THE 21st CENTURY LAWYER IN THE NIGERIAN EMERGING MARKET

The Nigerian legal profession is growing beyond the traditional law practice of property, constitutional and administrative law, and so on, and novel areas have evolved in the fields of aviation, labour, telecommunications and media, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), Cryptocurrency, energy, mineral resources, and taxation, to mention but a few. 

As legal practitioners in the emerging market of the Nigerian legal Profession, we are expected to be 21st century lawyers,  smart, innovative and creative thinkers, as well as embrace tailored training to meet the required competencies necessary for success in a fast growing modern world whether as a law teacher, a corporate counsel, an advocate, or a magistrate or judicial officer.

As Law teachers, we are saddled with the responsibility of grooming 21st century lawyers even when the University or academic system is not supportive. Education in Nigeria has continued to face many legal reforms. The methodology of using ICT in teaching is currently in place in the Nigerian legal education system. Even though it is inadequate, lecturers have merely adopted the global practice of ensuring student participation through ICT. This is the case especially in the Nigerian Law School. The legal profession is a practical one and clinical legal training is fundamental and an emerging trend in legal education globally. Sadly, such clinical legal training is largely lacking in the Nigerian Legal education system. As a law teacher, in order to have lawyers who can handle the current societal and professional realities, we must ensure that, outside our formal training as an educationist, we are  conversant with the use of ICT and the best way to utilize it for  passing on knowledge to students. It has been noted that 21st century lawyers must embrace tailored training, whether formal, informal, in-house, mentoring or coaching, etc. ; to meet the required competencies necessary for success in a fast growing modern world.
We should ensure that our lectures are up to speed with current realities and not a download of some backdated law textbooks. We should also engage our students through presentations and one-on-one counselling. In other words, we must be practically oriented in other to fulfill our role as a Law teachers in the emerging Nigerian legal profession. 

Businesses and investments are taking new dimensions and it requires sound business decisions to ensure that investments are secured and returns are made.  There is a demand to be innovative beyond being merely functional. As  Corporate Counsel, we can add value to the company when we integrate strategic thinking and risk-management into our job descriptions. This means that we have to move beyond being regular lawyers to having a basic training in data analytics as well as providing strategic support and possessing a deep knowledge of the sector in which the company we work for is a major player. Nowadays, companies and investors are interested in lawyers ensuring that no dispute arises from their transactions and if disputes must arise, it must be one that could not have been avoided. It is imperative that we ensure that due diligence is conducted efficiently and precautionary measures are adopted to ensure that we are effective in dealing with clients and avoid disputes.  We must be abreast of new government policies as well as of new laws so as not to be caught off-guard. The time when in-house counsel or corporate counsel are merely company secretaries and a little above figure heads is gone.

As Advocates, we are lawyers in the courtroom.  It has been noted that the current issues facing the Nigerian Criminal Justice system are the upsurge in terrorist activities, social media, prison congestion and delay in trial of criminal cases. Consequently, we see the obvious efforts of the judiciary to ensure the speedy resolution and disposal of cases generally and specifically with regards to criminal proceedings. This is evidenced in the amendment of certain Acts and rules of court. For instance, we have witnessed the amendment of the High Court Civil Procedure Rules of  Lagos State, Evidence Act, the promulagation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015 and subsequent ratification of the said act by State governments in Nigeria. Hence, we should contribute to the growth of law as well as encourage its growth by not using the instrument of law to frustrate it and raising baseless objections. We should also be resourceful. This means that we must be capable of making efficient use of resources and materials wisely for the benefit of our clients. Furthermore, we must read through the laws appropriately and spot any bottleneck that may impede our client’s case as well as take advantage of laws that will contribute to the success of same. We must also be conversant with the practice and procedure of the court in which we appear so as to ensure that our clients do not lose out based on technicalities that could have been avoided. Again, we can also seek the counsel of a senior and experienced counsel where the complexity of a case is overwhelming so as not to destroy the case of our clients due to inexperience.  In being resourceful, we should also be mindful of rule 15(3)(d) of the RPC  i.e. we should not fail or neglect to inform my client of the option of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms before resorting to or continuing litigation in court. This means that where we are of the professional opinion that a round-table meeting will resolve the dispute, we should take measures to ensure that our client adopts the process and makes the best of the process. We must also choose the most cost-effective mode of dispute resolution.  

As Magistrates and Judicial Officers, this group of lawyers has been the target of societal backlash for failing to conform to societal realities especially with regards to their act of recording court proceedings in longhand and to some extent, their dress code. It is very interesting to note that Magistrates and Judicial Officers in Nigeria are increasingly becoming ADR compliant and this has restored the public and investor’s confidence in the Judiciary to a certain level. This however does not mean that all aspects of the judiciary are without blemish. As  Magistrates or judicial officers, we should ensure that our case files are speedily resolved without compromising our ethical responsibilities to the profession and ensuring that justice is served to all the stakeholders in each specific case. Even though it is not in our sole power to change the status quo of recording court proceedings in long hand, we should continue to avail ourselves of opportunities within the judicial sector to facilitate the reformation of the sector.   As  lawyers on the bench, we must ensure that we uphold the core values of the profession in my court so as to protect the legal profession from being a subject of ridicule. The core values of the profession are respect to the court and to our colleagues; confidentiality; avoidance of conflict of interest; competence ; appropriate dressing and comportment as well as adherence to the rule of law.

Chinecherem Ubaka
Legal Practitioner.


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