It happens in the legal environment when a lawyer charges a client a particular professional fee for legal service to be rendered and the client says ‘I know a lawyer who will do it for less the price’. The sad reality is when you let those clients go, they actually get the services of a lawyer who would offer the same service for less the price. It is these lawyers that are comfortable to accept less that actually undercut lawyers’ professional fees in Nigeria.
As it stands in the legal profession, some legal professionals have reduced the cost of standard legal services offered to clients to the barest minimum. You find a lawyer charging N10,000 for a job another lawyer with experience and better package would charge N1,000,000 (one million naira only). The lawyers who charge lower than the standard undercut the professional fees young lawyers who come into the profession ought to use to survive economic turbulence as they grow.
Take for instance, if a five-year post call lawyer charges N10,000 to draft an agreement, how much then would a new entrant into the profession charge? Legal professionals who undercut professional fees are succeeding in doing more harm than good to the legal industry; it is this crop of lawyers that tarnish the image of the profession, giving the society a perception that the services of lawyers in Nigeria are shabby and not worth the salt.
The determinant of what the society pays for legal services rendered by lawyers depends solely on how legal professionals package their services. If it is packaged to sell for less than nothing, it would be bought for less than nothing, but if legal services are packaged as a priceless value that it is, then the right amount would be paid for legal services rendered.
It might sound strange, but there are lawyers that wake up every morning from Monday to Friday to go and stand in front of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) waiting for clients to engage them to incorporate a company. This crop of lawyers don’t have a particular address they can be traced to, and as such, they are only concerned about what they can earn for now, thereby charging peanuts. The danger of a client engaging the services of such lawyers is the difficulty to trace them when a future unforeseen circumstance arises due to one form of professional negligence or the other.
The younger lawyers in the profession complain that the senior lawyers pay casual attention to their welfare or remuneration, yet the junior lawyers cannot charge the right price for their services when rendered independently to a client.
The responsibility is on every legal professional to promote the image of the profession, as well as the price for services rendered. There is no justifiable reason for lowering the scale of charges of legal professionals, it only helps in creating disdain from the general public about the legal industry.
We all ought to put our hands on deck to change the perception of the general public about the legal profession; we cannot be offering our services for paltry sums of money and expect the society to regard us in high esteem. It is the value we attach to our services that would determine if the legal profession is respected or not. The only time I calculated professional fees based on the scale of charges provided in the Rules of Professional Conduct 2007, was during preparation for the Bar finals, even at that time we considered the amount very little.
It is not without a doubt that the recent day economic hardship with dollar change and recession can sometimes make a lawyer accept less than the value of the service rendered, but then again, if all legal professionals in the industry would shut their doors to meagre payments, the society would have no option but to up her ante towards the payment of legal services.
The responsibility of improving the image of the legal profession lies first with the legal professional, we cannot offer our services cheaply to the society, and expect the society not to benefit therefrom.
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Source: Daily Trust
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