Piqued by the dwindling standards of law practice in the country, the newly elected president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Okey Wali, a Senior Advocate, last week inaugurated a committee, with a mandate to package a 21st century lawyer. The committee –  The Bar Leaders Committee, being headed by a former Osun State Justice Commissioner and Attorney-General, Chief Solomon Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, will among others, chart a new course for the association’s strategic developments and reformation. Group Legal Editor, Foluso Ogunmodede reports.

BARELY four weeks after he was elected as the 26th president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), a former Rivers state Justice Commissioner and Attorney-General and Senior Advocate, Mr. Okey Wali, has inaugurated the Bar Leaders Summit Committee (BLSC).

However, the President named a former Osun state Justice Commissioner and Attorney-General, Chief Solomon Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) as chairman of the newly inaugurated committee with a view to charting a course for the strategic development and reformation of the association to the benefit of its members.

Already, the committee inaugurated last week at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, had commenced work as Bar Leaders from the 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory, gathered to brainstorm on how to restore Bar glory.

In his address, the NBA president, said: “Today, we have a challenge before us, we have the historical duty to build a 21st century Nigerian lawyer for the 21st Century Nigeria. We are worse for the alarming disconnect between the average Nigerian lawyer and the social and legal challenges of our time.

“This state of affairs has robbed lawyers of the ability to participate in the affairs of the country both as citizens and as professionals. Our earning capacity as lawyers and the learning environment for aspirants into the profession are both far from optimal.
Wali continued: “The painful truth is that the dynamism of the Bar falls short of the dynamism of our society.

The Bar is not able to perform its role in the society due to structural inadequacies. Professional growth has been stifled by a combination of inadequate training, harsh economic realities, poor regulatory environment, and poor institutions.

“Our great forebearers in the profession did not have to contend with the challenging realities of the internet and globalization, they lived and practiced our profession before deregulation, economic and political reforms, fast paced transactional environment, that we must live with in today’s Nigeria.

“Our practice environment changes around us by the minute, the challenges that have confronted us as citizens and professionals are evolving rapidly.

“If we are to approach anywhere close to the respect that our great professional fore-bearers commanded in their time, then we have to go the extra mile to renew our profession and build 21st Century Bar for the Nigeria of tomorrow. This is the burden we are carrying today, the burden of renewal”.

However, the NBA President reiterated the committee’s objective, insisting that it was nothing but to ‘gather and chart a new course for the NBA’.

He said: “The idea is to bring together some eminent Bar leaders to appraise the Nigerian Bar with a view to identifying gaps and articulating recommendations for reform.”
“In particular, this summit is expected to address issues relating to professional ethics, legal education, welfare of lawyers, strategic planning, liberalization and globalization of legal services”.

“At the end of this summit, it is envisaged that the communiqué and reports would form part of the materials for drawing up a comprehensive five year strategic plan for the Nigerian Bar Association. It is expected that in drawing up the said strategic plan, the aims and objectives of the Nigerian Bar Association as provided for in the NBA Constitution and other useful resource materials would be relied upon.

“The burdened as we are as Bar leaders with charting the direction and role of the legal profession in Nigeria, we must query how well we are discharging our duties.

•Are we leading the profession in the right direction?

•Are we performing all the duties thrust upon us by history?

•Should we redefine our role by increasing or decreasing our responsibilities?

“The NBA plays a tripartite regulatory role in the area of regulation, representation, and focus on public interest. At the heart of representative role is welfare of lawyers and delivery of Bar Services to our members.

“My vision is to develop and deliver new and existing Bar services, to manage the relationship of lawyers and key stakeholders, to generate new legal work for our members.

“This will include insurance and welfare scheme and others. We are working on the establishment of co-operative societies, and even micro finance bank to be run by the NBA.

“We cannot discuss the NBA’s future without some species of succession planning. We must prepare the future leaders and members of the profession and its body.

“Many organizations spend most of their time reacting to unexpected changes, instead of anticipating and preparing for them. This is called crisis management. Organizations caught off guard may spend a great deal of time and energy “playing catch up”. They use up their energy coping with immediate problems with little energy left to anticipate and prepare for the next challenges”.

