The Lawyer’s Cross: Standardization of Remuneration and Charges for Legal Services in Nigeria

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Legal Practitioners

And they are like:

“Goddy abeg help me tidy this SMALL land agreement” only to find out he bought the land for 15million naira!

“Goddy abeg police just arrested my boyfriend this morning for one SMALL matter like that.” Getting to the station you discover it’s a robbery case.

“Goddy abeg I want sell one SMALL property for Wuse, help me arrange SMALL Agreement” and you find out that the property is valued at 50million naira

“Goddy we want make yo help us register one small company for CAC” and u find out that the Authorized Share Capital values at about 50million naira…

And at the end of the day, “Goddy abeg take this 10k buy fuel!”

And I ask when will my friends ever have BIG briefs?! How I want take buy car where I go put the fuel? 

Since all my friends are known for SMALL SMALL problems and briefs, I have decided to introduce them to SMALL SMALL LAWYERS LIKE:

  • Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN)
  • Chief Afe Babalola (SAN)
  • Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN)
  • Kanu Agabi (SAN)
  • Alex Izion (SAN)
  • Gadzama (SAN)
  • Paul Erokoro (SAN)
  • Joe Agi (SAN)
  • Okey Wali (SAN)
  • OCJ Okocha (SAN)….etc

Pls my friends, all these ‘SMALL’ lawyers already have fleet of cars and I presume they would need the FUEL more than I do. This nonsense must stop in 2017!

The above comic captures the plight of many lawyers in Nigeria and led to the brief discussion below by senior lawyers on Standardization of Lawyer’s Remuneration and Charges for Professional Legal Services in Nigeria:

OLA OLANIPEKUN, SAN

You touched on fundamental issue at the Bar in a most jovial manner. Thanks for being light hearted.

Truth is that nobody wants to pay a lawyer in this clime, especially as our product is invisible. No one would lift 20 bags of cement from a friend & walk away with a ‘thank you’ but friends & clients would routinely seek legal opinion, vetting of Deeds, etc & become offensive when you request to be paid. They can’t see what you’ve exerted.

Herein lies the foundation of prevalent/ widespread poverty at the Bar. Few firms have big corporate clients but the bulk of practitioners relate directly with the public who, in the African culture, expect no bill  except on account of litigation.

This will continue until lawyers come together to put an end to it. I raised this issue consistently at NBA NEC when l was member under successive administrations but it was never addressed.

The NBA subsequently successfully implemented the seal programme but did nothing on issue of fees and  remuneration of its members. We organize conferences addressing every national/ international issue but never pondered, not even in a session, on how to end cultural practices which are inimical to our remuneration as lawyers.

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Aspirants to offices are now talking of minimum remuneration for juniors without bothering to think of how to enhance earnings of the firm. Yet, a firm can only pay what it has earned. In South Africa, the populace have come to realize that when you pick a phone to call a lawyer to enquire on a legal matter, your bill is running.

We must hasten to get to that destination with the speed at which we implemented the seal requirement. The essence of the Bar Association is the welfare of its members. Enough of playing the ostrich with topics seeking to touch heaven at our conferences but without relevance to the bulk of our members. A wheel is as strong as its weakest spoke.  Our NBA must descend from our high horse and do something for its members. We’re the proverbial physician who prescribes antidote to every national malaise but cannot attend to our fundamental issue

 If we don’t break the fetters of societal practices/prejudice  in respect of legal fees, we shall continue to breed impoverished members who will not be able to afford to pay conference fees and will continue to have explosion in disciplinary matters.

Good morning gentlemen. May 2018 begin the process of deliverance of lawyers from servitude.

 ATOYEBI  OYETOLA

Well said Learned Silk, Sir. We can name a number of jurisdictions around the world that once you pick up the phone and call a lawyer, the bill begins to run.

Some offices in Lagos are also already adopting the style and this still boils down to what the Learned Lady Silk mentioned some weeks ago on this platform, “when do we start running the legal profession/ our legal offices, as a business”.

I bet that this is a topic we need to extensively discuss, so as to help drive home the point that, clients need to pay for services rendered.

OLA OLANIPEKUN, SAN

Thank you sir.  Long overdue. Those few offices have, thanks goodness, carved a comfort zone of clientele for themselves. It’s now our collective responsibility to extend that practice to the entirety of legal practitioners.  Therein lies our collective prosperity, end to unemployment & general misery of the juniors, especially.

OLAITAN EYIOWUAWI

Your poser about running the legal profession as a business is a brilliant one? The answer to that question is evolving in Nigeria with what SBL member-firms are already used to with the demands of foreign firms and multinationals on them. A number of these firms are also subscribed to international peer standards demanded by the likes of Legal500.

