Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) an elder statesman and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), has reacted to the future of the legal profession post COVID-19 pandemic amongst other issues.
According to Chief Wole, SAN:
“Nobody expected the Coronavirus pandemic to be this ravaging, sparing nobody, drawing no distinctions between powerful and less powerful nations of the world, developed nations and developing nations, the poor and the rich, between the lawyers and the non-lawyers, between the doctors, nurses, engineers, architects, farmers, bishops and imams.
“Now as a profession, it is affecting us. We are deceiving ourselves if we pretend that it does not have a very serious impact on the income of lawyers, on the revenue of legal practitioners, on the administration of justice, we are just deceiving ourselves.”
Pre- COVID-19, Chief Wole,SAN noted that the legal profession was already grappling with the existing problems facing it and the outbreak of pandemic has further exacerbated the challenges. According to the learned silk:
“Before the coronavirus, a lot of challenges had been coming the way of legal practitioners; we have been trying to cope with artificial intelligence (AI) and the general effect of technology on the profession; we were trying to migrate to the new era, the new regime of technology-driven practice and how to adapt to the attendant realities. Now, we are battling with how to survive under the present debilitating condition.”
Reacting to the striking impact of the pandemic on the legal profession in an interview with Legal Editor Of The Nation Newspapers John Austin Unachukwu, the learned Silk said:
“Now for lawyers all over the world, the President of the International Bar Association (IBA) Mr. Horacio Bernardes Neto has been sending out circulars, encouraging lawyers globally that the future of legal practice is bright, while the President of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA), has been disseminating circulars encouraging lawyers about tomorrow.
“Back home here, the President of the NBA, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN) has been trying his own best, regularly issuing statements on the prospects of the legal profession, post-covid. Without being pessimistic, I doubt if the legal profession can fully recover within the next one year. The equilibrium has been stretched.”
The learned silk further stated that:
“It is no longer news, and it is also not surprising that some law firms could not pay March and April salaries of their staff; similarly, a good number of young and old lawyers alike, are unable to make ends meet. Shortly before the COVID-19 lockdown, some lawyers informed me that wages of junior counsel in some parts of the country, ranged between N25 – N30,000.00 monthly.
“If this was the position pre-covid, I wonder what the situation will be, post-covid. There might be massive loss of jobs by lawyers, while the incomes of the survivors might plummet drastically.”
Meanwhile, Chief Wole, SAN enjoined all lawyers to always strive and save for the raining day like the pandemic. According to him:
“[W]e must try as much as possible to save for the rainy day, save for the day of famine, save for the day of lack.
“Everybody prays that his tomorrow will be better than his today, but here we are, for the past two to three months, lawyers have not been practising their trade, lawyers have not been going to court, particularly lawyers who are in litigation, the courts have not been sitting.
“Our office organised an online seminar, a Webinar on remote hearing, remote conduct of cases, a lot of people participated in it, while the facilitators included Prof. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), Prof. Taiwo Osipitan (SAN), the Chief Judge of Borno State, Justice Kashim Zannah, as well as the Attorney-General of Lagos State, Mr. Moyo Onigbanjo ( SAN), while the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, was on hand, as well as the Acting President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Bolna’an Dongban-Mensem.
“Over 1,000 persons, including lawyers and judges participated; suggestions were made across board on how to commence e-hearing of cases immediately. But then, how to reconcile these beautiful suggestions with what we have on ground is a different ball game.”
In another development, Chief Wole,SAN called on the leadership of the NBA to lead a call for an amendment of the 1999 Constitution in a bid to ensure proper welfare of the citizens and particularly, the profession. According to the learned silk:
“Our leadership has to be more proactive. We have to be more forward-looking. We have to demand good laws, the enactment of a good constitution for Nigeria, a constitution that will make the provisions of Chapter two of our constitution justiciable, providing for the welfare of the masses, including lawyers; a constitution that will make government more responsive to its duties to the people.
“Lawyers practice their profession within a continuum which is the general collective and they do not constitute an island to themselves. Without a nation that is grounded on an ideal constitution, there cannot be flourishing lawyers, there will be no formidable NBA.
“Thus, it is the duty of lawyers to advocate and demand that the nation must enact pro-active laws, making the welfare and security of the people its main theme. We must also champion the call for true federalism.”
Furthermore , Chief Wole, SAN shared the roadmap to success in the legal profession as follows:
“The indexes are not exhaustible, but let me address some of them. One has to be humble, as humility pays; one has to be hardworking, as hard work is very rewarding; a lawyer has to be very skillful and committed, he must not have a divided personality, and what do I mean, your loyalty and your personality have to be to the profession, particularly when you are starting, when you are growing and even when you say, in Nigerian parlance, that you have made it.”
Finally, the learned silk said:
“A lawyer must not be fraudulent, a lawyer must not compromise the interest of his client. A lawyer must have good professional instincts, a lawyer must work all day, he must read whatever comes his way.”