By David Oluwasegun Ogundipe
A lawyer of men should know much of life and human nature, he should be a novice in nothing and wide-minded in all things. He may not be a genius, but must be ripe in broad knowledge and general experience. If he is these, and he fails, it will be no fault of his own. J.W Donovan.
A woman in her 60s approached the firm. A “magic” had happened overnight and the magic left her shattered. She wanted to get to the root of it and consultations led her to the firm.
A piece of land was left for her by her late husband in a choice area in Abuja. She aspired so much to build on the land, but she could not afford it. She travelled outside the country for almost a year, returned to Nigeria and decided to go check the piece of land. To her shock, she met a beautiful structure on her land.
She ran around and did her checks. She realised someone had access to the title document, obtained several permits in her name, perfected several statutory documents in her name and even built the house in her name, before it was transferred. Strangely, her consent reflected on every document as required by law, but she couldn’t place it all.
She ran to the firm for help. A meeting was held, with our boss and three other lawyers in attendance. We resolved to file a suit. The suit was filed and the matter commenced. It was a tough one for us as documents speak for themselves and whoever ran the job for these guys learnt from Devil himself.
The Defendants did not turn up in Court all along, just their lawyers, but when it was time for them to start calling witnesses, two of them turned up. It was a very interesting proceedings, as they were visibly burnt and hurt by the fire or cross-examination. As young lawyers, we were excited. The woman was more excited.
To my shock, our boss invited the woman for a meeting in the firm. The purpose of the meeting was to advise her to seek out of court settlement and withdraw the suit. “Learned silk, Sir?” The woman said, voice trembling. She continued: “People said you will help me get what belongs to me. I met about 4 senior lawyers who asked me to come to you. I don’t have any regret. We are doing well in Court. Why do you want me to start begging on my right? They’re criminals. I should even be the one insisting that I won’t settle out of Court if they propose it”.
When she was done, our boss tapped the table before him several times, almost forcing us to start dancing to the tune. He took turns to look straight into the eyes of the 4 of us at the meeting, including the woman and started:
“War are fought because of a prize. So, every good warrior must devise a strategy that will win him the prize. Many win the war and lose the prize. I have 40 lawyers and among them are some of the best in the country. They like to do law. They want legal battles. To prepare court processes and run to Court. They’re not afraid of dragging cases. You also saw what we’ve done to those guys in Court? We are not losers and my suggestion is not from a place of weakness. But… (he paused, stared so long at the woman and continued) you. I care for you. I am worried about what might happen when you win the case and you’re far away from the eyes of the Court. Those guys I saw in Court will kill you! They will kill you (he said, slowly). People who can go to that length to take what belongs to you, went ahead to build on it and still have the gut to turn up in a law court to defend their acts will kill you. If you insist we will win your case, go home, enjoy with our families, but it will be the beginning of a serious war for you. I pushed them to this point so that we are in a position of advantage to negotiate. They will jump at our offer now.” The woman was quiet.
Our boss continued: “what’s the value of a land in that area? Do you know?” “Yes, SAN. It is about xyz million”, she replied. Our boss continued: “Okay, we will add 10 million naira to it and propose the prize for them in the settlement arrangement.”
We left the meeting. The settlement process started and spanned for about 3 months. After much protests and all, the Defendants agreed and paid the woman the estimated cost of the land and an extra 10 million naira our boss added. When she proposed to pay a part of it as professional fee, our boss said no. “It is all yours. You can go with it”.
I remember this today because I was in a meeting with him and when the client left, he faced me and said: “apart from a very sound knowledge of law, watch your client’s back. Some victories will hurt them, know how to tighten the noose and then when to loosen it, in their interest.”
I thought I should share this as we learn everyday