Personally I don’t encourage lawyers to collect appearance fees every time they make an appearance in court; every expenses to be incurred in the performance of your legal duty should be included in a bill of charges. In my opinion, collecting appearance fee is demeaning to the legal profession.”

– Ndasule Sherrif Esq, former Chairman NBA Kaduna Branch.

Imagine a young lawyer who resides and carries on his practice in Kaduna and intends to handle a litigation brief for a client in Kano and they settle for five hundred thousand naira (N500,000) as professional fees to handle the matter from commencement till the end of the suit. Initially, this sum might look huge and satisfying to the young lawyer, but after several travels and adjournments, one would discover that the amount is actually not sufficient to adequately handle the brief, then the lawyer begins to work under undue pressure because of unexpected expenses incurred.

It is important that at the start of every brief, no matter how small, a young lawyer should present a bill of charges to the client, the bill should itemize every foreseeable expense the lawyer would incur while handling the brief, from professional fee of the lawyer {which is money paid to the lawyer for his service nothing more}, fees that would be paid to third party or any organisation on behalf of the client, work done on documents, correspondence and postage {courier}, transportation, accommodation if any, et al.

‎A clearly defined bill of charges at the start of every transaction would go a long way to eliminate any misconception or misunderstanding as to the professional fees of a lawyer. Most clients don’t understand that professional fee is payment to the lawyer for carrying out his responsibility and nothing more, yet clients expect that lawyers should perform their legal duties to completion when payment is not complete.

Heard of a senior lawyer who was at the premises of the court he was supposed to enter appearance but did not come down from his vehicle until his professional fee was fully paid. The legal profession is a business not a charitable organisation as such, payment is required for every legal service rendered. It is not personal, it is just business. It is a natural hazard of the profession for clients to be willing to pay for services when needed but renege on payment when the job is done.

By virtue of the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap 207, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria “… a legal practitioner shall not be entitled to begin an action to recover his charges unless, a bill for the charges containing particulars of the principal items included in the bill and signed by him, or in the case of a firm, by one of the partners or in the name of the firm, has been served on the client personally or left for him at his last address… ” meaning when a client is owing, bill of charges is a condition precedent to recovering legal fees in court.

Professional fees need not be one million naira before a bill of charges is needed to be prepared and served on a client, even for as little as N50,000 a bill of charges is needed. It is imperative that the fees are clearly spelt out in the event of hitches along the way and it is only with a bill that appropriate measures can be taken to resolve issues or any misconception amicably.

In the words of a Nigerian musical artist “Na where u dey work, na there u dey chop” so why should it be any different for a legal practitioner. In my humble opinion, the service of a legal practitioner though intangible is valuable, hence it is beneficial to the practice of a young wig on the long run if at this early stage, one learns the art of preparing bill of charges and serve same on clients.

By Daniel Bulusson Esq

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