The Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Lagos Task Force on Illegal Practice of Law, Mr. Lotanna Okoli SAN has decried rising cases of professional misconduct among lawyers.
In a paper titled “LEGAL PRACTICE IN AN AILING ECONOMY: BETWEEN PERSONAL SURVIVAL AND PROFESSIONAL INTEGRITY, DO WE HAVE A CHOICE?” Okoli noted that many lawyers have hinged these malpractices on the need to “survive.” He spoke at the monthly General Meeting of Eti Osa Lawyers Forum chaired by Mr. MMA Sanni.
In his words, “Cases involving dishonest and sham lawyers are now rampant before the Legal practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) and laymen are already questioning the integrity of the once revered and prestigious noble profession.”
He observed that “Very often, a friend or a colleague will ask a lawyer to use his official stamp and/or seal to certify a document to appear as though it was prepared by a lawyer. And some lawyers paying no heed to important provisions like Rule 3 of the RPC, which provides for aiding a non-lawyer in the unauthorized practice of the law, will end up ‘doing favours’ and ‘earning easy cash’ forgetting that it is expected of them to uphold and maintain a high standard of professional conduct. A seemingly harmless gesture can have grave repercussions if made inappropriately.”
Continuing, he said: “Some lawyers have now turned the legal practice into a marketplace where they engage and liaise with non-lawyers to provide them with clients in return for a fee. They do this in flagrant disregard to Rule 5(1) of the RPC, which provides that a lawyer shall not form a partnership with a non-lawyer. These set of legal practitioners are ready to accept peanuts as remuneration. In their opinion, ‘It’s my practice and my integrity.’”
Okoli noted that “As essential agents of the justice system, we not only owe an ethical duty towards the court but are also required and expected to conduct our legal practice within the bounds of the law even if the heavens fall (Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum). So, in answering the question, between personal survival and professional integrity, Do we have a choice? I’d say we have just one choice which is to act with chivalry, honour and integrity.”
He observed that Part A of the RPC provides for “Practice as a legal practitioner,” adding that under the provision, “A Lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and Foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner.”
He however noted that “quite unfortunately, experience has proven that this is not always the case as some lawyers do not maintain integrity in the course of their practice. Money, greed, pressure and power have driven some legal practitioners into undermining their practice. They engage in actions that are unbecoming of a legal practitioner and typically adverse to what the legal profession stands for. Nowadays, legal practice is plagued with legal practitioners who engage in sham practices, violate ethical provisions and cut corners just to “survive” amongst other things. They blame it on the poor economy and use catchphrases like ‘No be me spoil Nigeria’, ‘If I don’t do it, another lawyer will.’ With this mindset, they keep conducting their practice in ways that derogate from their integrity, the legal profession and general good conduct. On its own part, the Law has put measures in place to curb these shady activities. However, rather than get deterred, they find other means to practice their dishonesty.”
He stated that “it is important for lawyers to bear in mind that they are first and foremost officers of the Court, subject to the duty of upholding justice without regards to their personal interests. Lawyers must be independent and speak truth to power, without fear or favour whilst engaging in their practice. The stereotypes of lawyers being untrustworthy and deceitful beings must be repaired and this repair will be done by no other than ourselves, in our daily practice, in the amount we charge as legal fees, in our dealings with clients, in our responsibility to uphold the standard of the profession.
“As essential agents of the justice system, we not only owe an ethical duty towards the court but are also required and expected to conduct our legal practice within the bounds of the law even if the heavens fall. (Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum) So, in answering the question, between personal survival and professional integrity, Do we have a choice? I’d say we have just one choice which is to act with chivalry, honour and integrity.”
The Knowledge Sharing Session witnessed animated Question & Answer interventions among others.
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