Appoint Lawyers as Part Time Judges – Imran Shitta-Bey

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Imran Shitta-Bey is the founder of ‘The AAL Legal Roundtable’ a Forum for Legal Practitioners with core aims of ‘sharing knowledge in building enduring professional ties’ and ‘driving professional development towards excellence in legal practice’. In this interview with DNL Legal and Style, he shares his career journey, his views on Nigeria Legal Profession, challenges and possible solution as well as his personal view on what it takes to become successful in the profession.

DNL L&S: May we meet you sir.

Shitta-Bey:  My name is Imran Oladapo Shitta-Bey. I attended University of Lagos Staff School, Akoka between 1973 and 1978 and Government College Lagos, Eric Moore Road, Surulere between 1978 and 1983. I obtained my ‘A’ Level from Shiplake College, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire between 1983 and 1985. For my higher education, I attended the University of Warwick, Coventry (1985 – 1989) where I obtained my Bachelor of Laws degree and thereafter the Nigerian Law School (1989-1990) and was called to Bar on 6th June,1991.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     DNL L&S: What informed your decision to pursue a career in Law?

Shitta-Bey: An interest in advocacy and public interest matters. My interests were varied and would later shape my outlook and approach to Legal practice. I had interest in Economics which I took for ‘A’ Level, in Media and Advertising which I was involved in as an Undergraduate, in Technology which I embraced as the future. However, Law was the course of choice for most arts students, before technology changed the landscape, since it presented many career options, including advocacy which I was disposed to.

DNL L&S: Tell us about your journey so far in your career?

Shitta-Bey:  I joined the Lagos Law Firm of S.A. Shitta-Bey & Co, in June 1991. There, the foundations of my legal practice were laid, particularly in the areas of Personal Injury (Medical Negligence and Malpractice, Drug Product Liability), Employment and Land Law, being involved in cases right up to the Supreme Court.

I had stints as a Solicitor’s Representative in Court with Fisher Meredith Solicitors, UK, clerking Criminal, Housing and Family Law cases in Court between 1998 and 1999. Later worked as a Foreign Lawyer in the Immigration and Conveyancing departments of Collisons and Co Solicitors, UK between 2002 and 2003.

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In those formative years, I acquired technology skill-sets that would later help launch AAL Version 2
(LegalPractitioner.me), a social and professional network for Lawyers.

In 2005, I began advising on UK spatial planning applications up to planning appeal level, having taken Land Development and Finance law (Advanced Land Law/Planning Law) as an undergraduate elective course. In June, 2010, I became Principal and Head of Chambers of S.A. Shitta-Bey & Co, Barrister & Solicitors.

DNL L&S: In your view, what does it take to have a successful career as a lawyer?

Shitta-Bey: Permit me to speak as a Barrister only. Dare I say, the foundational years of a junior Barrister holds the key to future success. To this extent, an interest in the Law (and learning the Law) beyond mere monetary gain is essential to begin with as meaningful gratification is usually delayed until much later in practice but can be well worth the wait. Also helpful is a rounded education and exposure to other areas beyond Law. This enables a quicker grasp of the workings of other sectors we are called upon to give legal advice and representation on. To cap it all, an attitude that knowledge is key and demands continuous legal education to keep you at the top of your vocation.

DNL L&S: What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career as a lawyer and how did you overcome them?

Shitta-Bey: Lord Denning in ‘Learning the Law’ states that what makes a good Lawyer is not necessarily knowing the law but rather in knowing how to find the Law. Finding that elusive Law is therefore an everyday challenge of the Lawyer in meeting the expectation of Clients.

Fast forward many decades after to an age of social media, I figured technology would drastically cut down on research time by leveraging on the knowledge and resources of colleagues who agree to come together on a virtual platform for the purpose of sharing knowledge in real time. This was the underlying concept behind establishing the Ask a Lawyer Forum (a.k.a. the AAL Legal Roundtable) on Whatsapp.

DNL L&S:  Tell us more about the Ask a Lawyer Forum

Shitta-Bey: On set up on 23rd April 2016, I invited the first set of colleagues to join the Ask a Lawyer Forum where members could get quick answers to legal questions (on practice, procedure and on recondite areas of law) from each other to help improve the quality of their service delivery to clients and engage in JV wherever possible. I emphasized that the primary aim of the group was to share and benefit from knowledge within a platform for building enduring professional ties. As interest in membership grew, we began to take the message of sharing knowledge for greater ties and excellence to the larger legal community to encourage greater co-operation and help drive professional development towards excellence.

Cross-section of members at the first Ask a Lawyer Conference & Dinner held on 19th December, 2016

Thus, on 19th December 2016, we stepped out of the Whatsapp platform for the first time to hold a real life Ask a Lawyer event. The occasion was the 1st Ask a Lawyer Annual Conference and Dinner held under the theme “Sharing Knowledge in Building Enduring Professional Ties”. At this maiden event, members and guests connected and shared knowledge around the issues of Professional Ethics, Advocacy and Legal Jurisprudence.

