It is now the norm for senior lawyers to refer to our younger colleagues as “my juniors”. I refer to my younger colleagues as my colleagues. I sincerely hope I am not in the minority.
This is a classic case of “physician heal thyself”. A lot of in-house cleansing needs to be done if we are to improve the quality of our lawyers.
Welfare of young lawyers
This is a fall-out from the issue earlier discussed but its importance is such that it deserves a separate heading. There is a question that never seems to receive answers. It is a simple question; what happens to a lawyer after he is called to the Bar? After all the fanfare of graduation and celebrations, what becomes of this new entrant to our prestigious profession? The answer? Nothing. He/she is on his/her own the moment he/she is called to the Bar. Are they introduced to the Nigerian Bar Association the day they are called to the Bar? No. Do they meet the principal officers of this illustrious association to which they now belong? No. So from the beginning, a young lawyer learns to adopt the law of the jungle. If he is lucky to serve out his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme in a law firm, then this early mis-alignment can be corrected. If he is not, then he/she continues to move parallel to the Legal Profession and misses the early, teething stages. What has been done to ensure that lawyers only serve out their National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme in Law Firms, Federal and State Ministries of Justice and other similar places of work? Some lawyers still serve Nigeria for one year by teaching English Language or History in Secondary Schools.
The situation is even worse when one considers the pittance that over 90 per cent of young lawyers receive. It may interest my illustrious colleagues to know that there are some law Firms where young lawyers receive as little as N10,000 per month. Some even pay less! Despite this, we expect the young lawyer to dress well, possess the necessary law reports/books and have confidence. How exactly is a young lawyer not to be discouraged by this in the face of other job opportunities in the legal departments of blue-chip companies where he mostly receives a lot of money for little or no legal work?
The plight of young lawyers should be addressed. Unlike what we had in the past, when there was only one campus of the Nigerian Law School, we now have more campuses which churn out lawyers every year. The result is that we now have more lawyers than we ever did. Naturally, competition for jobs has increased, meaning we have more ‘unemployed’ lawyers than before. I expect the Nigerian Bar Association to find time to address the issue before it spirals out of control. Already we have several lawyers who now work in Banks and other blue-chip companies as marketers and advertisers. We want to encourage the young ones and not scare them away from the legal profession.
Young lawyers rarely receive any assistance from the Bar in their formative years (I like to refer to the first five years of legal practice as the formative years) and this is one of the biggest problems we will face in our attempts to modernise legal practice in Nigeria. It has created a group of desperate young men and women who will stop at nothing to survive. The Nigerian Bar Association and senior lawyers will have to pay more attention to these young lawyers.
Inadequate disciplinary measures
A lawyer connotes honesty, integrity and dedication. Can we honestly say that about every lawyer that practises in Nigeria today? Can we randomly call out a lawyer in Nigeria today and find these qualities in him? There is no doubt that we have lawyers who live by these principles but the truth is that the wolves have been let loose amongst the sheep. The bad eggs have infiltrated the profession and have affected the perception of the public about lawyers. We have lawyers in Nigeria who convert their clients’ money, lawyers who collude with the adverse party, lawyers who dress shabbily, lawyers who withhold vital information from the court, lawyers who forge documents and a host of other misfits. How many of these lawyers have been warned, punished or banned from Legal Practice? The truth is that some of these misfits either believe they are untouchable or they feel they are doing the right thing. The disciplinary measures are hardly carried out because these matters are never reported. One must acknowledge the contributions of the current Chief Justice of the Federation, Hon. Justice Aloma Mukhtar, in not only cleansing the Bar but the Bench as well.
These bold actions have stripped our profession to the bare bones and have shown us the grim truth. The fact is that over the years, disciplinary measures have been grossly inadequate. Her Lordship’s attempts at reminding us that we are lawyers are therefore most welcome and one hopes these reforms and bold actions will continue even after this present administration has left office.
Too many small law firms
One of the biggest obstacles to the modernization of legal practice in Nigeria is the number of small Law Firms. It seems every lawyer wants to own a Firm these days. Mr. A is called to the Bar, he serves in Lagos State and later carves out a little shop from where he starts his practice. Never mind that his signboard has the usual “& Co.” More often than not, he is the only one lawyer in Chambers. He survives on all kinds of briefs, often struggling with Estate Agents for the five per cent Commission during property conveyance. He is found in Police Stations, lending further credence to that degrading moniker for Lawyers, “Charge and Bail”. In a shopping complex, there could (20) or more of such “Chambers” where a single lawyer practices but gives off the impression that it is a Firm which has many other lawyers. There are other Law Firms with a sizeable number of lawyers who are usually underpaid and have very small offices. Some have big offices but very few briefs. Only a few can truly be said to be of international standard. Because a lot of our Firms are not “firms” in every sense of the expression, there is a glaring lack of funds, specialisation, personnel and equipment. One thing the foreign Firms have going for them is their willingness to merge in order to adequately cater for the needs of the Firm. Not many Firms in Nigeria have the following:
(i) At least 30-40 Associates or Junior Lawyers.
(ii) At least 10 Partners.
(iii) At least 4 branches in Nigeria, excluding those in foreign jurisdictions.
(iv) Constant electricity supply in all the branches.
(v) Internet services.
(vi) Good salaries/allowances and Welfare packages for lawyers.