“It does not have to be that way. A sensible alternative is a well tested process called strategic planning which provides a viable alternative to crisis management.

Strategic planning looks three to five years ahead. It charts a definite course based on strong indicators of what the business environment will be like in those years.

“In view of the importance of strategic planning as stated above, my administration seeks to design a five year strategic plan that will define the present and the future. The envisaged strategic plan will contain issues, programs and policies for future NBA administrations. These will ensure continuity of programs and policies and smooth transition in the NBA”.

Also, in a paper entitled: “Professional challenges of the Nigerian Bar Association in the 21st century by Aare Afe Babalola SAN, presented by Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), Afe said: “The legal professional has an ancient history and predilection. The modern legal professional, earning his living by fee paid for legal services become 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.
“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.

“If Nigeria and indeed the world community must succeed in making the transition from traditional to modem 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, cannot be over-emphasised. 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”.

Babalola continued: “Ours is a profession that is very unique in many respect. As I stated earlier, lawyers have a role in nation building. The credible discharge of this role is a topic that should concern all legal practitioners. Therefore, it is my hope that summit of this nature will be a regular occurrence in the activities of the Nigerian Bar Association. We must as a body of professionals remain alive to our duties”.

In his view, the Director-General, Nigerian Law School, Dr. Mamman Tahir identified the following challenges facing the profession as follows:

•Environmental factors that may hinder ethics

•Transformation from Profession to Business

•Prevailing Culture of Impunity

•Declining opportunities in Legal Practice/Economy

•Distortions in Reward/Value System

•Ignorance of the Rules of Professional Conduct

Also, in his paper entitled: “The paramountcy of the welfare of the members of the Bar, need for versatility and job creation” the Director-General: Ethics and Corporate Compliance Institute, Jideani Chukwuemeka said: “Legal practice is a professional business of formidable societal influence steeped in idealism, self-discipline, public spirit, economy and wisdom.

“Originally, it was not enveloped in mercantilism of the Adam Smith persuasion, however, we are living in changing times and no institution, however gorgeous, should be impervious to change. Consequently the profession must embrace change, form the training of the would be lawyer, to the practice in the bar and the relationship between the various areas/spheres of practice, up onto the administration of justice and the Judiciary.

“The legal education system should be modified a little bit to prepare our law graduate for life in the modern market place. In addition to strengthening professional ethics – organisational and business ethics should be incorporated into the curriculum. This will equip them with proficiencies in such areas as “conflict of interest”; “enterprise risk management”; “Regulatory Compliance” etc.

Specifically, Chukwuemeka said: “ Let the truth be told, no jurisdiction has ever been able to absorb all its trained lawyers in core legal practice, consequently it serves us better to equip practitioners (through capacity development programs) to secure opportunities in other areas for which legal training is an asset, but not joined an honourable profession of formidable societal influence and relevance which of necessity has rules and regulations to guide his professional conduct and which along the line, curtail some of his choices. With regards to the state of our legal practice today, one concerned Bar leader intoned ; thus, “We will ensure that legal practice is fully expanded and there will be protection by legislation for our work to ensure that there is no encroachment by others”.

Another leader, Dr. Onyechi Ikpearu, SAN, in his paper, entitled “institutionalisation of ardial Bar and Bench relationship for professional development presented by Arthur Obi Okafor, Ikpearu said:

“With the realization that most lawyers and Judges do not belong to other associations, it is rather obvious that the Bar and the Bench are not only married to the legal profession but are indeed fused as members of the same family. With similar interest, objective and aspiration towards the preservation of the Rule of law, cordiality in the relationship is not only imperative, but necessarily healthy.”

Shortly after the paper presentations, the meeting was however broke into working groups as follows; The institutionalisation of the Bar Bench relationship with former President, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) as chairman, Professional challenges of the NBA in the 21st century with former President OCJ Okocha (SAN) as chairman, the committee on the paramountcy of the welfare of members of the Bar, need for versatility and job creation was chaired by former President Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Committee on the entrenchment of qualitative legal education and mechanism for professional progress was chaired by former President, Joseph Bodunrin Daudu (SAN) while the committee on unethical conduct at the Bar, was chaired by the former Attorney- General and Minister of Justice, Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN).

By Lily