The origin of the Nigerian Legal Profession is derived from the English Legal system and thus most laws applicable in Nigeria legal system are borrowed from the English legal system. Over the years, the legal profession has somewhat evolved from the colonial era up to the development of the modern legal profession. The legal profession is said to be one of the most distinguish profession in the world and it is govern by various rules which promotes the administration of justice, protects legal practitioners, as well as regulates the legal practice in Nigeria and legal practice of foreign laws by foreign lawyers.
Please kindly note that the Nigeria Legal profession is a fusion of both Solicitors and Barristers unlike what is obtainable in England. The aim of this article is to answer the question as to whether a foreign-trained lawyer yet to attend the Nigerian Law school, can practice in Nigeria as corporate counsel or offer legal advice on Nigerian Law.
Who is a Corporate Counsel?
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a corporate counsel is an in-house attorney for a corporation. An in-house counsel is further defined as a lawyer employed by the company. It is therefore understood that a corporate counsel is a solicitor either generally or for the purpose of any particular office or proceedings.
Section 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act 2004 defines a legal practitioner to be a person entitled in accordance with the provisions of the Act to practice as a Barrister or Solicitor either generally or for the purpose of any particular proceedings or office.
Section 2(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act 2004, provides that a person shall be entitled to practice as a Barrister and a Solicitor if, and only if, his name is on the roll. Hence, a person cannot practice in Nigeria either as a Barrister or Solicitor if he has not attended the Nigerian Law School, passed the Bar Exams, been called to the Nigerian Bar and have his name listed on the roll of legal practitioners of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. A person who is entitled to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria must have his name listed on the roll.
As it was held in the case of U.B.A Plc V SKYPOWER EXPRESS AIRWAYS LTD  14 NWLR (Pt 1533) 359: the combined effect of the provision of section 2(1) and 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act is to the effect that for a person qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria, he must have his name written on the roll of legal practitioners, otherwise, he cannot engage in any form of legal practice in Nigeria. See also the Supreme Court case of DANKWAMBO V ABUBAKAR  2 NWLR (Pt 1495) 157.
It is important to have in mind that sub-sections 2 and 3 provide for two categories of persons who may practice in Nigeria outside of the bracket of those who have been called to the Nigerian Bar as follows;
- A person may be entitled to practice by virtue of their office as the Attorney General, Solicitor General, Director of Public Prosecution or any office in the civil service of the Federation or of a State as the Attorney-General of the Federation or of the State, as the case may be.
- A person entitled to practice by warrant for particular proceedings.
The law is trite that the express mention of something is to the express exclusion of all others not mentioned (Expressio Unus Exclusion Alterius). The first exception under sub-section 2 would therefore not apply to a solicitor as same is applicable only to a person who seeks to practice as a barrister.
In view of the foregoing, it is submitted that a person may only practice in Nigerian as Solicitor if his name is on the roll or if he is appointed to the office of the Attorney General, Director of Public Prosecution or any office in the civil service of the Federation or of a State as the Attorney-General of the Federation or of the State, as the case may be. Therefore, a person to be employed by a company to practice as an in-house counsel, not being a person to whom Section 2(3) of the Legal Practitioners Act applies, must be qualified to practice as a solicitor in Nigeria. That is, his name must be on the roll.
Otomiewo Edore E is a Legal Practitioner working with Prime Solicitors, a law firm based in Ibadan, Oyo State.