The Legal Profession is one of the oldest professions in the world. It dates back to the creation of Man. Considering the fact that Adam was the first to show us the very first advocacy skill when he was given the rare opportunity to defend himself before God, one can safely say that the profession is as old as humankind.
Across the world, legal practice has evolved in various ramifications. I have in various posts written on various aspects of the legal profession especially with regards to the type, practiced here Nigeria. My concern today is on FEES. Remuneration paid to lawyers for their services.
I have come to understand that the greatest impoverishers of lawyers are lawyers. We are our own enemies. We backstab ourselves on fees with reckless abandon. We undervalue our worth and our profession. This dangerous trend has graduated into becoming a norm. My worry is that if the issues of fees are not taken seriously and practical steps adopted to tackle them, we may wake up and find that we no longer have a profession to call our own.
I had on a particular lawyers forum illustrated how vulcanizers, pepper sellers, pepper grinders, taxi drivers, street urchins, the ones we popularly call “agberos”, even Bus “danfo” drivers regulate their charges and challenged lawyers on the forum to make a little finding on this. If you find ten vulcanizeers on a street, the cost of changing your flat tire would be uniform and they would not be scared to let you go and check with the next person. Same applies to the pepper grinder and the rest. The manner in which they enforce the uniformity in charges is very deep and compelling.
I believe the reason why there is some level of sanity in charges amongst the informal economic sector is majorly due to the enforcement mechanism they have adopted. Take a Vulcanizer for instance. If he is caught contravening the agreed charges, he is expelled from the association with some damning consequences and same applies to the rest.
Back to our profession, we are presently faced with so much infractions on fees. Lawyers charges are so ridiculous that some charge as little as N10,000 (Ten Thousand Naira) for a land transactions worth N100,000,000 (One Hundred Million Naira). Lawyers are in retainership with blue chip companies for retainer fee of as miserable as N100,000 (One Hundred Thousand) per quarter. Only a Nigerian lawyer would give professional advice, join a client to a meeting, negotiate millions of naira business, get a client released from police custody etc. and come back to start justifying the reason why he deserves a fee. I often say that it is really never the client’s fault. Because strictly speaking, how do you as a lawyer want to be paid when you do things in such unprofessional manner. How does a lawyer start dishing out legal advice, jump to attend a meeting with client that you do not maintain a retainership with, rushing to the police station at just a phone call without first discussing your professional fees? It has gotten so bad such that if you insist on discussing your fees with these “one off” clients, they would not mind leaving you to approach your learned colleague next door. Your learned colleague who wants to “survive” would gladly jump at the offer with a sinister mindset of snatching the potential client from you. In the end, we all end up being not only the losers, but the “used” and the poorest of the professional pack.
Methinks it is high time the Bar started adopting very stern measures in enforcing some level of discipline and uniformity in the fees charge by Legal Practitioners. Our leaders are not reflecting on what becomes of the profession after them. Posterity will not be kind to many of us who only think of how comfortable we have become without really bothering about what legacy we leave behind for the next generation of lawyers.