Every lawyer is a potential leader
We thank God Almighty for sparing our lives to witness these Call to Bar Ceremonies.
I have the pleasure of welcoming you all to this unique occasion, which marks the formal admission of the new wigs into the legal profession in Nigeria.
I felicitate with you (the new wigs) for the successful completion of your training at the Nigerian Law School which is evidenced by the Bar Final Examination results and being found to be worthy both in character and learning as certified by the Council of Legal Education.
The Body of Benchers on its own part thoroughly screened each and every one of you and found you fit and proper persons to be admitted into the Nigerian Bar.
Today’s occasion is a milestone event as it marks both an end and a beginning.
It is an end in the sense that the academic pursuits of becoming lawyers through years of hard work and perseverance are over.
It is a beginning in the sense that you, the new wigs, in no doubt are qualified lawyers in all sense of the word.
I am sure that you have discovered by now that enduring this ordeal would not have been possible without the help of God Almighty as well as the loving support of your parents, guardians and friends.
May I therefore, use this medium to congratulate all parents, guardians and friends for being part of the success story of their children or wards.
Having witnessed the occasion today, I am certain that you are all happy because of the emotional, financial and material investments you have made in their lives which has culminated into their being called to the Bar as Barristers and Solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
I likewise commend the Body of Benchers, the Body with the highest distinction in the Legal Profession in Nigeria, for leaving no stone unturned towards ensuring that the legal profession in Nigeria continues to thrive year in year out.
I firmly believe that the years of training from the various Universities you attended gave you the requisite and basic training required for your sojourn in the Nigerian Law School.
Similarly, I commend the Nigerian Law School and Council of Legal Education for training the new wigs both in character and learning and impacting the desired knowledge and skills that has helped in shaping the new wigs.
Indeed the curriculum of the Nigerian Law School is such that teaching does not end in theory but deals with practical aspects as well.
I hope that the Nigerian Law School will continue to maintain its high standards of teaching and discipline.
This year’s Call to Bar is so unique, as for the first time in the history of our nation, 161 students of the Nigerian Law School graduated with a first class degree.
This has become a subject of public discuss in recent times.
The bottom line is we should have a system of law teaching and practice which is up to standard and of which we are all proud of and can be defended at any given point.
At this juncture, I will like to draw your attention to a few items, which are very penitent and also offer some words of advice to you, which could serve as a useful guide as you commence this journey.
Body of Benchers
The Body of Benchers is a body made up of the most seasoned members of the legal profession both from the Bench and the Bar who have by all standards distinguished themselves in their various fields of endeavour.
The Body is statutorily empowered to call aspirants to the Bar, just as we have witnessed today, and is also charged with the responsibility of ensuring discipline and sanity within the legal profession, among others.
Part of the eligibility for being called to the Bar is by being sponsored by two members of the Body of Benchers in order to ensure that you meet the required standards in addition to other qualifications.
The Body of Benchers has carefully and equally screened each of your sponsorship form and having being satisfied, has issued you with a Certificate of Call to the Bar as Barristers and Solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
This privilege accorded you by the Body affords you the license to appear before any Court in Nigeria; however, it is advisable to first undergo a sufficient mentoring and tutelage under experienced senior members of the Bar before venturing on your own.
Part of the traditional requirement after your being admitted to the Bar is to have your names enrolled at the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
This is to have your names included in the Roll of Lawyers in Nigeria and be issued with an enrolment number.
It is important to note that failure to adhere to any provision of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners would amount to an infraction that can be tried by the Body, acting under its Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee.
Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee
The Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) is a Committee of the Body of Benchers, which is responsible for considering and determining allegations of misconduct against any person whose name is on the Roll in his capacity as a Legal Practitioner and is capable of bringing our noble profession into disrepute.
Therefore, the Committee will discipline erring lawyers whose conduct negate the sacrosanct standards of the profession or amount to infamous conduct in a professional respect.
The Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee has been carrying out its mandate in a just and fair manner without giving room for compromise, affection or ill-will.
From January to November 2018, Seven (7) lawyers were disbarred, twelve (12) lawyers were suspended (ranging from one year to three years) and one (1) lawyer was admonished.
You are therefore advised to be of good behavior and abide by the ethics and traditions of the profession to avoid being brought before the Committee.
The legal profession is a noble profession that has existed since time immemorial.
It is a professional calling to be a lawyer and one attribute, which distinguishes a lawyer is his ability to act in a most professional manner.
In other words, professionalism as it relates to lawyers means being a competent, effective, respectful advocate for your client and the justice system.
Professionalism is the life wire that pulsates within and drives through every lawyer and also speaks volume about the ethical values a lawyer is made of.
It is the foundation, upon which the public maintains confidence in the justice system as well as a guiding light to lawyers in meeting their obligations to the public, in defending the rule of law, and in upholding their duties and responsibilities to clients and to the court.
Your ability to act in a most professional and courteous manner at all times and in all places is very critical to your survival as a Lawyer.
Sometimes clients who seek your advice are very emotional, angry and self-protective. At such times, they expect you to convey their feelings of injustice and outrage.
Sometimes they insist you adopt a position that would require you to relax or ignore your duty as a professional and tilt in their defence whether rightly or not, it is wrong. This you must never do.
You must at all times eschew evil and stick to the truth, being guided by your conscience and the law.
As a professional, you must apply wisdom and the courage to refuse to act for a client when the client’s instructions would cause you to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Rules of Professional Conduct
The legal profession is largely known to be made up of people, who by all standards, are considered to be learned.
Therefore, in order to guard the tenets and prestige of the profession came the need to have rules and regulations binding each and every member.
This necessitated the drafting of the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) applicable to all legal practitioners in Nigeria.