(vii) Sponsorship of lawyers to international and local legal conferences.
(viii) Clients from the government, multi-national companies, individuals, foreign companies, political parties, etc.
(ix) Lawyers who can practise outside Nigeria.
(x) Lawyers grouped into various departments allowing for specialization.
The average corner shop in Nigeria masquerading as a Firm cannot achieve all these. We therefore have a lot of small Firms and very few big Firms. Quite naturally, the small Firms are supposed to be more than the big Firms but in Nigeria, the disparity is even more pronounced. Many of our Firms are therefore unable to compete internationally because they are ill-equipped and lack the requisite specialisation. Finally, the reason a few of our Law Firms are rated globally is because those few Law Firms at least have some semblance of a large Firm and not the average Nigerian law Firm.
Little or no professional motivation
How do we keep the young Nigerian Lawyer hooked to the profession? How do we keep him/her interested and how do we keep the interest from waning? The truth is that legal practice is supposed to be an illuminating experience which ends up in fulfillment. A young lawyer who harbours hope of becoming a Senior Advocate should be encouraged. Unfortunately, the slots are limited. Apart from making money therefore, there is hardly any aspiration for the young lawyer. One can therefore understand why they end up in the banking industry for instance. If money is the ultimate goal, then it can be acquired somewhere else. The conferment of the award of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is restrictive as the current guidelines do not encourage partnership between individual lawyers or even between Firms as they now include a condition that a Partner in a firm who wishes to apply for the position, must have been a partner in that Firm for a period of at least five (5) years before the application for the rank was made. For the avoidance of doubt, Section 20 of the latest Guidelines for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria states thus;
( 1)In determining whether an applicant qualifies as a partner for purposes of conferment with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee shall among other criteria (including but not limited to inheritance) have regard to proof of substantial proprietary and financial interest of the applicant in the said partnership, evidenced in a stamped deed under the hand and seal of all members of the said partnership in respect of the assets and infrastructure put forward for inspection which deed shall in all cases be in place for at least 5 years prior to the application at the chamber inspection stage:
Provided always that if such deed is adjudged by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee to have been made for purposes of the applicant’s application, the candidate and members of the said firm shall be barred from applying for a period of ten years and if such discovery is made after conferment, it shall constitute a ground for withdrawal of the award.
What this invariably means is that it would not matter if at the point of joining the said partnership, the said partner was already qualified to apply for the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). Let us imagine a scenario in which Mr. A possesses all the requirements for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) as envisaged under Section 14 (2) of the Guidelines for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)13, which states thus:
(1) Every candidate will be required to provide particulars of contested cases which he considers to be of particular significance to the evaluation of his competence in legal practice and contribution to the development of the law. The candidate shall attach a certified true copy of all the judgments referred to in his application which shall be neatly arranged, indexed and bound.
(2) Where cases are reported in a well known law report, it would be sufficient to list such cases stating the reference or citation.
(3) Where the cases are not reported the candidate would be required to provide certified hard copies of such cases along with his completed application form.
(4) An applicant shall provide particulars of cases as follows:
(a) 8 judgments of the High Court;
(b) 6 judgments of the Court of Appeal; and
(c) 3 judgments of the Supreme Court
Where it is manifest that the applicant himself has conducted the case from the High Court up to the Supreme Court provided that where the applicant submits cases in which he has appeared only at the Supreme Court he will be required to submit 6 judgments of the Supreme Court to qualify.
(5) In providing particulars of contested cases, applicants shall provide particulars of recent cases that demonstrate that the applicant is:
(a) Currently engaged in fulltime legal practice; and
(B) Abreast with current developments in the field of law.
(1) The Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee shall conduct a physical inspection of the chambers of all candidates that have made the final list. The chamber inspection is geared towards evaluating the level and quality of the facilities provided in the chambers and shall take into account the:
(a) Size and quality of library;
(b) Quality of office space and other facilities available;
(c) Number of junior counselor partners in chambers;
(d) Number and quality of support staff; and
(e) Maintenance of proper books of accounts.
If we are to go by the restrictive provision of Section 20 (1) of the said guidelines, then it means that fulfilling the conditions would not matter if the applicant joined a Law Firm as a partner 5 or 6 months before applying for conferment. What we have been told in no uncertain terms is that if a young, budding advocate fulfills about 80% of the requirements in his first 9 years of practice as a Counsel working for about 3 different Firms over the years and then joins one of the biggest Firms in the country where he fulfills the remaining conditions within a year, section 20(1) will still render him ineligible. This restrictive provision will hamper the development of significant partnerships between law firms in Nigeria and it is only through the mergers of law firms that Nigeria’s Legal practice can honestly hope to compete favourably with what applies in other countries. In addition, these restrictions keep many a lawyer disillusioned as it means he may have to wait for a long time (15-20 years) to be eligible for the rank, despite having fulfilled all the conditions, except for the ‘5 years rule’ within 10 years.
The lack of a motivating factor is one of the reasons young lawyers now merely wrinkle their noses at the common advice given by older lawyers which is, ‘wait for your time’. Those who cannot wait simply migrate in droves to other professions.
