Friday, January 29, 2010

Press Rewind

Have you ever felt like having a rewind button on life – like that time during Law School exams, you suddenly realised that the one page you skipped while reading is the one with compulsory question 1?

I have been having some ‘challenges’ with a Norwegian client who does not want to pay our bill of charges. I have called, emailed, called, emailed the contact person, so many times that I feel like a stalker. Yet the client is a relentless ijebu, determined to hold on payment for as long as it can.

In desperation, I forward the client’s latest response to Gloater with a line – ‘these [name of client] want to 419 us o! They want us to show them why the US is fear-ing us!’

Forthright, maybe; but certainly non-distinguished lawyer language.

I thought I forwarded it to Gloater - alone. Just as I send, I realise I forwarded the ‘joke’ to the client. I try to recall the message – no such luck.

Oh dear!

This is the most important time when life needs a rewind button – ok, second most important after America told the world its intelligence reports established weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Witnesses Are Annoying

Lawyers don’t really like witnesses – regular witnesses; hostile witnesses, anybody that speaks in court, besides the judge (and only when ruling in our favour). Our grandiose egos do not take kindly to anyone who tries to steal the limelight from us. Witnesses are generally horrible nightmares. They can’t get over the fact that people listen to them for the few minutes that they get to speak. We, on the other hand, are trained to expect people to listen to us and are paid for it.

The only thing worse than a witness, is a witness who is a client. Everyone knows that clients are people who are only good for the bills but assume that paying lawyers make them half as smart as lawyers.

Witnesses pretend, exaggerate, fumble, get threatened by the other lawyers and often ruin the good work of us hardworking lawyer by telling the ‘truth’ (yes, it is a dirty word!).

Unfortunately, despite our clear dislike for these people, the justice scale tilts on proof of facts, making witnesses generally indispensable. Usually, to mitigate this ‘unfortunate circumstances’, lawyers have pre-trial meetings with their witnesses. In law school, the technical word is ‘preparing the witness’ for the court. In real life, we simply teach the witness the nicest way to tell our truth. Sometimes, it works and the witness does the job and we are happy. Sometimes, it does not, yet we try anyway.

Right now, I am in court with Ghandi and Gloatter for trial. Our witness is in the box and after three pre-trial meetings; one would expect that she would not stumble and ‘umm’ or ‘ahh’ like she is acting now. Ghandi is trying some damage control but it’s not werking.

I want to throw something at her or her at something. Naturally, all my intents are safe in my mind, since she is a witness-client.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Inferior Lawyers Charge Cheap

Legend has it that lawyering stands two steps higher than nobility and one lower than sainthood. The dignity of our profession was therefore preserved by a disdain for ‘earthly’ things such as money and all things plebeian. Even our barrister’s robe was carefully sewn so that the pocket was placed literarily behind the barrister. Everyone recognised that money was a mere distraction which kept the minister’s mind from his duty to stand at the temple of justice, poised to do good to all and sundry.

Smart clients however caught on to the fact that the barrister’s goodness and kindness did little to pay for food, clothing and other necessities of life. They would therefore gently place gold in the lawyer’s pockets as he saved the world. Naturally, the increased weight in the barrister’s pocket was sure to be quickly noticed by a slight ache on the shoulder, leading to energised advocacy and defence of rights.

Most of the legend still holds. The proper lawyer, despite being a solicitor, does not ‘solicit’ or bother his scholarly mind about money and other mundane matters. He uses prim and sober stamp sized labels to differentiate his office from the next. His fees are ‘reasonable’ and proper. He is excited at thoughts of being rich but quickly curbs his enthusiasm with the right amount of sobriety. In legends, the proper lawyer would be knighted and fitted with a halo.

In the real world where it makes better sense to sack football coaches and ignore the fact that the available players are never properly trained, cheap lawyers are perceived to be inferior. The higher the fees, the better.

