In Nigeria, as far as the legal profession is concerned, one of the foremost Rules that bind lawyers in Nigeria, aside the Legal Practitioners’ Act, 2004 (as amended), is the Rules of Professional Conducts for Legal Practitioners, 2007-herein after referred to as the RPC.
In this RPC, lawyers have been mandated to comply with the omnibus Rule of the RPC which is the Rule 1 which provides for the general responsibility of a lawyer thus ‘A lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner’. Also, Rule 55 of the RPC provides for the enforcement of the Rules thus ‘55(1) If a lawyer acts in contravention of any of the Rules in these Rules or fails to perform any of the duties imposed by the Rules, he shall be guilty of a professional misconduct and liable to punishment as provided in Legal Practitioners Act, 1975. (2). It is the duty of every lawyer to report any breach of these rules that comes to his knowledge to the appropriate authorities for necessary disciplinary action’.
However, it is most unfortunate today, to observe a lot of violations of these Rules and on many of these occasions, such violations happen in a court of law. There are other cases of unqualified personnel who practise the law and non-lawyers dominating the practice of the legal profession, even to the extent of challenging and or competing with qualified lawyers in their areas of practice.
Some of these unqualified personnel and non-lawyers get away many of the times as a result of the nonchalant attitude and careless acts of some of us lawyers, who might have been able to discover or suspect that the person is not a lawyer and make necessary actions in preventing any further act of such person. That is why the writer of this paper decided to write this article to encourage and to re-awake the spirit of solidarity in lawyers towards the protection of the RPC and the protection of the legal protection as indeed, it is a call to duty by all lawyers in Nigeria.
First and foremost, Rules: 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the RPC have prohibited the practice of unqualified-personnel and non-lawyers to practice the law and or be aided by qualified lawyers. Also, lawyers may be disqualified to practice in one way or the other. For instance, a lawyer who is a public officer cannot practice as a private lawyer that is, he cannot possess the approved seal or stamp by the Nigerian Bar Association for private lawyers as provided for by Rule 10 of the RPC. So, if a private lawyer submits his Approved NBA seal or stamp to such person to use, while such person is not qualified to practice in private practice, then, such lawyer who delivers his seal or stamp of the NBA has aided the un-authorised practice of the law and is liable to be punished for professional misconducts. This is one of the areas of practice that privately practising lawyers need to cover and dominate their territory, so that, any private document, within the expansive meanings of the word ‘document’, issued by such public lawyers, is incompetent, including courts’ processes and letters. So, lawyers in private practice should take note of this.
More so, how could lawyers in private law practice have allowed this to happen?! A lawyer in public service receives salary and allowances that make him or her to live a comfortable standard of living, while a private lawyer struggles in the street, in the sun, in the rain, in the dusts, etc., yet, private lawyers allow some of those lawyers in public to be insatiable and still come into the private practice, use their connections to secure robust briefs, and collect all the moneys and still go scot free! Enough is enough! There must be an end to this! Private lawyers, wake up!!! Those public lawyers must engage private lawyers who must take over such briefs and charge appropriately! That is the submission of the writer of this paper! Else, public lawyers who like the private lawyers’ works should resign and return to private practice! It is very simple!
Furthermore, the private practice has been very possible to be used as means of making moneys by un-qualified personnel and non-lawyers due to the carefree attitude of lawyers in private practice, to the extent that there are lots of reports that even some law graduates either of a university or diploma degree and law graduates not called to bar or still sitting for a re-sit of their Bar Part II exams at the Nigerian Law School have been reported at various times to engage and misrepresent themselves as lawyers and are practising the law practice or might even attach themselves to a law office or because either the husband or wife or brother etc is a lawyer, he practices the law without anyone stopping him and then those of private lawyers walk around the streets, including the young lawyers, in search of briefs, whereas, it would have been possible to get those briefs, if the privately practising lawyers stand up to protect their territory against any un-qualified personnel and non-lawyers, including in property matters.
Also, it is suggested by the writer of this paper that every lawyer who appears before any court in Nigeria should always act as a detective in such court against some unqualified personnel and some non-lawyers who engage in the practice of the law. Also, every lawyer should be very attentive and be at alert in the proceedings before such court even where it does not involve his own case before the court or the case of his client. For instance, the writer of this paper had a matter before the Chief Magistrate Court, Lugbe, Abuja, sitting as a Chief District Court in a civil capacity/jurisdiction, on Thursday- the 10th day of May, 2018.
Then, there was a man who appeared as a lawyer in a case, which was case No. 10 or there about, but he sought the leave of the court for his matter to be called out of turn as according to him, ‘it will not go on’, so, his application for the leave was granted by the court. Then, one of the grounds for his matter not to go on was that the other party in the suit was ‘dodging service’ and that he was ‘running away’. When he mentioned those statement /assertions, His Worship cleverly and intelligently asked him whether he had paid his practicing fee for the year 2018? The man responded that he has not. His Worship also asked him whether he had paid that of the 2017? He equally responded in the negative! So, those questions of His Worship and the man’s responses attracted the attention of the writer of this paper.
Then His Worship asked him when he was called? To the surprise of all in the court, he said he was called in the year 1992, which was by calculation, 26 years this year, yet, he was making such statements as someone was ‘dodging service’ and that he was ‘running away’! So, the writer of this paper, as a friend of the court, sought the leave of His Worship to make some comments in respect of the proceedings, to which he was granted. The writer of this paper argued and submitted to the court that pursuant to Rule 9 of the RPC, the man should not be heard in the proceedings before the court for his failure to comply with the RPC. More so, that there is doubt in his acclaimed status as a lawyer. His Worship agreed with the writer of this paper in his submission. His Worship therefore ordered the man to produce his evidence of payment of his practicing fees by the next adjournment day. The facts are that lawyers in the courts are friends of the courts- amici curae, so, it is suggested that they should always assist the courts in the fulfillment of legal requirements including the professional Rules of lawyers.
Finally, it is hoped that the Nigerian Bar Association would conduct investigation into the case of the man who claimed to be a lawyer but has raised doubt as to his status as a lawyer and that all lawyers –whether senior or young- would be at alert at discovering the un-professional legal practice being carried out by some unqualified personnel and non-lawyers so as to jealously guard the legal profession from all such persons and for the progress of the legal profession and to proffer a better economic future for lawyers in Nigeria.