That said, there is also a social utility to law for the public good. The need for the enforcement of rights and justice is essential for social cohesion and lawyers alone cannot run this as firms would hardly be run as businesses, more public money had to come in. Enforcement of the ethics of the profession and further development of administrative law for the regulation of government excesses will go a long way in assisting lawyers to attain the stature they crave. Increasingly, lawyers are being seen more as needless bureaucracy in the production process, maybe not so much yet in the service sector. Unless the need and the added value become compelling, the likes of KPMG, Deloitte and co will continue to erode the base.

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The penchant for long drawn out litigation in Nigeria that rarely rise above procedural issues (which are of little or no benefits to litigants) does a huge disservice to the profession. There’s no benefit to a businessman spending years in court only to receive a decision on preliminary matters and a huge bill from his lawyer.

OLA OLANIPEKUN, SAN

A forum under the auspices of our Association will highlight and harvest existing templates, develop new ones and anchor the implementation. Very essential for prosperity of grassroot practitioners who constitute majority of our membership.

NWABUEZE ONUOHA:

Almost unbelievable sir. A friend wanted to buy a plot of land. We inspected the land. I checked the title documents. I billed a particular amount as professional fees to do the land transfer agreement. He balked. Too high. I rebated it. Final acceptable fees.  Still he wouldn’t pay. He approached another “lawyer”. Later he brought the agreement drafted by the other “lawyer” to me. I should proofread it. FOR FREE. I flatly refused. I charged him same amount I early charged if I was going to draft the agreement. He was furious. He said,” I have many lawyers as friends. Do you know how many lawyers I could have taken this to and would be attended to for free?” I wasn’t impressed. He’s no longer my friend.

BABATUNDE BOLAJI, CAMS

….The learned Silk and others have spoken well, salient points have been raised on the issues of Professionalism, Legal fees/Legal Business.

The point that I have always raised individually with some of my seniors and friends practicing in Nigeria is that, non but ourselves can raise our standard in legal practice.

I understand we all have our needs and bills to pay, but as it is with every phase of life, setting standard is tough. But it has to be done.

Standardization of fees and legal practice needs more than talking about, it requires serious actions. To my recollection, these issues have always been a subject of discussion, but nothing has ever been done about it. Somebody has to bell the cat. Maybe we should look at the local level to kick start this. Maybe Ibadan branch can start the setting up of standardized legal fees. Let NBA collaborate with all law faculties and Nigerian Law School, work together to incorporate this idea into the curriculum. In-coming Lawyers out of school should have the understanding of “HOW TO STANDARDIZE LEGAL BILLINGS”.

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SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE

My dear Mr Bolaji, professionalism in legal charges and billing for lawyers’ work in Nigeria is already a part of the teaching curriculum in the Nigerian Law School under the New Curriculum. However, on graduation and after Call to the Nigerian Bar, the lawyer becomes a master of his own affairs, subject only to the provisions of the LPA and RPC, albeit for those who even care about those two guiding documents. Thenceforth, all what happens in the area of professional legal charges, billing, costs and solicitor’s accounts becomes a matter influenced majorly by forces not unconnected with the state of health of both an ever-fragile country and its never-steady and ever-retrograding economy, both of which help to reduce the ordinary new wig to the status of one who is after nothing and cares about nothing else other than his own survival.  With survival as the motto, the lawyer whose economic state is both pitiful and plaintive, being one whose society, profession and even clients care not much about, resorts to billing and charging strategies that are cheap, base and subpar, and having little or no regard to standards set by both the profession and the laws/rules. Lawyers are part of the society, and are therefore affected by the state of the society. This, I think, is partly responsible for this rot we have in our hands.

BABATUNDE BOLAJI, CAMS

True state of the country’s affairs. Thanks for the education sir. So, sir, what’s the path forward? The country is the way it is. However, lawyers still have to set themselves apart. We can’t fold our arms and allow the hitherto admired legal practice to go “south”.

SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE

Many thanks, dear Mr Bolaji. I agree with you that something needs to be done, to save an already battered profession from further decline.

And we all should be part of the search for feasible strategies that could produce desired results.

NOTE:This brief conversation took place on the LPD (the Legal Practice Discourse) Forum on WhatsApp, and is shared with the kind permission of participants. Discussions on how to improve the lot of members of the Nigerian Bar are ongoing, on  social media and everywhere. Your opinion would be most welcome. Specifically, comments, suggestions and recommendations are welcome on the way out of the persistent poor remuneration of Legal Practitioners in Nigeria.

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