Professionalism And Ethics: Two ‘Necessaries’ For a Successful Legal Practice
By Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq
‘Professionalism’ and ‘ethics’ are in my humble view two necessaries for a successful legal practice of a lawyer in the legal profession. This paper is aimed at encouraging lawyers especially young lawyers in Nigeria to always practise these two requirements in order to succeed in their legal practice and to attain great achievements in the legal practice in the nearest future.
‘Professionalism’ according to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, means the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person’. Also, according to the same dictionary, ‘Ethics’ among other meanings, means: the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group’. Therefore, lawyers and young lawyers are to take these two requirements as of paramount in their private or public legal practice.
In my humble view, as a lawyer, what makes one a competent professional are one’s adherence to professionalism and ethics (ethics which are codes of professional conducts for lawyers). The current codes of ethics that we have in the legal profession is the Rules of Professional Conducts for Legal Practitioners, 2007- herein after referred to as RPC. Professionalism is to my mind, the capacity of knowing and understanding the law, the legal principles and their applications to any legal issue in order to proffer legal solution or opinion. A thousand of lawyers are being enrolled yearly having successfully completed and passed their qualifying bar final examination. There are some questions that such newly enrolled lawyers must ask themselves: how equipped with the laws are they (though a lawyer knows not the law but should be able to know where to find it and where to find such laws is determined by the circumstance of the legal issue being handled, because sometimes, the library alone is not enough to resolve some critical legal issues or questions. An efficient legal reasoning might be required in addition to such legal research. Physical or forensic examination and dissecting through the facts being considered might also help in some instances). Therefore, a lawyer must always use all his advocacy tools and skills which are multifarious to determine how he proffers his legal opinions and the way-forward in resolving his client’s legal problems or complaints.
Normally, in my humble view, professionalism ought to be based on seniority but in some cases, professionalism of a lawyer is determined by a number of factors: his talents, brilliance, exposure, legal research, learning of law, etc., would distinguish in my humble view, and with due respect, a few years post call lawyer from a many years post call lawyer. It all depends on how hardworking and diligence such lawyer is in his legal practice.
A lawyer who would always only go to his or her law office only to gist with colleagues on non-law related issues and to only sit in the office but without: going through the office files, important legal documents handled by the office of which he is entitled to view, always showing interest in holding court’s cases and being at the forefront of litigation or the office’s business, and always take the office’s works as his works and a core value for his development in the legal profession and continues to do these would likely rise and be more professional in the legal practice even within a very few years than a lawyer of many years post call, because laziness and lackadaisical attitude to professional duties do not help in aspiring greatness in the legal profession. So, how is a lawyer who goes to office use the library?! When last did such lawyer use the law library last-whether virtual or physical library?! It is not enough to just brag about with how big and equipped the office where a lawyer works or practises rather, what did such lawyer gain daily in having interaction with the office?! Professionalism too can be leant and or attained from a senior and experienced mentor who guides such lawyer in the legal practice.
Over the years, the lawyer would come to understand that this professionalism is the main reason why he was called to bar and what his clients require in consulting and or briefing him to represent him as his lawyer in any legal matter and not his personal opinion/advice really. Where a lawyer lacks this professionalism, he is likely to be liable for professional negligence and is likely to continue to lose his clients as a result of his professional incompetence.
Furthermore, Rule 1 of the RPC is a first and foremost guide on the ethical conducts of a lawyer which provides thus ‘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’.
The RPC has provisions for the ethics that a lawyer must observe in his: practice as a legal practitioner which ranges from Rules: 1-13; the relation with clients, which ranges from: Rules: 14-25; relation with other lawyers, which ranges from: Rules: 26-29; relation with the court, which ranges from Rules: 30-38; improper attraction of business, which ranges from Rules: 39-47; remuneration and fees, which ranges from Rules: 48-54; miscellaneous, which ranges from Rules: 55- 57. I must state that this RPC is subsidiary to the Legal Practitioners’ Act, 2004 which also contains provisions on ethics to be complied with by a lawyer especially sections: 9, 11 and 20 of the Legal Practitioners’ Act.
Furthermore, section 55 contains provisions on the liability of a lawyer thus ‘55 (1) If a lawyer acts in contravention of any of the rules in these Rules or fails to perform any of the duties imposed by the Rules, he shall be guilty of a professional misconduct and liable to punishment as provided in Legal Practitioners Act. (2) It is the duty of every lawyer to report any breach of any of these rules that comes to his knowledge to the appropriate authorities for necessary disciplinary action. It is important for me to state here that this Rule 55 refers and is applicable to a lawyer in both private and public legal practice (in essence, all lawyers in Nigeria).
Therefore, a lawyer must exert his efforts on these two requirements of: ‘professionalism’ and ‘ethics’ in order to achieve a successful legal practice in his nearest future.