By Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq.
One of the very lucrative professions in the world is the legal profession. This fact is well known to even non-lawyers and that is why some persons would always be enticed by the huge or high legal fees or high fees that a lawyer gets paid by his client and such a person would always reason that ‘what did the lawyer do that he was paid such a huge sum of money?!’ This scenario also shows why there are some non-lawyers attaching themselves as agents to some big law firms to always negotiate some percentage of such lawyer’s fees even negotiating into the extent of millions of naira and sometimes, even negotiating to get paid than the lawyer would be paid! The lawyer would do the legal services but he sleeps at his home and get the bank alert of payment! Some of the lawyers might fall for it, while some lawyers out of integrity would disassociate themselves from such persons. Some of these persons do not misrepresent themselves as lawyers to the public (i.e. to whom they tout for and on behalf of a would be lawyer that would agree to their negotiation), some misrepresent themselves as a ‘lawyer’ thereby doing and or offering the services of a lawyer by themselves and take all profits but abscond when it comes to loss or liability.
In fact, some of these impersonators have some lawyers that they use to escape when their secrets would almost leak out! This paper is of the firm advice that indeed, lawyers must expose all these fake lawyers who enjoy and get enticed by the high fees that lawyers enjoy from their clients but would not even take their time and sacrifice to study law and become a lawyer to enjoy those benefits!
The Rules of Professional Practice for Legal Practitioners, 2007-herein after referred to as the RPC- has mandated lawyers not to engage with non-lawyers in their professional practice for a serene environment of the legal profession thus
‘General responsibility of a lawyer.
- A lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the course of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner.
Duty as to admission into the legal profession.
- A lawyer shall not knowingly do any act or make any omission or engage in any conduct designed to lead to the admission into the legal profession of a person who is unsuitable for admission by reason of his moral character or insufficient qualification or for any other reason.
Aiding the unauthorized practice of the law.
- (1) A lawyer shall not-
(a) aid a non-lawyer in the unauthorized practice of the law;
(b) permit his professional services or his name to be used in aid of, or to make possible, the unauthorized practice of law by any person not qualified to practice or disqualified from practice;
(c) share legal fees with a non-lawyer except as provided in rule 53.
(2) A lawyer shall not, in return for a fee, write or sign his name or permit his name to be written or signed on a document prepared by a non-lawyer as if prepared by him.
Avoidance of intermediary in the practice of the law.
- A lawyer shall not permit his professional services to be controlled or exploited by any lay agency, personal or corporate, which intervenes between him and the client. Charitable societies or another institutions rendering aid to the indigent are not deemed to be such intermediaries.
Association for legal practice.
- (1) A lawyer shall not form a partnership with a non-lawyer or with a lawyer who is not admitted to practice law in Nigeria, if any of the activities of the partnership consists of the practice of law.
(2) The name of a deceased or former partner may continue to be used as part of the name of a law firm, provided it does not lead to an imposition or deception through the continued use of the name.
(3) Where a member of a law firm becomes a Judge and is hereby precluded from practicing law, his name, if it appears, shall be removed from the partnership name.
(4) Where a lawyer practices alone, he shall not hold himself out as a partner in a firm of lawyers using a firm name such as “A, B and Co”, or such other name as may suggest that he is in partnership with others.
(5) It shall be unlawful to carry out legal practice as a corporation. Retirement from judicial position or public employment’.
Furthermore, the same RPC has enjoined lawyers to be the supervisors and protectors of the legal profession themselves as it provides thus in Rule 55(2) of the RPC
55 (2) It is the duty of every lawyer to report any breach of any of these rules that comes to his knowledge to the appropriate authorities for necessary disciplinary action.’.
