Not long ago during my service year, I had the privileged of leading a team of young vibrant lawyers under the LEGAL AID CDS (Community Development Service) to handle a pro-bono (free legal service) divorce matter at a customary court in Gwagwalada here in Abuja for a level 12 civil servant working in the AUDIT department of an agency of the Federal Government. Awkward right ?, yes, by law, the woman (our client) does not fall within the category of persons to be offered free legal services pursuant to SECTION 9 of the LEGAL AID ACT which provides thus “(1) Legal Aid shall only be granted to a person whose income DOES NOT EXCEED N5,000.00 per Anum. But somehow the matter got to us through the human rights office, and in the interest of justice we accepted the brief.
Very determined to seek justice, we picked up the matter FREE OF CHARGE and took it upon ourselves to secure justice for our client within the bounds of law, and on the agreement that she would make available appearance fee for us anytime the case comes up. Thankfully, she always fulfilled her obligation of providing appearance fee and we equally never failed to appear in court for her throughout the pendency of the matter despite the distance from where we all lived and the difficulty of assessing the judicial division where the petition was instituted.
Coincidentally, the matter came to an end at exactly the same time we passed out from the mandatory NYSC scheme, though not on the decision of the court, but as a result of the withdrawal of the petition by the petitioner (the husband of our client). While we were happy the matter came to an end, we vehemently expressed our dismay for the time, energy and resources dissipated in a matter that would be withdrawn at the end, only to be re filed by the same petitioner against our client in a different customary court within the same jurisdiction.
To cut the long story short, our client in question briefed me of the latest development, and I invited her over to my office. She came and pleaded with me to still represent her in this new suit FREE OF CHARGE, I declined the charitable offer for obvious reasons, knowing full well that this level 12 civil servant in an audit department of a federal government agency can comfortably afford to pay for the services of a lawyer especially that of a new wig like me, couple with the requirement of law which she is caught up with. She insisted she couldn’t offer any fee other than appearance fee.
Somehow she almost got the better of me by appealing to my conscience. Whilst I reluctantly agreed, I told her I would have to relate this to my boss for his final approval. Lo and behold, my boss out rightly rejected the idea insisting that the woman must offer a professional fee no matter how small it is. But the woman still persisted and left our office disappointed.
Interestingly, since she left my office disappointed that I didn’t agree to represent her for free, she has never called me again or text me like she used to when we were representing her FREE OF CHARGE in the first matter. To think that our one time client who seemed to be the nicest person on earth, and who is doing just well financially, could not offer me a stipend of as low as N10, 000. (Ten thousand naira only) as a professionally fee hits a nerve for me.
Well, this is just a tip of the iceberg of how insensitive, inconsiderate and unmindful some clients could be sometimes. I believe there are other lawyers with worst experience than mine.
With the kind of reprehensible attitude some clients exhibit at times, why then should we lawyers who are ministers in the temple of justice aid litigants in pervading the cause of justice or worse even encourage clients to flaunt the orders of court all in a desperate attempt to secure professional fee or getting a retainership.
The bar is our market, and each of us are shop owners in the market, the legal services we offer are the commodities we trade. If we allow the customers (clients and litigants) to treat our services with disregard or worse even take us for granted, who else do we offer our services to, each other?,
There is no gainsaying the significance of lawyers in every developing society, there is equally no denying the pedestal and status lawyers occupy. Therefore, litigants and clients ordinarily should come to us seeking legal services. We cannot and should not in a bid to secure professional fee, close our arms and watch litigants’ flaunt orders of court thereby destroying the sanctity of the judiciary which is the last hope of the common man.
As stakeholders in the dispensation of justice, we must collectively guide the sanctity of the judiciary jealously and religiously. We must protect the interest of our colleagues by making sure among other things that the outstanding professional fees of a debriefed lawyer are adequately paid before we take up a matter in accordance with RULE 29(1) (a) (b) of RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT 2007. Because “what goes around comes around”. We must also stand firm in upholding the sanctity of the judiciary which if destroyed, spells doom for the entire nation.
Like the old saying goes “CLIENTS WILL COME AND GO BUT THE BAR STILL REMAINS”. Truly, no matter how hard we try to keep SOME clients happy in order to get their retainership, like Oliver twist they will never be satisfied and wouldn’t mind which extent we will go, which law we will violate, which order we will flaunt and which ethic we will disobey as long as they get victory. Therefore, the bar which will forever remain when the clients come and go must be protected like a golden treasure by we lawyers.
SHUAIB SHERIFF ADUKKE, [email protected]