Thursday, May 28, 2009

Evidence 101

It’s an EFCC matter involving forgery of cheques and Counsel-Bully (CB) Bully is for the defendant. CB is one of those TV lawyers whose faces are better remembered than their names. His derisive cross-examination is reputed to have witnesses having a go at his fat layered neck.
‘Are you familiar with cheques and how to detect their authenticity?’
‘Well, relatively…’
CB jumps at this, he can’t wait to ‘tear the witness’ apart.
‘Oh, merely relatively eh? I P-U-T it to you that you are an ignorant officer who wants to destroy my client’s reputation’ (‘put’ comes with some spit)
He looks like the cat who found the cream and is about to start rolling on the floor.
‘I was about to say that I have attended courses on cheque cloning and fraud detection at Switzerland and in Germany. I just came back from the IMF-sponsored six month programme at The Hague solely dedicated to international fraud detection and preventive practices.’
CB must have skipped Evidence 101 - Never ask a question if you don’t know the answer.
‘Oh, so you have enough theoretical experience, eh?’
He actually winks at his client in the dock.
Too late -
‘I was with the Institute for Security Studies, South Africa for two years, then moved to the Interpol for six years where I was team leader in halting the attempt to flood the UAE with fake dinars. I also…’
‘That’s okay! This honourable Court does not need your life history!’
The Bar was in stitches.
Some moments just make it worth it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Later

If I were not particularly humble, I’ll say I also have additional psychic powers.
SAN-hound just served us with a motion to amend his writ and originating process - he wants to increase the stakes.
Of course, ‘we’ won’t allow it.

‘While you were sleeping’

Apparently, Ghandi and the Prof have been at igniting some sparks while I was sleeping - figuratively of course- there is absolutely no way I‘ll fall asleep while reading a three-foot high pile of documents on some topic I have absolutely no interest in...
Back to the issue, upon due investigation, I verily believe that there’s something going on. They seem to think no one sees their side-long glances and furtive glances at each. Agony-Aunt Rookie sees everything!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

‘Over-skill’

Ghandi and I are in court to get the stamp of approval on a consent order. It’s taken the better part of four hours to review the file and I have come to one conclusion - No good intentions or speedier and more efficient rules can stop determined ‘Spartans’.
For eleven years, both sides have fought tooth and nail wanting to get the better of each other on a piece of land they probably didn’t want as badly as each other’s throat. They wanted war, blood and victory- in that order. With endless motions to the Supreme Court and back and aided by adjournments and de novos, they have managed to make their lawyers richer.
Finally, after millions on solicitor’s fees they have finally agreed to a settlement, containing the same terms that were suggested at the very beginning.
Our matter is the third on the cause list right after some entertainment -
‘Milady, the defendant just served us with his statement of defence yesterday, leaving us no time to respond. In fact, I had to rush from the Court of Appeal today’
Claimant’s counsel is convincingly wounded. He’s Chief-something and has a ‘listen-to-me’ voice. Regrettably, I have learnt that lawyers know how to tell a story so I can’t (lack the ability to) believe him, but at least he has some of my empathy.
Her Ladyship also seems sympathetic. The Counsel for the matter before this one had appeared without his file. I can sense she’s itching to teach someone a lesson.
‘Counsel for the defendant?’
The other lawyer looks uncomfortable and is about to go on some long-winded tale; ‘My Lord, actually…’
Chief Listen-to-me voice interjects-
‘Milady, I am asking for costs - after all, I am VIP!’
Chief just ‘over-skill’ed.
I think Her Ladyship agrees thinks that was an over-kill and simply ignores Chief and tells them to pick a date for adjournment.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Again

Matter after mine is a gardener who has been in custody for seven weeks because a policeman picked him up at 6.15am on his way to a client’s.
His offence - he was with a machete and ‘had to be OPC.’

Visual Assault

I’m at the Magistrate Court and everything is as unhurried and deliberate as a funeral - Uggh!
Finally, our matter gets called. Then the lights go out. After another unhurried break, court sits and our matter is adjourned for mention next month.
I am a bit miffed but really, who cares if I am?
Good thing about Magistrate Courts is that counsel are not as formally dressed as in the High Courts. Unfortunately, it also means there’s no robe to hide visual assault. Today, there’s a lawyer wearing gold-coloured shoes that match the weaves glued to her dark hair and huge silver earrings.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Injunctions and Lawyering

I have some friends over and as social cohabitants are prone to, one has a row with another. The wannabe-comic among them quotes the biblical injunction about not letting the sun set on one’s anger.
And rather than some pious thought along the lines of praying for the sinner’s mortal soul, my first thought is getting the ‘client’ off the hook on technical grounds!
‘Technically, since it’s already evening, she has been overreached and the injunction cannot take effect.’
I have to remind myself again that weekends are for hibernating and nothing remotely linked to a wig. Weekends are for sleep, slob, Church, see friends who have forgotten that I don’t go to see them, ‘project fame’ (reality TV and a little gossip always does some good), and more sleep… generally.