Also, the only exception to not sharing fees with non-lawyers by a lawyer or a law firm is provided in Rule 53 of the RPC as referenced in Rule 3(1)(b) (supra) as follows:
Division of fees
- A lawyer shall not share the fees of his legal services except with another lawyer based upon the division of service or responsibility: Provided that –
(a) an agreement by a lawyer with his firm, partner or association may provide for the payment of money, over a period of time after his death, to his estate or to one of more persons;
(b) a lawyer who undertakes to complete unfinished legal business of a deceased lawyer that proportion of the total compensation which fairly represents the service rendered by the deceased lawyer; and
(c) a law firm may include non-lawyer employees in retirement plan, even though the plan is based on profit-sharing arrangement. Offer of compensation or gift by the other party.’
Very unfortunately, there are many yet to be discovered impersonators who abuse the legal profession. Lawyers must learn how to cover the field and protect their legal fees and the legal profession. From experiences, some of these non-lawyers turn themselves to agents or intermediaries to obtain cases and bring same to a lawyer to negotiate how much that they would be paid to hand over the case to the lawyer. In fact, their interest is to also get highly paid by the lawyer and would even tell the lawyer that what the lawyer intends to pay them is very ‘low’! Some of them would negotiate percentage of the lawyer’s fees including fees for running around or carrying out any legal service. In fact, some of them would call the client to confirm whether he has paid the lawyer any amount of money and immediately, such an agent would place a call on the lawyer and even embarrass and insult the lawyer at will! To this persons, being agents or intermediaries to a lawyer is ‘a business as usual’! Also, those who impersonate that they are lawyers would always carry out the legal services and keep the money to themselves and always call themselves as ‘Barrister’ or other name(s) with which a lawyer is identified, to the public. It is my humble recommendation that, where anyone who is not a lawyer is being called a ‘barrister’, or other name(s) with which a lawyer is identified, such a person should be reported to the necessary law enforcement agency like the police because there is more to discover from the illegal practices of such person! I have not seen where a person would call himself ‘a soldier’ or a ‘police’ and he would be allowed to continue using such name, whereas, he is not ‘a soldier’ or a ‘police’! What then happens with the legal profession?! More so, such an act of impersonation is an offence under section 22 of the Legal Practitioners’ Act, Cap L11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. The said section 22 of the Act provides thus
‘22(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, if any person other than a legal practitioner-
- Practices or holds himself out to practice as a legal practitioner; or
- Takes or uses the title of legal practitioner; or
- Willfully takes or uses any name, title, addition or description falsely implying or otherwise pretends that he is a legal practitioner or is qualified or recognized by law to act as a legal practitioner; or
- Prepares for or in expectation of reward any instrument relating to immovable property or relating to or with a view to the grant of probate or letters of administration or relating to or with a view to proceedings in any court of record in Nigeria, he is guilty of an offence and liable in the case of an offence under paragraph (d) of this subsection, to a fine of an amount not exceeding N200 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both such fine and imprisonment, and in any other case to a fine of an amount not exceeding N100.
(2) In subsection (1) of this section ‘instrument’, in relation to immovable property, means any document which confers, transfers, limits, charges or extinguishes any interest in the property or which purports so to do, and ‘immovable property’ includes un-extracted minerals.’
Furthermore, it is worrisome that some of this acclaimed agents and or intermediaries would even dictate how much a lawyer should charge in regard to the client that they bring to him! In fact, some of these persons use a lawyer to dupe and or defraud the client by even supplying the financial information of the client to the lawyer to enable the lawyer to use different means to collect huge sum of money from which they will be paid handsomely and or tangibly and whereas, when the trouble emanates from such transaction, these persons are not found or would find their way and leave only the lawyer to bear the consequences of the illegality whatsoever!
Finally, therefore, the Nigerian Bar Association should also sensitise the public on how to identify non-lawyers who impersonate themselves as a lawyer and what to do in reporting such person to the necessary authority(ies). Also, we as lawyers must be the engineer of discontinuance of this illegal and or sharp practices and in fact, with passion! Also, any lawyer who violates any of the above clear provisions of the RPC should be made to face the relevant disciplinary Committee of the legal profession! Furthermore, these non-lawyers must be made to know that if they desire and or enjoy the alleged high professional fee of a lawyer, it is the best for them to undergo the training of becoming a lawyer and become a lawyer rather than being only interested in the fees of a lawyer! Enough is enough!
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