In a desperate move to satisfy self-desire by all means, some lawyers continue to abuse the code of honour and professional ethics on a daily basis by giving representation to unethical demands of some clients. Unfortunately, this unethical behavior has made the public not to trust lawyers completely, making the legal profession vulnerable to public embarrassment.
Few examples of such unethical demands are: where a client engage a lawyer to frustrate court proceeding by filling frivolous applications or, by asking a lawyer to aid or participate in conduct the lawyer believes to be unlawful or where a lawyer assist his client in a conduct that he knows to be illegal or fraudulent, or give false statement/evidence to protect his client, or intentionally fail to disclose that which is required by law to be revealed. This kind of unethical representation is what has earned the legal profession golden award of distrust in the eyes of the public and brought disrepute to this honourable profession.
According to the Rules of Professional Conduct, professionalism requires a lawyer to tell any client that he will not introduce evidence he believes to be false or seek to discredit by trickery, testimony he believes to be true, and if the client wants other service, the lawyer should urge him to seek representation from a lawyer who considers him truthful or withdraw his service. Rule 15 of the RPC 2007 is effective.
In OWONIKOKO V. AROWOSAIYE (1997) 10 NWLR (PT. 523) 61 at 78, the Court of Appeal, took exception to how a legal practitioner appearing for the appellant, quoted the judgment of the court of appeal out of context in order to support his client’s case. The provoked court perceived that counsel had done this to deliberately mislead the court. The court reiterated that if the role of a lawyer is improperly played in any adjudication of disputes, the resultant effect is failure of justice with devastating consequences.
In the rules of professional conduct for legal practitioners, lawyers are expected to 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 profession.
Apparently, the legal profession is known to be a learned and honourable profession not money- driven business. This is why a Lawyer must put ‘honour and integrity’ first before accepting a brief from client. Any act of dishonor tarnishes the beautiful image of justice and exposes the offender to serious consequences. This is not far from what we are witnessing presently, happening to some members of the Bar alleged to have committed acts of money laundering, fraudulent transactions, aid clients to commit criminal offences etc to list but few.
Lord Macmillan in The Ethics of Advocacy p.17 say: ‘The code of honour at the Bar is at once its most cherished possession and the most valued safeguard of the public. In the discharge of his office, the advocate has a duty to the court, a duty to the state and a duty to himself. To maintain a perfect poise amidst these various and sometimes conflicting claims is no easy feat.’
I agree with my Lord Macmillan that to achieve this dignity is not an easy task. But if a lawyer upholds the code of honour and ethics of his profession, it becomes an easy feat. This view was equally shared by his lordship, Hon. Justice C.A. Oputa, in his book ‘Conduct at the Bar and the Unwritten Laws of The Legal Profession’ p. 5, in discussing the need to maintain high standards, say ‘…the seeming paradox of lawyer’s life, his only shield is the rectitude and sincerity of actions and his ready, implicit and undiluted obedience to the unwritten laws of the profession, to the traditions of the profession, to the strict code of honour expressly designed to allow the lawyer discharge his duties to the Administration of justice without being false to himself or to his conscience.’
To maintain high standard of professional conduct, a good lawyer with honour don’t have to take a bad clients. Though, agreed that ‘Everyone is entitled to a lawyer’ as provided under s. 36 (6) (c) in the 1999 Constitution FRN and Rule 18 and 24 RPC. It is humbly submitted by the author that both the law and professional code did not state that ‘everyone is entitled to you’. If the constitution gives a client right to employ the service of a legal practitioner of his choice, it is equally the right of every lawyer to represent a client of his own choice in the light of justice and fairness. It is therefore, within the absolute discretion of every lawyer to represent good clients and say no to the bad clients. This discretion should be exercised judiciary and judiciously without fear or favour.
It is very pathetic to think of lawyers’ misery in this contemporary world. A misery infused from lack of trust from the general public including family, relatives and friends. It is a fact that majority of the public not only distrust lawyers but also hate them with passion. Out of necessity, they associate themselves with lawyers when it suit their interest and dump them at their (clients) discretion. The unethical manner in which lawyers conduct themselves when rendering legal service to clients is the source of public distrust against lawyers and the legal profession as a whole. In the words of Professor Roger E. Schechter, ‘The public does not think well of us. Lawyers are held in extraordinarily low regard by the public at large. The members of the profession are considered arrogant, confrontational, manipulative, and unscrupulous, to state just a few of the adjectives that can be said in polite company’.
Surprisingly, even the clients whose interest is protected by some lawyers without due regards to the code of honour and ethics of the legal profession do not trust the lawyers. They view them as untrustworthy, honourable, manipulative, corrupt and devil advocates. They only used them to serve their interest and pay for the service as long as the lawyers agreed to implement their unethical demands.
The writer recommend that a lawyer should not take a case he doesn’t believe in. Steven Keeva, in his work ‘TRANSFORMING PRACTICES: FINDING JOY AND SATISFACTION IN THE LEGAL LIFE (1999), introduce us to two New York litigators (Sheldon Tashman and Stephen Chakwin) who ultimately decided it was in their best interest, as they tell school kids in regard to alcohol and drugs, to “just say no” to some clients.
Tashman admitted that the law has many temptations that lack integrity. He concludes that, ‘There is a temptation to make a case out of nothing, to make a living out of situations that aren’t real, to not be ethical’. In my few years of practice I have come across lawyers with this characteristic all in their efforts to satisfy their clients.
In conclusion, a lawyer must be honest with his client, be prudent in his representation to a client and be careful not to cross ethical line. Provide wise counsel within a bound of law, code of honour and fear of God. It is also important to consider public interest when representing a client. But when some clients insist in making unethical demands, this is when a lawyer can say no to some clients.
Ibrahim Alhassan, Esq. (Abu Ruqayyah) a Private Legal Practitioner residing in Abuja FCT