(a) Lack of specialisation
The saying jack of all trades, master of none adequately describes a substantial number of Nigerian lawyers. Because several young lawyers are left to fend for themselves at such an early age, they dabble into any aspect of law. Property conveyance, Criminal law, Company Law, Election Petitions etc. There is hardly any lawyer that has not tried at least one of these areas of law once. While it enables a lawyer to broaden his horizon, it leaves him averagely grounded in each area, like a butterfly that floats from one flower to another without really settling down. This is even more pronounced if he fails to carve out a niche for himself. Nigerian firms need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their lawyers and build upon those strengths. In foreign countries, specialization is a common feature.
There are personal-injury lawyers, insurance lawyers, settlement lawyers (lawyers whose specialty is that they close settlement deals), criminal litigation lawyers, constitutional lawyers, lawyers who are experts in international financial crimes, entertainment lawyers and sports lawyers. Because they are firmly grounded in specific areas of law, lawyers in advanced jurisdictions can be said to be truly specialized. Most Firms abroad have specific lawyers for specific legal issues while there are even instances in which an entire Law Firm consists of lawyers who are experts in a particular field of law. Consequently, the Firm is known for its expertise in that particular area alone and corners that particular part of the market to itself. It is not an uncommon sight for foreign companies to prefer that their transactions be handled by foreign Law Firms who possess the requisite expertise in that particular field. For instance, not many Nigerian lawyers are well versed in the maritime law field. Likewise, sports law and entertainment law are areas that have not been substantially tapped by Nigerian lawyers. The reason is quite obvious. Most Nigerian lawyers are so focused on the same areas of law that they have allowed other areas to escape their notice.
A typical Nigerian lawyer just wants to make enough money to feed himself and his family. He does not intend to leave a mark in the sands of time and contribute his quota to the development of legal practice in Nigeria. This is why we need to encourage Nigerian lawyers to ensure that they are specialized in a particular area of law. For instance, the concept of plea bargain, while still relatively new to Nigerian legal practice (about 5-10 years old), had long been a part of legal practice in more advanced jurisdictions due to the fact that it reduces the time and energy spent in trying to convict a suspect. In the United States of America, there are lawyers who specialize in Plea Bargain alone and who succeed in working out a good deal between the suspect and the state. Nigerians are yet to embrace and utilize the concept. Indeed, few Nigerian lawyers will touch it, even with a 20-foot pole, because it is believed to be a sleazy brand of practice. Nothing could be further from the truth. The concept, while reducing the unnecessary delay that has become part and parcel of our practice, helps to develop our legal system and also draws it closer to the legal systems of other, more advanced jurisdictions.
Specialization does not mean that a lawyer will lose touch with other areas of practice; it simply means that there is that one area of practice where he has carved out a niche for himself. To this end, lawyers should attend courses and workshops within and outside Nigeria which focus on their areas of interest. Law Firms can also sponsor their lawyers within and outside Nigeria in respect of these courses and workshops. The more specialized lawyers we have, the more developed our Legal practice will be. As it is now, our legal practice is largely behind the times and finds it difficult to keep up with the pace set by other advanced jurisdictions as there is little innovation.
(b) Undue delay in our courts
As misleading as this heading may seem, the blame here lies with both the Bar and the Bench. Some judges sit very late while others sit sporadically. When they do come to court, they are in a hurry to usher off the dramatis personae (namely, the lawyers) from the stage as soon as possible. They adjourn at the slightest prompting and may even take months to write a simple ruling on the admissibility of a document. Lawyers too shoulder a healthy portion of the blame, often seeking needless adjournments, frivolous amendments to pleadings, Notices of Appeal and briefs. Some have even been rumored to collude with court officials (without the knowledge of the judge) and smuggle in documents which the judges rightfully refuse to acknowledge when the matter comes up. Some cases (land matters are particularly notorious) have been known to last as much as 20 years including the determination of Appeals both at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
Of particular concern is the use of Interlocutory Appeals to frustrate cases. An interlocutory appeal is an appeal against an interlocutory decision of a trial court or against the interlocutory decision of the Court of Appeal. An appeal against an interlocutory decision of a trial court must be made within 14 days otherwise leave of court will be required. Section 242 of the 199914 Constitution states thus:
(1) Subject to the provisions of section 241 of this Constitution, an appeal shall lie from decisions of the Federal High Court or a High Court to the Court of Appeal with the leave of the Federal High Court or that of the High Court or the Court of Appeal.
(2) The Court of Appeal may dispose of any application for leave to appeal from any decision of the Federal High Court or a High Court in respect of any civil or criminal proceedings in which an appeal has been brought to the Federal High Court or a High Court from any other court after consideration of the record of the proceedings, if the Court of Appeal is of the opinion that the interests of justice do not require an oral hearing of the application.”
It is not uncommon for the determination of an interlocutory Appeal to take years, by which time a stay of proceedings would have been granted, thus stalling proceedings at the lower court. Interlocutory appeals even go on to the Supreme Court from the trial court in most cases. By the time the interlocutory appeal is concluded at the Supreme Court and the matter returned to the trial court, as many as 10 years could have passed. In a country with a life expectancy of 49 years, some witnesses might have died and documents might have been lost. The trial judge might have been transferred to another court thus necessitating that the matter be tried de novo. Justice is unwittingly defeated in such matters, thus burying our legal system beneath undue technicalities.