*Makes note to self-learn to enjoy a joke without lawyer thoughts*

Friday, May 22, 2009

Inherent Goodness in Woman-kind

Ghandi and I are chatting (gossiping) when the intercom buzzes. It’s Plain-short.
‘Rookie, can I see you in my office now?’
Seating next Plain-short is a ‘miracle’.
Resplendent in aso-ebi (uniform Ankara) is our divorce petitioner (the one that wants N70M for her dog) with her respondent husband. They are batting eyelashes at each other and holding hands like teenagers, although it looks more like one of them has a jelly-spine in need of support.
She wants to withdraw the petition. It turns out their differences were not so irreconcilable.
The N70M puppy? She’s already sent it to her brother ‘who has time to take care of it’!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Lawyer

I am editing Clara’s statement of claim. Copyright issues can be unpredictable and clumsy to prove. As Posh-Tall said, Clara’s matter is not piracy where we can use the Anton Piller to confiscate pirated works. Here, we have to prove that the film producer did not create the play independently. Fortunately, Clara had asked the producer’s assistant to sign an acceptance slip when she dropped it. We intend to use it to show that Clara actually gave him some material.
‘We’… I feel like a lawyer.

Piece of the Pie

I’ve just finished lunch when I stop over at Muktar’s. I wish I hadn’t.
More trouble - TMC has been served with another set of originating processes similar to those we want to settle with SAN-hound. The claimants also want retirement bonus for being loyal cigarette customers for eighteen years. They are asking for about five times as much as SAN-hound’s damages.
I suspect SAN-hound is greedy enough to want to amend his writ and pleadings to increase his client’s claim. Muktar is thinking about damage control. He doesn’t want to be the guard on duty when the ants finish off the carcass.
‘We will respond to their originating process.’
Muktar wants to call their bluff, he thinks they can’t handle the litigation and will only be pressured to settle.
He hands over the already bulky file.
Aaagh! I enjoy law practice blah blah blah.... but when do I get enough free boring me-time?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More sad news

My aunty calls on my way back to my cubicle.
‘I am tired of all these o!’
She sounds worse than the last time we spoke. She’d gone to the Land Planning Board like I advised her to. Though, the governor’s consent was obtained along with other required formalities before her Certificate of Occupancy was issued, she was told that her house was built on land, originally designated as part of a road network. The officer in charge promised to ‘look into’ her case.
She’ll go back next week.

Sad Wednesday

We have an emergency meeting. Big Oga’s nephew was buried yesterday. Nephew left work late because he wanted to wait out the traffic. His girlfriend had been looking for him until last Saturday when the car washed up the Lagoon at Ebute Metta. Nephew’s corpse came soon after with what appears to be a gunshot wound on the head. The Police’s earlier statements lean towards an accident that threw the car off Third Mainland Bridge but later they said it must have been a robbery that went wrong. No one can explain the black baton that was wedged in between the steering and the gearbox. Family suspect it had something to do with those paid to serve and protect and want to prosecute. Big Oga wants us on watching brief.
Everyone’s sober.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ageism

For those who (still!) don’t know: what counts in law practice is a well-worn wig.
The tattered ones are best and reserved for worship at the legal altar. So, ‘new wig’ in legalese is the synonym for the life beneath the bottom of the pile aka note-taker, bag-carrier and researcher for all the matters no one wants to do. Although, I’m resigned to my young-hood, I‘m thinking of starting a prayer and fast to speed the time that the next set of wigs start to work here.
Hopefully, my prayer will get a laser-time reply, so I get to move one rung up the legal ladder and shed some weight on some unlucky junior.
I admit it - I am as bad as the rest of them.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sainthood too