The ‘smart’ lawyer is well, smarter. We see the law as a business in the dog-eat-dog and maul the other dog if it tries to even steal a look at your bone (client). While we refrain from using bill boards to advertise our services, we ensure that we provide legal opinions on the state of the nation with all the pomp and pageantry of Keyamo in front of a camera.

Economic issues aside, real lawyers don’t charge cheaply. Of course, we may have ‘structure’ our fees a little to accommodate kobo pinching, but we remain true to the course - stalking clients, hold on to them and ensure they pay for everything.

We never lose.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mi’ Lord, the Invincible

Judges can do anything – in the undefined, unrestricted, ‘there-is-nothing-you-can- do-about-it’ powerful way. Besides being distinguished on literal pedestals, judges are our twenty-first century Solomons who get to decide between right or wrong, while being objectively detached from the one-step-closer-to-mortal heap of lawyers on the floor of the bar. We all defer to their Lordships either because we are unused to the idea of so many clothes on a breathing being or due to the natural awe we feel in the presence of dignity, while clothed in ordinary cotton.

Their Lordships decide which side the scale tilts, what actually gets recorded as the court’s record, how far Lady Justice peeps behind her blindfold, and even get to make laws within the gaps provided by words used by lawmakers.

Perfect. Right?

Then again, power comes with liabilities – ask God who has to listen to everyone’s prayers, the President who cannot play dead without telling the electorates; Big Oga who has to pay a lawyer’s salary for editorial work, etc.

Judges are tied to really bad burdens, primarily having to listen to lawyers natter on about how fantastic they are, for five days a week - an activity that is clearly cruel and enough to stretch anyone’s patience and goodness. It is no wonder that sometimes, things happen in courts to get back at the annoying nattering lawyers.

Sometimes, these things add up, sometimes they don’t.

Today, Ghandi and I are in court for a matrimonial matter. The petitioner’s counsel is about to enter appearance when the court, in a shrill voice that carried over to the back –

‘I wonder if counsel thinks that the court is a salon’.

Naturally, everyone does a mental check of appearances – the male, patting their flat wigs on nearly flat heads; female lawyers, tucking in any errant hair strands.

‘Ms. [X] I do not understand why your hair is dangling’.

At that time, the counsel from the other side realises she is the subject of Milady’s ire.

I look closely at her, trying to get a mental picture of ‘how not to wear your hair in court’ but disappointedly, she is wearing her hair in regular braids, bunched up in a boring knot behind her ears.

Ghandi whispers that at the last proceedings, the court had ‘hinted’ to another counsel about her ‘loud’ brown bag.

‘I am going to strike out your matter because of your dangling hair.’

At this time, everyone in court, excluding the clerks who must be used to the court’s non-regular rationale for striking out matters of errant counsel; look startled.

‘My Lord...’

‘Matter is struck out...’

If this were Nollywood, there would be some ‘gen-gen’ sound. Courts in real life tend to be quieter though and no sounds accompanied the pronouncement.

Theoretically, if the matter goes on appeal, counsel could refer the appellate court to the court’s records and make an issue of the reason for striking out the matter. However, since the trial court takes the notes that make up the court’s record, the power to challenge the record of proceedings carries as much clout as a constitutional provision allowing am executive council appointed by the present to declare their benefactor incapable of discharging his functions.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Truth about Justice

Besides the point that law almost pays my bills, I find the farces amusing, entertaining, etc. Take the Justitia allegory – Lady Justice with the blindfold, sword and scales. She is at every court and on every law text cover with space to fill and the perfect symbolism for us all – until we think it through.

Do you really want to trust a double-edged sword with a stereotypical emotionally imbalanced woman? What’s worse – she is as old as forever, making her menopausal, ‘naturally’ suspect to mood swings, fatigue, among other dreadful diseases, which do not affect the male folk.

Then again, she does not ‘shine her eye’. Why on earth would you trust the judgement of a blindfolded person whether male or female? The textbook response is impartiality but how impartial would you want a judge to be in the face of your ‘poor’ yacht-owning, Fifth Avenue condo living, borrower-client, whose inability to pay due to ‘the economic downturn’ is not appreciated by the lending banks but is bedevilled by annoying EFCC officials and bankers who do not know their place.
The scales are something else – everyone knows that substance and relevance matters over weight. What if Lady Justice’s arm sort of hurts at that time and the pain makes her tilt one to another? Obviously, suspending the scales all these years must have some effect on her muscles!