The technical nature of both Criminal and Civil matters has led to the rise of other means of Alternative Dispute Resolution like Arbitration and Mediation, the final decisions of which could be entered into a court as a consent judgment. At this rate, Arbitrators and Mediators, some of whom are non-lawyers, may end up handling matters outside the court of law and entering the Award or Decision as a consent judgment of the court to the exclusion of lawyers, who may only appear at the time the consent judgment is being entered.
Another often overlooked issue which causes undue delay in our courts is the fact that our judges record in longhand. Apart from the undue delay occasioned by this archaic means of recording, Nigerian judges also have to cope with the attendant health problems associated with writing constantly (Judges preside over several cases in a year and take down proceedings, also write rulings and judgments). In advanced countries, other means of recording have been utilized, such as the use of tape recorders and stenographs. A stenographer’s job is to transcribe most if not all court proceedings. This may include transcription of all testimonies, arguments and rulings as they occur. While there are understandably some reservations over the suggested use of some of these new methods (for instance, the stenographer, being inexperienced, might leave out some vital parts of proceedings but the blame still falls on the judge), the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
The undue delay which hampers legal practice is one which we must fix if our profession is to reclaim past glories. There is no reason a case cannot be concluded within 12 or 18 months.
(c) Admission Into the Nigerian Law School
Despite the high number of lawyers produced annually, the Nigerian Law School is unable to absorb all law graduates from the Nigerian Universities at a time. At the moment, about 36 Universities have been accredited by the Council of Legal Education to offer law degrees. This is in addition to those who study law in foreign Universities that undertake the Bar Part I examination before the Bar Finals (Bar Part II). In 2011, 374 students were admitted into the Bar Part I programme. Accreditation is normally done by the Council of Legal Education and the National Universities Commission. Unfortunately, almost all Universities exceed their quota and the consequence is that we have many law graduates who cannot be admitted into the Nigerian Law School.
In Nigeria, unlike in the United Kingdom, admission to the Nigerian Bar is admission to practice as a Barrister and Solicitor15. In view of the fact that the Nigerian Law School cannot accommodate all law graduates from Nigerian Universities and not all those called to the Nigerian Bar practice as Barristers or Solicitors, we believe that the time has come for us in Nigeria to revisit the curriculum for the training of lawyers so that there is an option for those who do not intend to be called to the Nigerian Bar or when called do not intend to practice as Barristers or Solicitors.
(d) Separation of the Council of Legal Education from the Nigerian Law School
Since the passage of the Legal Education Act in 1962, the Council of Legal Education and the Nigerian Law School have become static. From a humble beginning at Igbosere in 1963, we now have many campuses of the Nigerian Law School that are centrally controlled in terms of admission and examination. There are clamours for private law schools or an adoption of the American model where each University has its own law school.
In the UK, from the original four Inns of Court, there are now ten institutions that run the Bar Vocational Course. According to Idornigie16
“Legal Training in the United Kingdom from which that of Nigeria evolved has changed. Today, to become a Barrister in the UK, an aspirant undertakes the Bar Professional Training Course (Bar Vocational Course or BVC)17. The BVC is a graduate course that is completed by those wishing to be called to the Bar, i.e. to practice as a barrister in England and Wales. The ten institutes that run the BVC18 along with the four Inns of Court are often collectively referred to as ‘Bar School’. This vocational stage is the second of the three stages of legal education, the first being the academic stage and the third being the practical stage, i.e., pupillage”
The following are suggested solutions to these highlighted problems. It is hoped that they will go a long way in modernizing legal practice in Nigeria.
(a) Upgraded Curriculum in Nigerian Universities
Over 70% of a Lawyer’s foundation is the job of the University he/she attends. It is therefore important that the Universities prepare a law student adequately for the complexities of legal practice. A lawyer is not just about intelligence and great wit, he is also supposed to be honest and above board. I am well aware of the fact that the issue is sometimes out of the hands of the Universities as the foundation of some students might have been severely damaged in Secondary School. Education in Nigeria is at its lowest ebb. If you doubt this statement, you might want to interview some of the increasingly unemployable graduates that are turned out yearly by our Universities. You might want to consider the poor West African Examinations Council (W.A.E.C) results that Nigerian Secondary School children bring home nowadays19
At the Law School, a law student is introduced to the ethics of the profession but one wonders if nine (9) months is not too short a period for this. The Law Faculties could be made to incorporate professional ethics into their curriculum over the five (5) sessions that a law student is expected to spend in the University. Overtime, the ethics of the profession become engraved in the minds of the law students who will most likely know them by heart by the time they become lawyers. This same solution could be applied to other aspects of law in which lawyers experience problems today. That way, the introduction to procedural law is gradual and not sudden. It should also be a pre-condition that a Law Student must be found worthy both in learning and in character before he/she is sent to the Nigerian Law School. This will go a long way in preparing law students for the side of law which is nothing like what they have learnt in the University.
(b) Better and More Experienced Teachers
The Universities and to a lesser extent, the Nigerian Law School, are the factories in which an aspiring lawyer’s foundation is built. By the time law students proceed to the Nigerian Law School for the relatively short period (9 months) that they would be there, the seeds sown during their time at the University (where they spend about 5 years and in some cases, more) would have taken hold, molding them into lawyers that they will be. If they were badly taught at the University, it inevitably comes around to haunt them in the future. The Nigerian Law School equips them for Legal Practice but what has been learnt for 5 years cannot be compared to what is learnt in 9 months. The Faculties at the Universities therefore have a lot to do if they are to produce competent law students and by extension, competent lawyers. A lecturer who has problems with the English language would naturally unwittingly influence his students in that regard. The Universities therefore have to ensure that the right lecturers are employed in their faculties. Periodic accreditation programmes by the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the Council for Legal Education (Nigerian Law School) would also help to ensure that the faculties of law have the requisite teaching personnel and the right learning environment for their law students.
