The Quest for Silk and the Professional Dilemma

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The requirements for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) are numerous. It would take a person who is in active legal practice to meet the requirements. Aside having a befitting law office with a well-equipped library, a buoyant bank account to cough out at least half a million naira for the application form and the logistics of submitting your application in Abuja, the applicant also must have to his cap, at least three judgments at the Supreme Court, six judgments at the Court of Appeal and twelve judgments at the High Court.

For the judgments at both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, not only must the applicant have appeared for the adoption of the brief of argument, he must also have prepared and signed the adopted brief. This is not a mean achievement at all.

With an understanding of these criteria for the conferment of the rank of SAN, a legal practitioner who aspires to be awarded with the rank does not only think of the commercial gains of any court case, he also thinks of the additional mileage the briefs written and judgments would afford him in his quest for SANship.

Usually, the cost of prosecuting a suit at the High Court is lesser than what it would cost a client to prosecute a suit at the Court of Appeal. The same applies in comparison between a brief at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme court. The higher the suit, go on appellate consideration, the higher the fee. While a legal practitioner who doesn’t care about a conferment as a SAN or who is already a SAN may choose to stick to his practice of charging higher fees as a suit climbs the judicial ladder, a lawyer who is conscious of the requirement for the attainment of the silk rank would seriously consider a downward review of his fees whenever he sees a suit which has been subjected to appellate consideration especially where it has to get to the Apex court.

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Speaking more practically, a legal practitioner who is conscious of the requirements of the award of the rank of a SAN may charge N5, 000,000 for an appeal which he had charged N10,000,000 at the lower court and which he ordinarily ought to have charged N20,000,000 for the appellate suit. For such legal practitioner, his target is really not the commercial gain of the appeal; he is seeking the ultimate goal of making up the required judgments for consideration by the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee (LPPC). The story is however different for some who having set the target of becoming SANs, are lucky to be in law firms where there are thousands of briefs to pick and choose from to satisfy the LPPC requirements. In actual fact, majority would have to work acidulously to ensure that they make up for these numbers as required. These category of lawyers, are left with no option than to ensure that an opportunity to take a case all the way to the apex court when it presents does not slip away. Some go as far as prosecuting the appeal pro bono for clients.

The other twist to the quest for silk is the expected time within which an appeal should be concluded. With the manner in which our judicial system is structured, a counsel on either of the disputing divide may deploy several tactics to deliberately delay the determination of an appeal. Conversely, the client who has briefed a lawyer that an unfavourable decision of the lower court should be appealed against may be giving the instruction with the intention to unnecessarily deprive the judgment creditor from immediately benefitting from the fruit of the judgment. Such instructions come to the lawyer with riders such as; “I want the case to last very long on appeal”. With this kind of instruction, a lawyer who has a time frame set for himself for the attainment of the rank of a SAN may not find the instruction of the client appealing. Such lawyer would surely be in a fix as to which interest to pursue. Would it be his interest of ensuring that the appeal is determined expeditiously or he would he rather for the interest of his client ensure that the appeal last long enough.

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I assume there are indeed more ethical issues than dilemmas in the quest for the silk. Many who have continued to question the criteria for conferring the rank as well as those who have even recommended the abolition of the rank entirely may have considered these and more.

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