Professional challenges of lawyers in the 21st century
THE LEGAL PROFESSION
The legal profession has an ancient history and predilection. The modern legal professional, earning his living by fee paid for legal services became clearly visible in the late Roman Empire. The practice later spread to Europe including England. It has always been the most respected and loved. Although, I read what Nathaniel Hawthorne said in 1804: “I don’t like to be a doctor and live by men’s diseases, nor a lawyer, to live by quarrels”; yet, it is an incontrovertible fact that every family wishes and prays to have a lawyer in the family. Generally, we pray to have a doctor and a lawyer.
LAW – A UTILITY SUBJECT
Most people believe that once a person qualifies as a lawyer, he or she must engage in litigation and go to court. The view is not correct.
Law is an utility subject. As a qualified lawyer, one does not have to engage in litigation at all. Most qualified lawyers go into Banking, Industry, Commerce, Teaching, Civil Service and Politics. The fact remains that wherever they are, they are the most respected and successful having regard to their deep learning and training in handling human affairs.
Today most successful politicians, administrators, bankers, bureaucrats, businessmen all over the world are lawyers. In fact, history has shown us that great world leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Benazir Blutto to mention just a few were/are lawyers. In Nigeria at the moment, some of the Governors widely acclaimed to have delivered on the dividends of democracy are Lawyers.
ROLE OF LAWYERS
It is therefore widely acknowledged that Lawyers have a great role to play in nation building. This is even particularly moreso in Nigeria. In 2003 when I delivered the keynote address at the Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association at Enugu. I addressed this very issue. Permit me to quote from the said Lecture wherein I stated that:
“THE ROLE OF LAWYERS IN THE SOCIETY
Lawyers, it is often said, are influential agents of change having prominent roles as organisers and spokesmen of civic reform groups.
It is submitted that the above represents the summary of the key enormous burden squarely placed on the shoulders of lawyers by the society. Being “influential agents of change” requires more than mere rhetoric. It involves action, determination, doggedness, grave risk, diligence and, above all, consistency. Changing the status quo in any society, anywhere in history, has never been an easy task. It is often achieved at great cost-sometimes with human blood. But when the change is finally effected, (positive change of course) the aroma of victory travels far and wide. Lawyers, by virtue of their calling, are looked upon by the larger society sometimes for rescue operation (figuratively speaking) especially when the society is in dire straits. A good example is when a nation is undergoing dictatorship (e.g. military) or civilian despotism.
If Nigeria and indeed the world community must succeed in making the transition from traditional to modern society, persons of proven integrity who are endowed with requisite skills and social conscience must initiate reforms and manage the legal systems. Thus, the tasks of reformation and, by necessary implication, development call for lawyers who can effectively serve in the specialised roles of judges, government lawyer, law teacher, private practitioner and at the same time serve as guardians and therefore shapers of processes of law at sub-national (local), national and international levels for the good of all.
The role of lawyers, especially in the area of costs of legal development, can not be overemphasised. This is more profound in developing nations of the world. Often, the assumption has been all too frequent in both developed and developing countries and international organisations that legal systems and institutions can take care of themselves while investments in development can safely by-pass the legal sector.
It is common ground that many countries continue to invest a minimum and marginal fraction of their resources in the administration of justice, the implementation of legislated development programmes, and legal services to those participating in development and legal education. A fresh awareness of the relevance of these features has emerged only as increasing and chronic social violence, political instability and economic stagnation have unmasked the inadequacy of legal systems to cope with the dynamic problems of developing nations. It is therefore part of the role of lawyers – acting through a virile Bar Association like ours to ensure that the costs of the sustained reforms and competent management of a nation’s legal system in its substantive, institu-wtional and cultural aspects be an integral part of any soundly conceived developmental plan, programme and budget.
By the process of law making, a society can give legal personality to the institution; can help to articulate a new or modified role or tasks of an institution, thereby creating corresponding expectations in society and obligations among the members of the institution. Also, through law-making, the society can re-allocate resources to the institution to enable it to perform its new or modified role and carry out its tasks; establish guidelines and standards for the conduct of the institution and its members and of others towards the institution; and monitor the institution’s behaviour, with the prospects of corrective action or of subsequent revision of the law and further adaptation of the institution.”
THE BAR AND MYRIAD OF PROBLEMS
Regrettably, the Bar Association in Nigeria has historically been plagued with a myriad of problems which have prevented it from providing the proper platform for Lawyers to contribute meaningfully towards Nation building. I doubt if anyone can forget the years when the Nigerian Bar Association was in comatose owing primarily to the events at its 1992 Annual Conference. It was only through the efforts of some personalities, of which special mention must be made of Chief Adegboyega Awomolo that concerned stakeholders could once again come together under the umbrella of the Nigerian Bar Association to forge a way forward. That we are all gathered here today is a testament to the success of that process.
LIFE STYLE OF JUDGES
As stated earlier, one of the important roles or duties of Lawyers in Nation building is to entrench, strengthen and support the rule of law. One of the avenues through which this can be achieved the most is through Lawyers who get elevated to the Bench. But has the Bench in Nigeria been able to live up to the challenge? In times past Judges used to be highly respected. They were regarded with great awe. It was a rare sight to find Judges walking on the streets or even generally in public places. However things have changed. It is now a common sight to find Judges at social occasions. Due to the economic realities of the time which has affected even Judicial officers, it is not uncommon to find Magistrates riding in Taxis and other forms of public transportation. The point being made here is not that Judges and other Judicial Officers must live in a state of utopia irrespective of the realities of the day. The point is that these developments increasingly expose Judicial Officers to risks and temptations from Litigants and even accused persons standing trial before their courts. Little wonder then that claims of corruption, bias and judicial high-handedness which hitherto were virtually unknown or unheard of in the Country’s Judicial Service System are now a common phenomena.
…to be continued
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