(c) Compulsory Pupillage for Young Lawyers
It is important that a young lawyer is brought under the tutelage of a senior lawyer in his formative years in legal practice. This protects the young lawyer from engaging in unsavoury professional conduct during those years. In the United Kingdom, a newly called Barrister is not allowed to practise until he/she undergoes the compulsory one-year pupilage in a law firm. I think this should be introduced in Nigeria as well. We could even make the period of pupilage 2 years. This way, a young lawyer, while avoiding temptation, is gradually introduced to the intricacies of the profession instead of jumping in headlong and opening a non-descript office akin to the death clinics opened by unqualified doctors.
(d) Welfare Package for young lawyers
Young lawyers are the future of our Legal Profession. They are our legacy. It is therefore important that we do not drive them away from the profession with inadequate mentoring and low salaries/allowances. A welfare package for young lawyers will include the following:
(i) A reasonable minimum wage which every employer must conform with and which must cover basic needs like housing, feeding, transportation, health, etc.
(ii) Reduced practicing fees.
(iii) Reduced Nigerian Bar Association Conference registration fees.
(iv) Sponsorship by the Bar for Continuing Legal Education.
(v) Sponsorship by the Bar for regular, beneficial workshops where skills like advocacy and drafting are taught.
(vi) Support from the Bar in the event of accidents.
(vii) An allowance which the young lawyer receives even when he/she is unemployed.
Young lawyers deserve these and more. They pay practicing fees from their meager salaries and wait patiently for the promised riches. While I am aware of the need to ensure that Young Lawyers work hard and pay their dues before they make money, I also believe they deserve a basic welfare package.
(e) Merger of Firms
This is definitely the hardest solution for my learned friends to accept. The truth is that we have too many small law Firms in Nigeria doing basically the same thing. Many of such firms contain only one lawyer but give the impression that there are several lawyers. They are mostly land speculators who can barely run themselves, talk more of a Law Firm. Most of our true law Firms have no international outlook whatsoever and certainly do not allow for specialization. Some Firms in developed countries have between 2000 and 3000 lawyers. It is my suggestion that more law Firms enter into partnerships. The smaller ones can be absorbed by the bigger ones. With such mergers, the following will be immediately discerned:
(i) The Firms will have more Lawyers;
(ii) There will be more departments, thus leading to specialization on the part of Lawyers;
(iii) More funds, meaning the Firm can be properly run;
(iv) There will be stable electricity and stable internet supply;
(v) Better decisions will be taken due to broader consultation;
(vi) Bigger salaries and allowances for lawyers;
(vii) Lawyers can be assisted financially and academically;
(viii) The Firm can manage its lawyers’ welfare better;
(ix) The Firm has more branches in Nigeria and abroad;
(x) The Lawyers in these larger Firms can compete with the best in the world; and
(xi) The Firm can offer services to clients in different countries, operating different time-zones.
In the United States of America, the National Law Journal’s 2012 list of the 350 biggest firms in the United States (the “NLJ 350”) listed the Firm of Baker & McKenzie LLP which had 714 Partners, 2,453 Associates and 603 other workers20 as the biggest Law Firm in America with the income generated in 2010 alone pegged at $2,104,000,000.0021 (Two Billion, One Hundred and Four Million Dollars).
The title of the World’s largest Law Firm now belongs to DLA Piper LLP which in 2012 made over $2,440,000,000.0022 (Two Billion, Four Hundred and Forty Four Million Pounds) and has 1,032 partners. The biggest Law Firm in the United Kingdom, Clifford Chance LLP, and third largest in the world, according to the 2010 ranking, made over 1.8 Billion Pounds in 2010 alone! In the period between 2011 and 2012, Clifford Chance LLP had revenues of over 1.3 Billion pounds and profits per equity partner of 1.1 Million pounds23. There are no prizes for guessing how much money these Firms have made over the years. In that same year (2010), the lowest ranked law Firm on the prestigious list according to revenue was Dorsey & Whitney LLP with an income of Three Hundred and Forty Two Million Dollars24 ($342,000,000.00).
In recent years, Baker & McKenzie LLP25 has been involved in some of the most complex transactions for clients. Recent matters include:
(i). The American International Assurance Company, Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of AIA Group Limited, on the 1.8 Billion Dollar acquisition of ING Groep N.V’s Malaysian insurance and Takaful business.
(ii). The Steering Committee of international creditors of BTA Bank JSC in the successful second restructuring of the Kazakhstani bank in relation to 11.1 Billion Dollars of its international financial debt and other claims. The deal was the largest Central and Eastern European restructuring of 2012.
(iii). The Regal Real Estate Investment Trust on the establishment of its 1 Billion Dollar medium-term note program.
(iv). The Thai Oil Public Company Limited on its offering of US$1 billion dual-tranche senior unsecured fixed-rate notes to foreign institutional investors in accordance with Rule 144A and Regulation S.