The toga – don’t get me started! That is so long that I worry about her freedom of movement. She would definitely trip over it.

Yeah, we try to make life easy and tell the truth – that is what lawyers do.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Muttalab, Yar'Adua etc: The Way We Live Through It.

There is something 'Nigerian' about laughing about the very worst.

It keeps us sane, I reckon. Here is a video I found amusing:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An Aside: Yet another commentary

Despite the fact that America’s profiling of terrorists may be a political attempt to convince the world that it has a clue as to its security issues – whether in the White House or in its airspace; one cannot help admiring its respect for the ‘rule of law’, presumption of innocence and a proper trial for suspected offenders. If a certain X was merely suspected of attempting to blow up one of the traffic lights at the airport, our diligent Nigeria Police Force would have either elicited a swift ‘confession’ from him or he would have been shot while ‘trying to escape’.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Lawyers are Annoying

It is 7pm on Friday. I should be getting ready to do all things non-lawyerly and certainly incompatible with the legal profession. Instead, I am in a meeting with Gloater and two other associates at the conference room upstairs. The last three hours have been filled with strong arguments over clause 88 of an agreement, which allows the state government, to pay compensation upon the creation of a public highway within our client’s health farm. The law requires payment for the acquisition of land anyways and the clause, we argued, does nothing.
The client wants to refinance its project and the proposed refinancers have a Nigerian law firm representing them. They seem very eager to show how much thought they have put into the negotiation. After two hours of insisting that the clause be removed to disallow any acquisition, we have spent the hour after that arguing on the division of the percentage of compensation. It is very tiring and I an upset.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Dummy’s Guide to Working with Lawyers

A Dummy’s Guide to Working with Lawyers

People rarely understand genius – Socrates, Emily Bronte, Newton, Oscar Wilde, Joan of Arc, lawyers, etc. Despite our messianic work, we remain largely under-appreciated by humankind, particularly the client demographic which mostly ignores us outside EFCC custody. Our glaring indispensability to life and business is scarcely recognised by obsequious bowing or at least palm trees for our overpriced car to ‘tread upon’. People do not appreciate us enough!

Regardless, we remain steadfast to the cause, staying true to advocacy and ministering at the temple of justice for a fee. Therefore, in my altruistic mode, I have decided to help hapless clients in understanding their lawyers, just in time to make New Year resolutions.

Yes, I am kind, thoughtful, good and generous – a lawyer!

1. Never lie to your Lawyer – We Will Know
You cannot con a conman. I realise how tempting it is to look good and paint your picture as the wronged party but we see through untrained lying. This is because we are trained to tell ‘untruths’ in an objective and appealing manner and are more likely to do a better job. Always tell your lawyer the truth and let us retell it for you.

2. We are Indispensable – Get Used to it.
The lawyer is indispensable to the flow of life and business because we are smart and good (did I say that before?). Lawyers always win - although this may not necessarily be your lawyer.

3. Never Play Lawyer – We are Always Better than You Are
Don’t fall into the trap of arguing your case by yourself in the courts. Remember Eve in the Garden of Eden? She could have hired a lawyer. She did not – see where she ended up?

4. Pay your Bills on Time Every Time
This is as simple as it gets – pay up. We will hound you twice as hard as we hounded the other party until we get our money.

5. Stop Asking for Free Advice – Seriously!
Would you call a doctor on the phone for advice on your broken arm? No.
Would you stop a dentist on her way to the bathroom to get your teeth out? No.
Only the most desperate people would answer these questions in the affirmative – the same desperate people who never want to pay for reviewing an agreement or legal opinion.
Yes, we will smile, restrain ourselves from throwing a tantrum and give you free advice but we really do not like it.

