Ethics and culture at the Bar is the way of life of lawyers, their behaviour, their ideas of what is good and bad behaviour. Ethics and culture is codified in many Commonwealth jurisdictions. It relates to our moral behaviour in and out of Court or chambers. In Nigeria codification can be found in the Rules of Professional Conduct in the Legal Profession, Legal Practitioners Act, Cap 207 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
The legal profession worldwide is very particular about ethics and culture and these include the conduct and decorum of lawyers.
Although lawyers are considered as being in the top bracket of professionals in the worldwide, Investopedia ranks Surgeons, Psychiatrists, General Practice Physicians, Senior Level Corporate Executives, Dentists, Petroleum Engineers, Orthodontists, Data Scientists, Air Traffic Controllers and Pharmacists as the top 10 professional earners.
My research shows me that lawyers were not even in the 10 most-in-demand jobs in 2017. Don’t be surprised that this list includes “Truck Drivers” in the United States. However, it is generally accepted that being a lawyer is a financially booming career path that has attached to it a high degree of status and respect.
The premium placed on the profession worldwide is still very high. Therefore, a correspondingly high demand of good standards is not surprising.
The saying is very apt – To whom much is given, much is desired.
Without being disrespectful, it is unlikely that standards and ethics demanded by National Union of Road Transport Workers or the Association of Blacksmiths will be as stringent as that of lawyers.
In the case of NBA V. OBIOMA (2010) 14 NWLR (PT 1231) 641 AT 680 the Supreme Court of Nigeria held as follows:
“Legal practice is a very serious business that is to be undertaken by serious minded practitioners particularly as both the legally trained minds and those not so trained always learn from our examples. We therefore owe the legal profession the duty to maintain the very high standards required in the practice of the profession in this country”
Also in the postscript to his book titled: “Threat to the Rule of Law” Hon Justice T. A. A. Ayorinde, former Chief Judge of Oyo State, wrote: “The standards of behaviour required by the law should always be upheld by the Courts. Judges are supposed to be custodians of these standards.”
He added: “I believe a good judge should keep away from socialising with any persons but with very few persons of his social standing and orientation. We must show our fellowmen by our decisions and behaviours how to behave according to law to achieve peace, order and good government. This is how Judges can get over their trials successfully and be seen to be discharged and acquitted by civilised people.”
Our ethics demand that lawyers must never be rude or insulting to the Court or to opposing lawyers even if much Junior. The use of the words “Strange” and “Mysterious” in describing the Judgment of a Lower Court was held to be grossly inappropriate and inconsistent with High ethical Standards of the Profession. See ETIM V OBOT (2010) 12 NWLR (PRT 1207) 108.
What judges expect
Judge expects from an advocate the following: Simplicity of presentation. You must be lucid in your presentation
- Selectivity – separate the relevant from the irrelevant as irrelevancies becloud your otherwise good points.
- Straight – forwardness. Go to the issues and refrain from beating about the bush.
- Brevity. The simpler, the better.
- Candour – Courts detests deceitful Counsel. Counsel must use every opportunity to be truthful to the Court.
- Resilience – argue with conviction as half hearted presentations are indication of a bad case.
- Proper preparation: the Court must perceive you as thorough in your preparation. This is more apt in these days of front loading processes.
- Courage, but not recklessness. Respect the judge but do not fear him. Put your point across respectfully without being discourteous.
In his work titled: Advocacy, Ethics and the Bar Chief Richard Akinjide, CON, SAN FCIArb (UK) suggested that every advocate should read two of Shakespare’s Plays “The Merchant of Venice” and “Julius Ceaser”.
I have read them and found them to be inspiring. Chief Akinjide: “Broadly, there are three lessons to be learnt from Shylock V. Antonio. First, a good advocate should not take light hints from the Bench. Shylock did not observe that norm in the belief that his case was cast-iron. He lost.
“Second, statues should not be interpreted or applied in a way that takes leave of common sense. Interpretation must be fair and equitable and be seen to meet the ends of justice.
“Third, if Counsel is offered a fair settlement in a case, he should recommend acceptance to his client and not reject it on the ground that his client’s case is good and would probably get more after a full trial.”
Culled: A speech by Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN) at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Ibadan Branch Annual Law Dinner held at Aare Afe Babalola (SAN) Bar Centre, Ibadan.