding and ability to monetize our legal skills are the keys to unlock the wealth in the legal profession.
It is therefore imperative, for every Lawyer to become business savvy, acquire basic business education and infuse same into law practice since the understanding and mastering the business of the legal profession is not a thing of choice but a necessity for every Lawyer that hopes to become highly profitable in his/her legal career.
CONCLUSION & RECOMMENDATIONS.
Let me quickly share my position as a Lawyer plying the business of Law Practice today on what I consider as one of the most useful business model for today’s younger generation.
I note with all sense of modesty that I have found out in my few years of practice as a Lawyer that the very important and quite useful model of practice that makes a lot of Business Efficacy considering the realities of this time and beyond, is Partnership in Legal Practice. R. 50 of the extant Rules of Professional Conduct is instructive on this.
I say without equivocation that the Top Law Firms both locally and globally today are Partnership Firms.
SOME OF THE TOP LAW FIRMS IN NIGERIA TODAY.
ALUKO & OYEBODE
BANWO & IGHODALO
FALANA & FALANA CHAMBERS.
KEMI PINHEIRO, LP.
TOPE ADEBAYO LP.
JACKSON, ETTI & EDU.
- ELIAS& CO.
OLANIWUN AJAYI LP. E.T.C
SOME OF THE TOP LAW FIRMS IN THE WORLD.
- BAKER MCKENZIE
- WHITE & CASE
- ALLEN & OVERY
- NORTON ROSE FULBRIGHT
- DLA PIPER.
Fellow Young Lawyers should note that for you to run a Partnership, you must be cut out for it as a person. This is because some Lawyers may not have what it takes to run a Partnership with others. It is not compulsory to jump into one to be a successful Lawyer but there is a lot to learn from the business model.
It is my humble opinion that payment of practicing fee should be least of a Lawyer’s challenge, young or old provided we remain in business.
We need mentorship in respect of running law practice as a business. We should earn this from our Seniors so we can become the real leaders of tomorrow after now. I make bold to say that it is the bad young Lawyer that grows to become bad senior Lawyer. Conversely, I believe that if we grow Young Lawyers who are able and business savvy in practice, we will in future have reliable hands who would build our dream Bar and practice for the generations yet unborn.
The very serious question that comes to mind now is how would Lawyers fair economically after this lockdown. This is a very perilous time for us young Lawyers. We need help and this is the time to speak out as advised by our seniors. I join the Branch Chairman, Prince Dele OLOKE and the former National Welfare Secretary of the NBA, a past Branch Secretary of the NBA, Ikeja and a fellow Rotarian (Past-President)Adesina ADEGBITE, ESQ. in seeking help for us young Lawyers during and after the Covid-19 enabled lockdown in the Country.
I enjoin all Colleagues to stay home, stay safe and practice all the hygiene guidelines set out by the World Health Organisation and the Nigerian Government until we are all able to kick out the pandemic called COVID-19.
Adeyemi ABIJO, ESQ. Lead-Partner, The LegalHub Partnership, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria
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