6. Listen and Learn
We want you to clinch the deal and make money so that you can pay us. Whatever you think, your lawyer is not a spoil sport. We actually want your business to succeed. Don’t negotiate without us. When we say no, we usually have a reason to say that and it does not always have a thing to do with the fact that we don’t like the lawyer on the other side.

7. Respect Associates
The partners are the most important in every law office right? Wrong.
While we do not dispute our proximity to the life beneath the ladder, we get the work done. So next time you attend a meeting with your lawyers, please say hello the poor overworked associates taking notes behind the charming partner on your right. This may determine how quickly and well your work gets done.

Associates usually have a law degree and rarely major in coffee making – do not ask us to make your coffee, tea, anything. Walk to the tea table, scoop, pour, add water; pretty easy, eh?

There! Seven easy tips for a better year.

One more thing - to a beautiful year filled with joy, a better economy, fewer loans and more investments, and more love for the wig and gown. *Clinks coffee mugs*

Happy 2010.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Post-holiday Blues.

I have a nicely typed ‘to-do’ list for this week, complete with colour codes to denote the urgency of each item. I spent one hour on deciding on the order of their priority and the next three hours to review a two-page letter. I have a sneaky feeling I may not really do anything about the to-dos. I am not worried about it. I worry about that.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Modest? Is that a Word?

Lawyers are naturally conceited – with good reason. Law training assumes that the learning we do equips us to step in the shoes of a messianic advocate for mere mortals, play Voltron and defend the universe for a fee; acts that have little to do with modesty or meekness. Every time, a lawyer wins on either side. The winner in true hedonistic enjoyment, never lets anyone forget and tells and retells the victory story to anyone who would listen. The loser still gets to brag about how close they were to wining, how well the well-tried strategies could have worked and shone through despite the tough facts and the ignorant client..
We brag at anything – the size of our offices and the type of wigs our seniors wear; the transactions we work on even though all we did was read for typos; the number of SANs in our office, even if they no longer go to court; the schools we attended and the postgraduate degrees we probably will never use; the decade old mint-new books in our libraries; the sponsorship of seminars in other continents of which no one really cares. I have heard lawyers brag about how long they can stretch a case by numerous adjournments! We just love the double pleasure of hearing the sound of our voice and having other people listen to how good we are.
Luckily, Nigerian lawyers are way ahead of most African lawyers as our green passport quickly assures us of the extra attention that makes ‘do you know who I am’ irrelevant in international airports.
Outside the airports, bragging proves useful in securing a nice portion of our clients’ legal budget. Nothing assures the non-learned cheque-signer of absolute belief in the lawyer’s abilities to make the problem go away than hinting at a museum filled with relics of wars fought and won – ‘oh, transfer of ship from the Antarctica? We did something similar only last year’. Since few lawyers actually specialise, it is really easy to fall into the untruth-trap and claim bragging rights to something close to everything ranging from taxation of alien spacecraft to a legal opinion on the legality of the signature of the chief justice. We brag to get the work done.

New Year, Same Day

It’s a New Year beginning with a new week. I reckon I ought to be thrilled, excited, energised, etc, as I put my resolutions together, determined to be a better and less grumpy lawyer, write better briefs and letters with less Latin and more English, be more patient with the younger ones (yeah, I am a senior now!), stylishly brownnose my way into a promotion and better salary, among other lofty ideals lawyers look up to at the beginning of a new year.

Unfortunately, getting straight to work on Monday morning and finding out that you have been assigned to a magistrate court in Ikeja and getting there only find out that your matter had been adjourned to February is not exactly thrill material. Regardless, I refuse to be stay grumpy or begin my year on a Grrr note.

The office is back in full swing, less talk and more earphones are used by associates in the pool room to drown out distractions, more people are pretending to work hard. Groveller is back after his suspicious illness which started the day after Boxing Day; Gloater stopped by to tell us about her weekend trip to Dubai with her new boyfriend. The firm gave everyone given faux leather green diaries, which ironically preach to users to save the environment.

Everything is like it was.