Lawyers must always review court’s judgment & facts before giving legal opinions
By Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq.
My advice for lawyers to always review court’s judgment and facts before giving legal opinions
There have been trends of events whereby some lawyers are engaged to always give their legal opinions about a particular court’s judgment or facts without them having read and reviewed (even not having seen the said judgment) or not having the correct facts placed before them. This issue is a very important issue to discuss; hence the aim of this paper, to advise against such hasty steps being taken by some lawyers to give legal opinions on a particular judgment which they are yet to see or read or to comment on facts which are yet to be placed before them.
First and foremost, I must state here that when a lawyer’s legal opinion is sought by any person or the media, it is the duty of the lawyer to know that professionally, he ought not to speak on such judgment where he has not seen or read through it. There are lots of implications if he should engage in a quick and hasty legal opinion as his legal opinions are likely to not be in conformity with the issues considered in the said judgment. He is also likely to become a fool or an incompetent lawyer or he is likely to regret his hasty action or his view might be useless and baseless therefore, being annoying and misleading to others (including his colleagues and members of the public). Many of the times, some media personnel would always want to sell their market (with due respect to them) by seeking lawyers to comment on a particular judgment and so would invite lawyers to comment on a just delivered judgment which those media would be the one to quote same as what the court had decided. In my humble view, the media’s quote (including what they have jotted down having participated in the court’s proceedings) is not the decision of the court and is not a judgment of the court! The judgment of the court to be relied upon by a lawyer in my humble view is the certified true copy of the said judgment which confirms its originality as emanating from the court as its decision decided on the issues before the court. Therefore in my humble view, where the media seeks a lawyer’s views on such judgment or facts (which is not wrong for them to do), it is the lawyer’s duty to know what to tell them that he is yet to read through the judgment or the facts of the case and so, would not be able to comment or give his legal opinions on the said request. This does not mean that the lawyer does not know the law rather in my humble view it shows his understanding of the law! Even if the media supply such judgment or the facts to the lawyer, the lawyer should handle such brief as a client’s interview for which the lawyer must carry out legal research and be sure of his legal opinions formulated before he reaches any conclusion or to give his legal opinions on the subject matter. In this way in my humble view, he would have given his legal opinions professionally. Furthermore, as lawyers, we should avoid anyone from causing disparage or inconsistency (even though there could be different perspectives to a legal issue, same must be done with professionalism) or quarrel among us. We cannot succeed if we have to hunt on ourselves to grow rather, we achieve greatness where we all abide by the code of ethics which bind us as lawyers. Some of the media personnel are out (many times, with due respect to them) to make money from carrying out their duties to the people. There is competition in the media practice and so, some of them are likely to desire to be more relevant than their counterparts.
Furthermore, we as lawyers have to teach the media personnel the best way to carry out their work when it comes to seeking legal opinions from lawyers. Also, they should be informed that there is difference between legal opinion and personal opinions of a lawyer. Also, they should know that a lawyer is personally responsible for the legal opinions that he gives and is liable to even be professionally disciplined (and tortuously liable) under the extant code of conducts for legal practitioners and law of torts (including criminally). Therefore, they should be made to know that in order for a lawyer to avoid falling into any of the above highlighted implications, it is the best for him to be given adequate time and opportunities to do his research on any legal question inquired from him before he gives his legal opinions.
Finally, the advice given in this paper is for myself (as a lawyer) and for my colleagues (both seniors and juniors as lawyers). This is in a way of building more trusts that the people shall have in the legal opinions given by lawyers rather than the misleading opinions which will likely throw the public into confusion and thereby lose confidence in listening to lawyers’ views on any particular legal matter.