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On 24th May, 2017, AAL debuted as Exhibitor at the NBA Lagos Branch Law week to promote its message of ‘Sharing Knowledge in Building Enduring Professional Ties’ as well as AAL Version 2, the social and professional networking portal for Lawyers to connect, share and discover.
The AAL message was carried further as Exhibitor at the NBA-SBL Conference between 18th and 20th June, 2017.

AAL Trustee, Moyosore Onigbanjo, S.A.N. with Convener at The AAL Legal Roundtable on 19th December, 2017

With core aims of ‘sharing knowledge’ and ‘driving professional development towards excellence in legal practice’, AAL soon evolved into a veritable Continuing Professional Development platform within the profession. Our second Annual Conference, renamed ‘The AAL Legal Roundtable’, held at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos on 19th December, 2017.

Under the theme: “Driving professional development towards excellence in legal practice“, the
‘The AAL Legal Roundtable’ had members and invited guests interact to tackle questions on specialized areas, share and benefit from knowledge towards improving competence in their chosen areas of practice.

Paul Usoro, S.A.N. addressing the 2nd AAL Legal Roundtable on 5th July, 2018

On 5th July 2018, the 2nd AAL Legal Roundtable convened at the City Mall, Lagos Island under the theme: “Independence of the Judiciary” with the Chief Judge of Lagos State as the Special Guest of Honour. Lead Speakers included NBA Presidential hopefuls, among distinguished invited guests at the Roundtable.

Other contributions of the AAL Forum include organizing Debate for candidates to the office of Chairman, NBA Lagos Branch on Manifesto day, 14th July, 2017, in association with the NBA Lagos Branch Election Committee.

On NBA Lagos Branch Manifesto Day – 14th July, 2017.

DNL L&S: What in your view are the seeming threats to the legal profession and your suggested solutions?

Shitta-Bey: There are a number of threats to the Legal Profession but permit me to take on one that concerns Advocacy. It is said that justice delayed is justice denied. Also, loss of confidence in the legal system tends to result in self help. Both scenarios directly threaten the sustenance of the legal profession which requires public confidence in it to thrive.

The Courts forming a major part of our work space, the challenges it faces are inevitably stumbling blocks in the path of our successful practice of Law. Litigation is fast becoming unattractive to clients and so we need to reclaim its true essence and beauty in order to remain relevant. These days, there is a lot of buck passing between the Bar and Bench. My humble take is that we actively contribute our own quota towards the successful administration of justice.

My respectful appeal therefore is that Lawyers should endeavour to bring cases on behalf of their clients only when they are genuinely satisfied that there is a real chance of success (requirement of our Rules of Professional Conduct). It will also help if we can agree to do away with technical objections that do not go to substance (mere technicalities) and rather focus on the real question(s) in controversy between the parties (crux of the matter).

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For a better practice environment and survival of the Bar, we need to co-operate on interrogatories, prompt exchange of documents and regularisation of processes in readiness for trial. We need to prepare adequately and be ready for uninterrupted trial, including doing our part to ensure Courts can set down trials for days and weeks at a stretch (as in renowned jurisdictions) until conclusion,
as opposed to months and years.

These are among areas we hope to address at the next AAL Legal Roundtable event to help promote deeper understanding and co-operation between the Bar and Bench for a more effective administration of justice.

DNL L&S: In what other ways do you think Lawyers can aid the efficient administration of justice?

ShittaBey: I really would love legal reform to enable senior Lawyers who creditably discharge themselves be appointed as part-time Judges both to contribute to the development of our jurisprudence and assist in decongesting our Courts. Today, there are Lawyers who are Arbitrators and Mediators doing more or less the same thing in helping to adjudicate and resolve disputes between parties.

We can easily go one step further as we have in other jurisdictions like the U.K. and have part-time Judges from the rank of distinguished members of the Bar who are willing to devote part of their time in presiding over cases. We had a form of this once when members of the Bar were appointed as Election Petition Tribunal Judges during the Military era and we ought to have progressed from there.

My humble appeal is for us not to draw distinct territorial lines between the Bar and Bench that cannot be crossed as long as integrity is maintained and there is no conflict of interest in any given case.

DNL L&S: Have you been involved in volunteering outside of the legal profession?

Shitta-Bey: I have served communities home and abroad in voluntary capacity at various times. Currently, I serve as National President, Government College Lagos Old Boys Association (GCLOBA), an Alumni body dedicated to the educational advancement of our Alma Mater and the strengthening of brotherhood within our Global Alumni community.

Imran Shitta-Bey and members of Alumni Excos at the GCLOBA Conference of Excos on 29th July, 2018

DNL L&S: Tell us a little about your family.

Shitta-Bey: I am married to Olajuwon Shitta-Bey (nee Oyeneyin) who bore us four lovely boys by the grace of God Almighty.

DNL L&S: How do you relax?

Shitta-Bey: Good question my wife also asks. Always finding one thing to do, she says.  When I go to sleep I guess (lol) or praise worship. Also good food in a quiet environment.

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