I rush to mop up in a mix of ‘oohhs’, ‘sorry’s and a few bad belle giggles. I am hardly settled in my cubicle when I receive a test of my inherent goodness and matchless patience.
‘I don’t understand why you can’t make it on time. Anyway, get the ABD file and act on it. You had better get this done before the close of today o.’
The test is delivered with an I-am-your-senior smugness. Speaker and test-provider is who I’ll call ‘Senior’. She is about three years at the Bar. Yours truly, is barely one year.
Posh-Tall sent the file marked Senior and RL but since Senior is a firm believer in delegation; she’s done nothing about it. I’ve already drafted the motion for interlocutory injunction and plan to email it to her this morning after a final edit.
I really want to give her the pleasure of my sarcastic best but my better self prevails.
‘Oh, that, I’ll get it to you this morning’ - with a straight face, not ‘nicey nice’ but ‘good girl’.
I am beginning to suspect, I might just be a descendant of St. Monica of Hippo, patron saint for patience.

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

It’s 8.14am and I’m out of breath in a wet white shirt and what would be a lovely grey skirt suit when dry. I just manage not fall on my face again as I stumble up the stairs. Unfortunately, I am unable to show off some of the majestic rage I feel right now so I‘m resigned to whining, grumbling and wishing I was already rich and had my black taxi-helicopter…

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Defender of the Universe

Posh-Tall and I meet with Clara, the playwright.
She is smallish but very confident. She studied English at the university because she has always loved to write and works in a NGO. She re-tells her story clearly. When she confronted the producer, he dismissed her and claimed that he already had the script three years ago. She wants justice and we finally get to play Voltron.
(*insert signature tune*)
The defender of the universe!

Voltron

Posh-Tall and I take the lift upstairs together. She’s friendly and actually smiles at my ‘How are you today?’
Just before we part at the lobby, she mentions an intellectual property related matter.
Client is accusing a film producer of using her play without her permission. According to her, she gave him her manuscript last year but he had dismissed it as unsuitable. She was however shocked to hear of a movie by the same producer with her story. She seems sure that it’s the same story with basically the same dialogue. L.T is doing it pro bono.
I am back at work.
Right now, I‘m writing to inform a client in respect of a name search for an utterly ridiculous name for her hotel- Resthereverywell Ltd. Plain-short will edit and sign through before we send it to the final consumer, along with the bill of charges.
I remember to reply to a text I received from a friend of mine on Monday. I send an email instead and steel myself for the expected round of ‘where have you been’s.
He replies immediately. Friend rescued. You’e got to love technology.
Prof. comes in to my cubicle. She seems distracted and asks if I’ve seen Ghandi around.
‘I think he’s in the library.’
‘Ooh’ and she goes to her floor - not the library.
I smell something or my wild imagination’s going into overdrive again

I assume you actually went to Law School?

‘This is ridiculous. I assume you actually went to Law School?’

Her Ladyship is obviously upset and with good reason.
The affidavit is poorly drafted; wrong pronouns, bad grammar and innumerable spelling errors. It’s as though the lawyer made a conscious effort to break as many rules of grammar as he could and pointedly ignored the squiggles Microsoft is so kind to provide with Word.
I had made a similar (though less forceful) remark when I saw it on Monday. It was an affidavit in support of a motion to amend a statement of claim.
Counsel is stammering and was making a bad attempt at explaining why ‘notice’ has a ‘u’ and ‘honourable’ is spelt ‘honoriabl’.
Surprisingly, the motion is granted.
Her Ladyship must have a good heart.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Seniority is Right

There must be something about a senior lawyer who looks at you straight in the eye while making no sense.
It’s a bail application before a High Court Judge. The applicant is a prominent chief who is accused of stunts that will put all the Yahoozee boys to shame - in legalese, ‘false misrepresentation under s. 419 of the Criminal Code’. Since the law presumes his innocence even though he was caught while attempting to transfer from a Cayman Islands account, he is entitled to apply for bail.
Senior is asking for bail on self-recognition and his bluff is believable as he persuades the Judge. The new wig from the Ministry of Justice is reminding the court that the chief acted as surety for another person who disappeared after bail was granted a few months ago.
Chief got the bail.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

We’re paid to fight.