(v). Endeavour Silver Corporation on its option and joint venture agreement with La Sociedad Quimica Minera de Chile SA (SQM) to earn a 75% interest in the El Inca silver-gold properties.
(vi). The Kingdom of Bahrain, in relation to its 1.5 Billion Dollar bond issuance.
(vii). Sierra Gorda SCM and Salfa Montajes S.A., an affiliate of Chilean based SalfaCorp Engineering and Construction Business Unit on its agreement for the construction and installation of wet and dry areas of the Sierra Gorda mine project processing plant.
(viii). AXA Private Equity, on its acquisition from the private equity arm of Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) of a portfolio of 11 private equity fund investments and the related unfunded commitments.
(ix). WestLB, regarding a definitive agreement to sell its Subscription Commitment Facilities (SCF) portfolio in the USA and in the UK to the financial services provider Wells Fargo Bank, NA (Wells Fargo).
(x). The Dow Chemical Company (Dow) and certain Dow subsidiaries in relation to the 1.4 Billion dollar Islamic finance facilities made available to Saudi Acrylic Acid Company (SAAC), Saudi Acrylic Monomers Company (SAMCO) and Saudi Acrylic Polymers Company (SAPCO).
(xi). Schuler – Beteiligungen GmbH on, the sale of its 38.5% stake of the publicly listed Schuler AG, a world-leader in metal forming and metal processing, to Austrian technology company Andritz Group.
(xii). Banque Saudi Fransi, Saudi Arabia’s fifth biggest bank by market capitalization, on its debut 750 million dollar 2.947 per cent Trust Certificates due 2017 issued under its 2 Billion Dollar Sukuk Program.
(xiii). Global Blue, international provider of travel-related payment, on the sale of the company from Equistone Partners Europe to US private equity firm Silver Lake Partners for 1 Billion Euros.
(xiv). Yanzhou Coal Mining Company Limited (Yanzhou Coal), on its US$1 billion Notes issue.
(xv). A CAPITAL, in connection with the international aspects of a new fund named A CAPITAL China Outbound Fund.
(xvi). Banque Saudi Fransi (BSF), in relation to the establishment and listing of its debut 2 billion dollar Sukuk program.
(xvii). Almarai Company, on the establishment of a SAR 2.3 billion Sukuk program and inaugural issuance of a SAR1 billion Sukuk.
(xviii). Colt Group, the information delivery platform for businesses across Europe, on an initial three-year term to provide commercial, IT, Telecommunications and regulatory advice. The appointment is the result of a competitive bid that involved over 45 law firms around Europe.
(xix). Fresenius Medical Care AG & Co. KGaA, the world’s largest provider of dialysis products and services, on Fresenius Medical Care North America’s acquisition of Liberty Dialysis Holdings, Inc. The acquisition is expected to add annual revenues of around $700 million and 201 clinics to Fresenius Medical Care’s network for an investment, net of proceeds from the divestiture, of approximately $1.5 billion dollars.
(xx). Kiekert AG, market and technology leader for automotive side door latches and inventor of the modern central locking system, on the sale of its shares to publicly traded automotive supplier, Hebei Lingyun Industrial Group Corporation Ltd. in Beijing, China. The transaction paves the way for an international automotive supplier with yearly revenue of 1.2 Billion Euros.
(xxi). Sierra Gorda SCM, held by Quadra FNX Mining Ltd., Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd. and Sumitomo Corporation, on the closing of its loan agreement with financial institutions for 1 billion dollars.26
There is no doubt that its sheer number of lawyers, the specialization of its lawyers and their presence in so many countries combined to give the law Firm of Baker & McKenzie LLP an almost unassailable lead in virtually all areas of development in the period between 2011 and 2012 although the top spot is now held by DLA Piper LLP27. On the National Law Journal’s 2013 list of the 350 biggest firms in the United States (the “NLJ 350”), the smallest Law Firm on the prestigious list, (Number 350) Looper Reed & McGraw, has 117 Partners28. If size or income were used as a criterion, you would be hard pressed to find a Nigerian law Firm that would make any of these prestigious lists.
It is difficult to find a law Firm in Nigeria that has up to 10 Partners or one that generates as much income as even the lowest quoted above. In foreign jurisdictions, Law Firms merge and pool their resources (including human resources) together in order to allow for better planning and a stronger financial footing.
It is my belief that such mergers are needed for the Legal Profession to move ahead in Nigeria.
(f) Acceptance of Technology by Lawyers and Judges.
The hard truth is that technology in legal practice has come to stay. It makes legal practice so much more convenient. There is no doubt that in terms of human capital, the Nigerian legal profession scores high It is in the non-human aspect that our legal profession falls far short of what obtains in the United Kingdom. For instance, our legal profession is still “paper based”. By that, I mean that few of our lawyers are computer-literate. Very few offices are connected to the internet and research is done manually.
In the United Kingdom, most offices are 80% “paperless” and the majority of the research is done on-line. Judges in Nigeria have to write down all that is said unlike judges in developed countries where stenographers are used. Technology has simply made legal practice easier. Now, instead of “invading” Court rooms with books, one can store the soft copies of such law reports and statutes on an i-pad or a laptop and the results would be even better because the i-pad and laptop can store more books than you can carry. The typical modern law Firm has done away with typewriters and has state of the art computers, it has stand-by generators and inverters, it is connected to the internet 24 hours a day and can access information at the touch of a button. Lawyers are therefore advised to accept technology for what it is; a faster and more efficient means of legal practice in Nigeria. It is technology that will propel legal practice in Nigeria to its position among the best in the world.