In summary, the Rules have provisions that will guide every lawyer in the course of practice as legal practitioners, relation with clients, relation with other lawyers, relation with the courts, improper attraction of business, remuneration and fees as well as other miscellaneous provisions.
We must make every effort to show that there is a distinction between the legal profession and other professions. Lawyers are pacesetters; therefore, you all must learn to set the pace for others to follow.
In a speech delivered by William Howard Taft, in 1909, he stated that: “Lawyers are necessary in a community. Some of you…take a different view; but as I am a member of that legal profession, or was at one time, and have only lost standing in it to become a politician, I still retain the pride of the profession. And I still insist that it is the law and the lawyer that make popular government under a written constitution and written statutes possible”.
To this extent, I charge you all to be conversant with the provisions of the Rules in order to avoid practices that go foul to the Rules.
Where a complaint is made against your conduct in your capacity as a legal practitioner, the alleged offence would be put side by side the provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) to see if there is a prima facie case against you.
Once it has been established as such, you will have to face the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, which will sanction you accordingly.
Practice as a Young Lawyer
It is sometimes challenging for beginners in the legal profession particularly in the area of private legal practice.
The challenges notwithstanding, like I earlier stated, there is need for young lawyers to seek pupilage particularly at the early stage of practice.
The beauty of the legal profession is that there are many parts that a lawyer could conveniently fit in.
The services of lawyers are needed in virtually every field of human endeavour, be it private practice, working with the government or the corporate world.
For those desirous of engaging in private practice, my advice to you is never be in a rush into establishing your own firm even if you eventually intend to become a sole practitioner.
There are experienced colleagues at the Bar who will be more than willing to help you through difficult times in your early days.
I urge each one of you to get a mentor, a task which, may probably not so easily accomplished today as it was when I was called to the Bar 45 years ago.
Caution and wisdom must be applied to ensure that you do not fall into the wrong hands so as not to be taken advantage of.
I urge senior colleagues to always keep their arms wide open to receive the younger ones desirous of learning from them.
The Young Lawyers Forum was created by the Nigerian Bar Association to help look into the welfare of Young lawyers practicing in Nigeria and address the issues concerning their welfare and professional growth.
This is a good initiative, however, it must be pointed out that the plight of young lawyers, particularly in terms of welfare and remuneration has become a matter of serious concern.
This is something that is worth looking into by the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association.
While I urge the NBA to do the needful, like I earlier pointed out, young lawyers must imbibe discipline and always avoid the get-rich-quick syndrome.
It is expected that new wigs demonstrate the highest level of professional ethics and decorum wherever you find yourself and steadfastly preserve the honour and dignity of our profession.
Like I told your colleagues that were called to the Bar in July this year, do not form the habit of bending the truth, or watering it down to sound logical with the aim of pleasing your listeners.
Learn to speak the truth no matter how bitter it may sound, for it is better for an offence to come out of truth than for concealing the truth which could lead to an offence.
It is important to note that sometimes being honest could make you miserable, but will set you free at the end, therefore proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.
Remember also that being honest or being a person of integrity may not get you a lot of friends, but it will certainly get you the right friends you need in the course of your life’s journey.
I am sure that when you put these words into practice, you will enjoy the best form of legal practice or career you desire.
As a lawyer, you must not engage in advertisement, touting and publicity. The Rules of Professional Conduct for legal practitioners are explicit on these issues.
You are not to engage in soliciting professional employment by circulars, advertisements, through touts or by personal communications or interviews. This does not stop you from using complimentary cards.
It is unethical for lawyers to be addressing the media when fully robed, particularly after Court sittings.
It is also unethical for lawyers to be discussing and arriving at conclusions for matters pending before the Court.
These practices ought to be looked into by the Nigerian Bar Association.
Likewise, the idea of charge and bail lawyers is not acceptable and amounts to unethical conduct on the part of the lawyer.
Nigerian Bar Association
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is the umbrella body for all Legal Practitioners in Nigeria.
As the name indicates, it is an Association of lawyers duly called to the Nigerian Bar by the Body of Benchers.
The Association plays the key role of unifying lawyers in Nigeria and also provides an avenue for lawyers to speak with one voice on a variety of matters affecting the wellbeing and advancement of the Profession in particular and the nation as a whole.
I therefore encourage you, to register with any branch of the Association, which is closer to your town or city of practice that will serve as your local branch.
Take advantage of the professional development programmes organized by the NBA and other accredited bodies in order to be abreast with the current trends within and outside the profession.
While asking you to join me in congratulating and welcoming the newly elected president of the Bar Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, and wish him utmost success, I want to also urge you to take advantage of your membership of the Nigerian Bar Association so that you may contribute in the sustenance of a reliable and vibrant Bar Association that will continue to contribute to the growth of the legal profession and the nation at large.
In conclusion, always remember how hard you have worked to get to where you are today.
Remember the sacrifices your parents and guardians, and in some cases, friends made to help you reach this defining moment. Therefore, strive to justify that those sacrifices were not in vain.
Remember, every lawyer is a potential leader, therefore learn to read widely, as the saying goes; a good leader is a good reader.
Learn to discipline yourself, respect your seniors within the profession and have due regard for your subordinates and other juniors.
Once again, I formally welcome you all to the Bar, and from this day forward, I shall address you as my learned friends.
Let your light shine to the entire world so that the world will see the brighter side of life through your words and actions.
It is my sincere prayer that God Almighty in his infinite mercies will grant you the acumen and understanding to comprehend all things in order to succeed.
Dalhatu, chairman, Body of Benchers delivered this address at the call to bar ceremonies held in Abuja on 27th, 28th and 29th November, 2018.