‘Mr Muktar, as much as I appreciate your position, I’ll have you know that my clients pay me to win and not to settle!’
He ends his line with what sounds like a bang on a table, or maybe it was a high five to one of his fawning associates.
Muktar is on speaker-phone with SAN-hound (counsel to plaintiffs suing Tobacco Manufacturing Co. for letting their clients buy cigarettes which may have caused lung cancer- ‘may’ because I am a lawyer and I’m paid to sway the ‘may’ to ‘did not’). We are trying to work out a settlement between our clients rather than a protracted court case.
‘I wonder if your clients know what we are offering’.
‘It is of no business to you. We are ready to fight’. He sounds like a scene in a part 3 of a bad Nollywood movie.
Muktar is playing cool negotiator while texting on his blackberry; SAN-hound sounds like a bristling teenager. I am amused and taking notes and wishing I had a blackberry.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Horizontal Inclinations

There are some things that change your life forever.
One of those ‘things’ is a picture of a Judge in his robed majesty, straining to see over the Bench. This singular de-horizontal fact overpowers all semblance of fierceness, dignity strength and nobility.
As someone who is described as ‘short’ by evil mouths and detractors who catch me without my customary heels, I can empathise with His Lordship. I am in court 2 and the judge is trying hard to see the witness who has similar horizontal inclinations. Every time he wants to clarify an issue, he bends over the bench, leaning on his elbows and almost spilling his ink pot. Unfortunately, I am not the only one who’s noticed the comedy, and even the short witness smirks.
Lesson to learn: if by some impossibly, unlikely chance I get to play Judge and Mistress over all with no corresponding size inflating miracle, the first thing I ‘shall’ demand - before a new silk gown - will be a customised chair. It will be the plushest ever, with legs at least four feet high so everyone has to strain to see me. No straining for Judge Rookie-Diva.

By the way, His Lordship seems oblivious and betrays no emotion.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

...

I am with Muktar when I feel my phone vibrate. I ask him and he’s gracious to allow me take the call.
It’s one of my aunties. She’s having some trouble.
‘I can’t believe this is happening all over again. The Devil has failed.’
She’s been crying.
‘Aunty, what happened?’
I step out of Muktar’s office.
After a few more darts at the devil for his misdeeds, she tells me that state officials are making new road developments and her house has been slated for demolition. She reminds me that she built the house from her late husband’s entitlements. She wants legal advice from Rookie who’s as worried as she is.
I make out as calm and ask her to go to the authority in charge of building developments and hope that she will be well recompensed in time. A couple of months ago, she had lost most her investments in the market crash and does some petty trading most of the time. Her kids are young and still in secondary school.
I’m bothered and make a mental note to ask around.

Friday, May 8, 2009

...

We are in ADR for the TMC matter.
The counsel on the other side wants blood - court, drama everything. He clearly doesn’t want to settle and is taking the ADR as a major irritation. He’s relatively young, mid-thirties maybe, and is unwilling to let his big case go ‘unnoticed’. I have a feeling that his clients are just a tool to his big-name path.
Muktar points out the problem in showing cause and effect in his case, the years it will take to hear it through, the sense in settling and letting a ‘growing, truly Nigerian company’ be but SAN-hound doesn’t want to listen.
I am taking notes and wondering if Muktar and I are thinking about the same company. Any more eulogy and he’ll paint a halo with TMC right beneath it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Puppy Love

Today I’m drafting a petition for dissolution of marriage. Our client is high society and wants the legal way out of her five year marriage and ‘victory’ over her cheating husband.
I find the matter quite amusing in a perverted way. Both parties are high flying society and share their surnames with high brow streets on Victoria Island; first and second degrees in top British schools; wedding was in Ovation and businesses with balance sheets in the billions. But that wasn’t enough to keep them happy. (No, I am not snickering!) Marriage didn’t turn as successful and they want to part amicably - which they almost succeeded in doing except for one little glitch. Madam wants N70m extra as feeding, handling and medical expenses in favour of – wait for it- their dog! In typical Heather Mills - she wants proper care for a poodle she probably doesn’t care about. She says the dog has been like a child to her since she lost her baby in their third year of marriage.
Mr. Husband is not amused in any way, although I suspect he’ll let it slide. She’s threatening to unlock his cupboards full of skeletons and spoiling for a fight; he would rather not.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Few Good Men

‘He’s a good man! Oga, abeg, they are lying on him! What will the children eat?’
Sob.
“Please Sir. Help me.”
The court clerk is trying to hush the woman who is doing her best to keep it loud. The Magistrate is unperturbed as if he always has a lot of screaming and theatrical allocutus done in his court. After a while, the policeman moves her out where she continues sobbing.
The Magistrate has just refused bail for her husband charged with rape and robbery. Before today, he was an okada rider and was released last month from police custody for attempting to steal and causing grievous bodily harm to a young girl he was supposed to transport from point A to B. He wasn’t prosecuted because the police let him go and the victim didn’t want the court drama. It didn’t take him long to do some more mischief.