(g) Creation of Professional Goals
People work better when there is a prestigious award at the end of it all. For a practising lawyer, nothing epitomizes this like the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). The Rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is undoubtedly the most prestigious title in the legal profession. Every young lawyer dreams of being a ‘SAN’ and the mere thought that the title could be attained by hard work and dedication serves as a motivating factor for these young ones. Legal practice in Nigeria would be the ultimate victor if lawyers made it a point of duty to make excellence their watch word. That excellence could be better attained if there was a reward at the end of all their efforts. In Nigeria, we have less than 500 Senior Advocates in a country of over 60,000 lawyers.
In the United Kingdom, a certain percentage of applicants are made Queen’s Counsel (the United Kingdom version of Senior Advocates). For instance, in July 2005 in the United Kingdom, application forms for appointment under a new system were released. The appointment of 175 new Queen’s Counsel was announced on 20th July 2006. 443 people had applied (including 68 women, 24 ethnic minority lawyers and 12 Solicitors). Of the 175 appointed, 33 were women, 10 were from ethnic minorities, and 4 were Solicitors. Six people were also appointed QC Honoris Causa. The Silk Ceremony was on 16 October 2006 in Westminster Hall, a couple of weeks after the beginning of the legal year. The successful candidates were to make a declaration and receive their letters patent from the Lord Chancellor29. 175 is 39.5% of 443. In Nigeria, less than 20 persons are appointed each year out of hundreds of applicants. The rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) should be made available to all who merit it and complex technical requirements like the 5-years rule should be jettisoned so as to motivate the younger ones.
(h) Quicker Determination of cases
This is self-explanatory. Nigerians simply cannot afford to keep spending their hard earned money to pay lawyers who then proceed to secure adjournments and amendments for the next 5 years. It is highly discouraging and forces clients to explore other means of Alternative Dispute Resolution. If the current trend continues, Nigerians will look for other means to resolve their disputes; without lawyers. It is possible for a more realistic variation of the 180 days given to Tribunals to determine Petitions, to be made compulsory for Nigerian courts. In foreign jurisdictions, the time frame for cases is set out, including the delivery of judgment. It is quite possible for Nigerian courts to adopt this same technique, even if on a more realistic scale (of say 12 -18 months) at first. The time frame can reduce as the new practice sinks in. With time, the practice of never-ending, laborious litigation would be a thing of the past.
Particular attention should also be paid to Interlocutory appeals which ultimately stall proceedings at the lower court. Interlocutory appeals should be filed with the leave of the trial court only. Also, if the matter is already on Appeal, at the Court of Appeal for instance, an interlocutory appeal to the Supreme Court must be with the leave of the Court of Appeal. That way, the Nigerian Legal System can sieve out the frivolous interlocutory appeals. In addition, a time frame should be fixed by the higher courts for the determination of interlocutory appeals so that trials and substantive appeals are not indefinitely stalled. Justice is not meant to be rushed but it could also be a problem if it is unduly slow.
Stenographic means could also be used to record proceedings in court. The judge does not have to be the one recording. He may record important points that catch his eye but the stenographer should be given the responsibility of recording verbatim. In the alternative, cameras or voice recorders could be used to relieve judges of the onerous burden of writing, thus saving time and ensuring quicker determination of cases.
(i) Procedural Reforms in our courts
One cannot claim to be ignorant of the reforms undertaken by the various courts of the land all in a bid to make legal practice easier and less tedious (its tedious nature has already further popularized other means of dispute resolution like Arbitration and Mediation). A lot more needs to be done however and this time, we are not referring to Practice Direction Rules of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, we are instead referring to the Civil Procedure Rules of the High Courts of the land and the Criminal Procedure Code30 and Criminal Procedure Act31 which still need to undergo reforms which will ensure that trials are swiftly concluded. This will improve legal practice in the country tremendously.
(j) Admission into the Nigerian Law School
The Vice-Chancellors of the various Universities should ensure that the quota determined by the Council of Legal Education and the National Universities Commission (NUC) are not undermined. This calls for robust enforcement no matter whose ox is gored. I expect to see a modern legal education where once admitted into the University, the student is assured that on successful completion of the university education, there is a seamless transition to the Nigerian Law School. I am strongly of the view that any Vice-Chancellor that exceeds its quota should be sanctioned by the NUC.
Alternatively all law faculties can be allowed to produce as many law graduates that they want to but on the strict condition that applicants to the Nigerian Law School must face a qualifying or entrance examination or test to gain admission into the Law School on the basis of merit.
Similarly, the NUC should re-visit the curriculum of the Faculties of Law to ensure that those who do not intend to practice law can graduate with, for instance, BA (Law) or a combined honors programme so that it is only those who intend to practice law that proceeds to the Nigerian Law School. At the moment, some products of the Nigerian Law School are not interested in legal practice thus blocking the opportunity for those who are interested in legal practice but not admitted because of the backlog of students awaiting admission into the Nigerian Law School.
