There are some very irritating and highly denigrating behaviours that some lawyers engage in while in the courtroom. Those behaviours leave one wondering whether these defaulting lawyers passed through the rigors of the years of training. The most annoying part is that these category of people are most unteachable and always ready to engage you in the nethermost of ways. These lawyers are the reason why some litigants now sit at the bar and insist they also own a space there. They are the reason why the respect for lawyers in Nigeria has gotten to its all-time low. These lawyers are the reason why many like me wonder if we should still append gentlemen to our names.
When you are in court and you see these types of lawyers please call the attention of the oldest lawyer in the courtroom and insist that he takes the necessary action.
Phone Calls While Court is in Session: Why should a person trained and qualified to practice law make phone call inside the courtroom while proceedings are ongoing? The last time I checked, almost all the courtrooms have a “turnoff your phone” sign indicating that the use of phones are not allowed. It is bad enough that people’s phone, even that of lawyers still ring in courtrooms. The one I am unable to wrap my head around is the category of lawyers who bend over the table to receive phone calls. What is gentleman about squatting like a tout to disobey an ordinary rule by a lawyer?
I have never seen a courtroom where lawyers are restricted from stepping out, in the event that the phone call becomes too important that you must pick them. A few seconds is what it takes to step out of the courtroom to pick the phone calls if you must. Otherwise, turn off the phone as directed and return all your phone calls after court proceedings. This behaviour cuts across; younger, older, male, female, but the major culprits in this category are the ones I will term “madams.” Advanced ladies who probably feel too heavy to stand up and step out of the courtroom.
Eating, Chewing and Drinking inside the Courtroom: Shortly after my call to bar, I joined a firm where the principal represents everything a lawyer should be and more. One day, I went to court with him and I had an antibiotic to take at 10am. I picked a bottle of water and held it with my files and my court robes. While we were dressing up to enter the courtroom, my principal noticed the bottle of water and queried where I was taking it to. I informed him I had a tablet to take at 10.am and he asked; “is it the case that you intend to take that tablet inside the courtroom?” I couldn’t give a response. He was not mad at me, but he took time to explain to me that nothing edible is allowed inside the courtroom. Then he said; “when it is 10:am, step out of the courtroom politely, go and buy a bottle of water and take your medication and then come back. The judge will not notice your absence.”
Today, in courtrooms, people elegantly display bottles of water on the table while court is in session. The worst case is that some even have puff-puff, biscuits, popcorn and even foods and hide them under their table to eat. I was at the Federal High Court , Lagos and a young lady beside me was chewing away on her gum like her life was dependent on it. I was still wondering whether or not to advise politely that she takes off her gum when the Judge discovered. I must say, I was particularly happy. My Lord made my day.
I am not sure how this message should be passed, it is about decorum, prestige and dignity. Lawyers must realize that these things are not to be traded for momentum hunger. When you are in the courtroom, you owe it to yourself, those before you and those after you to behave like a gentleman. This is not negotiable and bending over your table to throw puff-puff into your mouth and munch is crass.
Non-Compliant Dressing – The dress code for lawyers is the simplest of all dressing, yet, many are always very comfortable violating this simple dress code. Female lawyers would rather wear clothes that have colour than a simple black coloured ones. How on earth would a male lawyer wear a white shirt without a jacket and appear in court. Some would be distracted in the process of attempting to ensure that their collaret cover whatever area of the dress is showing at the time. If you are regular in some courtroom where the judges are keen on maintaining high level of decorum, you would be familiar with these trend. Some ladies carry hair style that never fits into the wigs. I once approached a very young counsel who was wrongly dressed from head to toe. She had on a brown curly wig, a black dress with white patches and a pair of nude coloured shoe. She simply said to me; “my gown will cover the dress and I will sit at the back.” We had a fruitful discussion and I am sure she would never be in court dressing riotous. If I am a litigant, I probably would access a lawyer by the way he is dressed. Apart from oratory prowess, the next thing a lawyer worth his onion must get accurately is his appearance, not only in the courtroom but everywhere. The courtroom must be non negotiable. If not for anything, as a mark of respect to the temple of justice.
Disrespect for Seniors: I know the legal profession as a profession that prides itself with respect and decorum. In addition to this, the profession does not joke with seniority at the bar. Age at the bar comes with a whole lot of privileges and responsibilities. Trivializing the number of years already spent at the bar is one of the biggest tragedy of today’s generation of lawyers. I have witnessed several times where very young counsel disrespect very senior counsel inside the courtroom. The last I saw was over a thing as little as the bar list. There are many things that should naturally be taken for granted in this part of the world, if not for anything, for the culture. We are in a society where we manage ourselves. I would not delve into how inconveniencing some of our courtrooms are but we found ourselves plying our trades there and we must maintain that high level of decorum. It is not mere coincidence that some judges, in addition to calling the cases of learned silks out of turn, go further to call cases of senior lawyers out of turn too. Some counsel today use uncouth languages even when they address the court. There is just this recklessness that bears more on poor upbringing than on free speech especially among the upcoming lawyers. There must be deliberate effort to address these issues. As a young counsel at the Federal High Court, Lagos with very small courtrooms, I never sat down while a senior was standing. Even today, I must be cursed to be seated while a learned senior is up standing. But what do you get today, young counsel would rather keep a bag on the chair for his or her seniors coming from the office while senior lawyers who are already in court stand watching them. These young ones display no iota of guilt. What a generation of lawyers! What a pity!
Reading Newspaper : While some judges are not bothered about what you do while they conduct proceedings as long as you do not make noise, some take exception to people raising newspapers to read from the bar. However, beyond whatever the judge’s disposition is, I am of the view that reading paper inside the courtroom is unprofessional. Apart from the fact that courtesy demands that all attention should be on the court’s transaction, the inherent discomfort in one person trying to spread out his newspaper on the table that is shared with other counsel makes it irritating and annoying. This one is prevalent among the senior male lawyers. They will use the paper to ensure that two or three persons sitting both on their left and right side are as uncomfortable as possible. The question is, if you have bought the paper and it is your own, why don’t you just wait for the Court to finish sitting or step out of the court to read your paper? Why inconvenience others with the long spread of your paper.
There are many more strange behaviours. It is not just enough for us all to keep blaming the NBA, Council of Legal Education, Law Faculties and many others. Some of these ill behaviours could have been spotted by employers but the unfortunate thing is that many employers do not even have these qualities. Only a few law firm pay attention to lawyers dressing, especially when they are going to appear in court. Only a few principals take time to teach these age old tradition of respect and decorum. The tradition is dying. Blames are what they are, “blames”. They achieve nothing while the issues remain. With the way we are going, there may be nothing left of the nobility of the profession for our generation next. Unfortunately, these would include our children and grand children.
Let’s think about this!
Have you had a recent experience of any annoying unconventional behaviour in court? Please share with us.