Shameless and Graceless

I don’t see it coming. I am saying a quick hello as I walk past Lekki-British when my heels fail me. I fall shamelessly and gracelessly on the floor. One of the new NYSC staff helps me up. I know without a doubt that I have become the hottest gist for LT’s office gist.
Maybe sometime in the future, when I’m rich and famous, I might remember this moment with a smile but right now; I am British royalty and ‘We are not amused’.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

And I’m in!

I meet Muktar just as I walk into Plain-Short’s office. I am all polite and proper, trying hard not to look like the over-ambitious junior - which of course, my saintly self is not.
‘Good evening sir.’
‘Hi Rookie. I was just coming to see you.’
He wants me to beg and I have no shame -
‘Really? Thank goodness I‘m here then. Does it have anything to do with the TMC matter?’
Gratefully, he speaks before I am half-way on my mental knees.
‘We’ll it’s a lot of hard work. You may even have to work weekends…’
I don’t allow him to finish-
‘Yes I‘m in.’
I stop over to get a large bowl of my favourite ice-cream (which I can’t name, because it will be free advertising) and today is rated ‘perfect’ in Rookie’s autobiography.

Seniors Rule

Plain-Short sees me signing in the book at the library and we get into conversation about law practice. She asks about some research I am working on and how well am settling in. I am truthful about enjoying it. I mention an intellectual property matter I’m researching on and the trouble I’m having in finding a suitable precedent. I’m a bit dramatic.
‘Sometimes it seems law is like mathematics. Get the rule; stick with it and go to sleep.’
She’s nice and instead of labeling me presumptuous and impatient, she asks with a smile.
‘And when it’s a new situation with no known rules?’
‘Get inventive… maybe’
She laughs loudly. ‘Your imagination will have to rest a bit. There’s a Court of Appeal decision on that matter. I think it’s unreported but I can find it somewhere’.
Fantastic! Seniors rule!
I try not to slobber on her shirt in my profuse thank you’s and promise to check on her later today to get it.

Williams’ Guide to Law

Monday

Just finished reading Glanville Williams’ ‘Learning the Law’.
I think I am spending too much time with the Prof and in grave danger of being a traitor to the Back-Benchers’ Association of Nigerian ex-Students. Weekends are for play and sleep not a book written by a (well respected and brilliant) late Welsh jurist.
Flashback to my first year - Lecturers had probably taken one look at my class of fresh-faced na├»ve and unspoiled idealists in need of guidance and recommended the book. Never one to tail the herd, I’d quickly dismissed it then since I figured studying something that won’t be asked in the exam hall was a waste of time better used in frivolous NFA-ish (No Future Ambition) pursuits.
Of course, now I realise it wasn’t well considered. Surprise!
It really is a good book, like a guide and in retrospect; it would have understanding law a bit clearer.
Anyway, no long faces here as I have upped my legal know-what and now I can always say something like: *insert ongoing conversation…* ‘yes, of course, Glanville was emeritus fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge’ (I picked that from the notes at the back.)
Or who knows, I just might get on ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ with the N10m question on English law.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mass action


Big Oga is in today and the meeting is more ‘interactive’ (read: looong).

We love him but sometimes, life’s like getting a cake- no one really wants to discuss the kneading the flour and the whole backing process. Just get us the cake!
I am still mind rambling when Muktar mentions the TM case.
Our client, TM (Tobacco Manufacturing) is facing civil suit by a group of smokers who allege that their thirty year smoking habits guarantees some retirement bonus. It sounds like the typical American mass tort case and I am surprised that the litigants are so organised in the first place. TM wants to settle and avoid negative publicity but it seems the Smokers’ lawyers want all the daytime TV drama and press coverage.
Muktar mentions that he’s selling the idea of an arbitral panel to the Smokers’ and is scheduled to meet with their lawyer the following week.
He’s half-way done when I know I want in. Even if the case doesn’t make it to trial, it was a big opportunity to learn how to handle these mass-tort actions. I think the Nigeria’s legal system is fast developing and soon, we’ll be having proper mass tort actions, and whose back is best to ride but a multi-billion naira tobacco company? I am thinking of those Enron’s lawyers and their indecently fat juicy pay checks?
So what if our side’s reverse David-Goliath? I throw a smile coquettishly and move my chair closer to Muktar’s.

Yes, I am shameless.