Apart from the trauma of losing seniority which is very critical in the legal profession, those not admitted are usually not absorbed by law offices.
Other than the core academic subjects, I expect a modern lawyer to be taught entrepreneurial skills in the University. Accordingly, the NUC should review the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS) for the Law Faculty to ensure that entrepreneurial skills commensurate with the status of a law graduate are taught and not courses like sewing, knitting, soap making, etc that are included in the Introduction to Entrepreneurial Skills that form part of the General Studies of the Universities.
(k) Continuing Legal Education
Continuing legal education (CLE; also known as MCLE (mandatory or minimum continuing legal education)) is a professional education of lawyers that takes place after their initial admission to the bar. It is to ensure that lawyers remain professionally competent throughout their lives. In the United Kingdom for instance, a lawyer has to be assessed every year before he is allowed to practise. To remain competent, the lawyer has to stay in touch with the profession. All Nigerian Lawyers in legal practice or employment must comply with the Nigerian Bar Association’s Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) Programme. They are required to take Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) courses in order to qualify to practise law within our jurisdiction
The Nigerian Bar Association Institute of Continuing Legal Education (ICLE) serves as the Continuing Legal Education regulatory authority for the NBA and the profession by providing the standards and scope for the MCLE programme. The institute is overseen by the Board of the Nigerian Bar Association’s Mandatory Continuing Legal Education and works closely with Nigerian Bar Association Sections and the various local branches at large in developing programs on Mandatory Continuing Legal Education.
In many states in the United States, Continuing Legal Education participation is required of attorneys to maintain their license to practise law. Continuing Legal Education requirements exist in many other jurisdictions, such as in Canada.
I believe Nigerian Lawyers should be subjected to such conditions as well. That way, we can be sure that any Lawyer who practises in Nigeria is not out of touch with the Profession.
(l) Rating of Firms and Faculties
In foreign jurisdictions like the United Kingdom and the United States of America, Firms are rated yearly in order to determine the largest Firms according to the number of lawyers or financial turnover. This rating is done by the relevant regulatory authorities or newspapers and magazines The system could be introduced in Nigeria to enable law Firms in Nigeria know their current status, both in Nigeria and indeed the world. In addition, a favourable rating for a law firm, means more potential clients would be inclined to select the law Firm as against a poorly rated Firm.
The law faculties that produce Nigerian law students should also be rated yearly by the relevant bodies (like the National Universities Commission and the Nigerian Law School) or some independent ones (like Newspapers and magazines). This would encourage law faculties to raise their standard in order to receive a favourable assessment, which favourable assessment could increase the rate at which such faculties are selected by potential law students.
(m) Separation of the Council of Legal Education from the Nigerian Law School
The Nigerian Law School as presently constituted is over centralized in terms of admission and examination. Although there is a Secretary to the Council of Legal Education and Chairman of the Council, the Director General of the Nigerian Law School virtually runs the Council. This should not be the case. It should be the other way round, that is, the Council running the law schools. In any case, before the multi-campus system was introduced, there was no legislation providing for multi-campus. It was merely an administrative fiat.
We believe that the Legal Education Act of 1962 is overdue for review and amendment to provide for autonomous campuses and separation of the Council from the Schools.
(n) Private Law Schools And Institutions
At present, we have a total of one hundred and twenty eight Universities in the country. Fifty (50) out of this number are Private Universities, forty (40) are Federal universities while the remaining thirty eight (38) are State Universities. If private individuals or institutions, can run Universities, I do not see why private individuals or institutions cannot run Law Schools under the guidelines to be published by the Council of Legal Education and a central examination conducted by the Council. However, there must be strict regulations and accreditation of such Private Law Schools. This is more or less the practice in other climes, for example, the English system has moved from four Inns of Court to the creation of additional ten institutions for the training of lawyers.
It is my humble but firm opinion that majority of today’s lawyers lack adequate preparation for the basics of legal practice. We should bear in mind that we derive our present legal heritage from the United Kingdom where Barristers and Solicitors practise separately. Both arms of the profession run a system of professional education which follows after the academic qualification has been obtained. For one to get the approval to work as a Solicitor, one has to spend another two years as a trainee. In the case of Barristers, one has to undergo a mandatory one year pupillage after graduating from the Bar Vocational College. Consequently, by the time one comes into practice one is armed to face the rigors of the legal profession. In Nigeria, however, once one passes the Bar Exam and is called to the Bar he is thrown into the fray. This has led to the advent of “half-baked practitioners” who do not appreciate some of the basic concepts of law. They are unleashed at the society without adequate preparation.
We are not just building lawyers who will bestride the Nigerian legal landscape; we are building Lawyers who can stand toe to toe with their counterparts from developed countries. The question has been asked several times; where would Nigerian legal practice be in the next decade? Are we going to be far better off? Would we have a Nigerian law Firm acting as external Solicitors to Goldmann Sachs? Have the seeds been sown? Will we get rid of the shackles holding us back?
It is my firm conclusion that legal practice in Nigeria has a bright future but needs to expunge those factors that work against its progress while absorbing those factors that aid in its development. Where there is life there is hope and where there is a will there is a way. Life is reassuring each time one recalls the saying:
“Learn to be happy with what you have while you pursue all that you want’’
Senior Lecturer, Department of Public Law, Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Nkpolou, Port Harcourt.