NBA 2020 Election: Let’s Talk About the Welfare of Young Lawyers – Tosin Ajose Popoola

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Recently on my column; ‘The Successful Lawyer’, I called on young lawyers to develop a saving habit for 3 basic reasons, to cover Needs, Emergency, and Wealth Building. I reechoed the thoughts of thousands of young lawyers on the near impossibility of saving from the meagre income an Associate earns in a law firm[1]. At the end of the article, I felt an uneasiness and I asked myself some heart wrenching questions, as a lawyer of almost a decade experience how much have I saved? What asset do I have? How does the future look?  Am I financially independent? Honestly, I hate hypocrite and I felt I was becoming one. For a lawyer in full scale litigation like myself, the hustle is real; my firm’s support notwithstanding and I can’t begin to imagine what lawyers are going through all over the Nation due majorly to the NBA’s failure to make effective regulations that protects her members’ welfare.[2]

My questions were met with the post of Reginald Aziza where he conceptualized the problem and proffered a solution. He acknowledged the infallible nature of his suggestion and accordingly called for a critique, he rebuked naysayers and sparked a conversation which I have come to lend my voice to and I encourage everyone to keep this conversation going. We must have it!

From all the aspirants, I have at one point in time or the other seen a post (majorly on social media) about how the welfare of young lawyers is important. Of all these posts, none that I have seen has addressed how they intend to cater for the welfare of young lawyers. I am privy to some thoughts that a limit ought to be put to the least salary payable by firms. The proponents of this thoughts are entitled to their opinion, the same way and manner I am entitled to mine.

 I believe and strongly so, that the welfare of lawyers cannot be successfully taken care of with an increase in salary for no one can indeed and of a truth satisfactorily pay a lawyer.  My belief is further strengthened with an understanding of this clime and the way and manner our small firms are structured. Leave it or take it, we have more small firms than we do top tier law firms. We also have a lot of lawyers who are not under employment with any firm, they are doing their own “solo practice” some have physical offices, some have only online offices or digital office as it is popularly called and use a friend’s office when the need to set up a physical meeting with clients arises.

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My proffered solution lies in 2 (two) techniques, the first is the certainty of ensuring that ONLY lawyers render legal services and the second is a call for the regulation of professional fees. I will start from the rear, I know and understand that it is practically impossible to mandates lawyers to charge specific fees. We all know that the status of a client, status of a firm among others are major factors in Billing. How about we set a minimum acceptable fee for each transaction with strict adherence such that a defaulting lawyer is heavily penalized? .This will positively impact all lawyers both young and old, small firms and big firms as well as solo practitioners.

The NBA with all her powers can successfully do this. All it takes is commitment, integrity and selflessness of our elected leaders!

The second solution equally lies with the NBA, of course the NBA is our regulatory body and it should stand tall to bear her responsibilities. One of her key responsibilities is the welfare of her members. NBA has practically slept on this duty leaving her members to their fate. It is surprising that this same NBA that  has not been responsive to members’ welfare actually came up with a structure that accommodates the payment of practicing fees and even stamp fees. It then means NBA can actually set up a workable structure.  Remember in the wake of Covid-19 when the Banks in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun State were shut and lawyers were unable to meet up with payment of their practicing fees, the NBA quickly came up with an alternative method of payment. Indeed, NBA was proactive and this says one thing, we need to have honest and selfless leaders in place, persons who are not after their own interest, for that is when the welfare of lawyers can even be considered.

NBA must protect her members by ensuring that legal services are rendered only by lawyers, said differently, jobs custom made for lawyers are not taken up by persons who are not lawyers.

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I will break it down, in the Probate Registry in some jurisdictions, court officials have successfully taken up the job of processing letters of administration and other incidental services for clients; such that a visit to any of these Registries will reveal that each officer of the Court has its own client. Our meal tickets are gradually being taken away from us.

Now, I do not mean that these officers are discharging their primary responsibilities of processing letters of administration as part of their schedule of duty in the Probate Registry, I mean that these officers actually interface with clients and get paid professional fees while they are at it.

In most High Courts in the Federation, it is not unusual to find touts at the entrance of the Court soliciting for clients whom they will prepare Affidavits and all manner of processes for. These processes (most times Affidavit) are then filed in Court. Alas! Another lawyer has been deprived of a meal ticket.

A moment ago, the Federal Government of Nigeria came up with a policy which in the opinion of its makers will ease the attendant difficulty of doing business in Nigeria. A major stakeholder of this noble profession pioneered the policy and opened up the portal of the Corporate Affairs Commission to non-lawyers such that a non-lawyer can actually register a Business Name, reserve a Name for a Company Limited by Shares and so on and so forth. I’m sure we are all aware of the ridiculous advertisement on social media (I’m sure these advertisers are not lawyers) as to the cost of registration of a Business Name, Trademark etc., if we do not rise up to the call and make demands of NBA, we may find that all our clients have been taken by lay men who are willing to accept ridiculous fees.

These examples are only the few I have come across, I’m sure several others exist.  We have heard several aspirants (past and present) suggest that there should be a minimum wage for Associates in Firms. But have we honestly thought about lawyers who are not under employment and who source daily for briefs? How do we cater for the welfare of these persons? How do you compel a struggling small firm to pay a certain amount? How? We need to start looking inwards and its high time the NBA took up her primary role of the protection of members’ welfare.

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With the elections coming up, I hope and sincerely hope that we start having these conversations. I hope and sincerely hope, that the aspirants to the noble position of Presidency of the NBA truly has the interest of her members and is ready to do what it takes to ensure that a young lawyer does not become a locust beans seller in the Court’s premises all in the name of looking for a side hustle to meet ends meet. The story is pathetic, while I count myself lucky to have started my career with a firm that prioritizes the welfare of her lawyers, I cannot imagine the plight and dilemma of some of my colleagues who had the passion for the practice of law but had to opt out to become some entrepreneurs of sort when the financial burden hit home.

Can we please do better in our little circles, can we please engage these aspirants? Can we please vote right?

Thank you

Oluwatosin Ajose Popoola Esq., ‘Tosin is a Senior Associate in a Commercial Litigation firm. She can be reached on: 08090956207 or at tosinajose22@gmail.com

[1] While, it may be contended that Associate in top tier firms are well remunerated, it is not lost on me the long hours of work they are required to put in, it is also not lost on me the gap between the income made by top tier firm in comparison to the seemingly ‘good remuneration’.

[2] In the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic, I was privy to an information that a lawyer had to take his family to the village when he could not meet their needs.

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