Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The World Needs Us: A Lawyer’s Delusionary Account

I often fantasise about blowing up the PHCN office – to make a political statement of sorts. You see, my I better pass my neighbour generating set is sometimes as undependable as PHCN. Every time mosquitoes begin to terrorise me, I would indulge in elaborate plans to retaliate MEND-style. Sadly, in the stereotypical Yoruba way, I never really get through the logistics and stop at grumbling and mouthing the worst curses and insults I can think of. These days, I also manage to throw in righteous thoughts of using my power to #Select in April, which is far easier than learning how to make bombs. I think I am also worried that I may have Mutallab’s luck. Jail is a bad place – no coffee or ice-cream.

Upon reflection, I am inclined to admit that this – my self-indulgent arsonist fantasies - is one of pressing reasons why lawyers and the legal system will outlive the earth. In addition to making distinctions between ‘contract splitting’ and ‘contract inflation’, the world needs lawyers to protect itself from the ‘desperate wickedness’ of the human mind.
Lawyer-lynching is fashionable these days. People make awful lawyer jokes, bait lawyers and make derogatory comments about our noble profession. Far from mere jealousy, I think these mortals have a severe love-hate thing with us. Despite what they say, these ‘ordinary’ people love the idea of a distinct profession that pulls off an awkward uniform rather elegantly. It is like the perverse pleasure the British ‘commoner’ must feel while paying taxes to keep royalty’s lifestyle luxurious. Nigerians, more especially, love the idea of being ‘connected’ and the legal profession offers an easier route than blue blood.

These are interesting times for the Nigerian judiciary. Cynicism has now become acceptable. Upon deeper scrutiny, however I realise that people still love the idea of a noble Solomon, a righter of wrongs, the wise arbiter who knows all. More so, they like the idea of having a judge listen to them as they tell how devious the ‘other party’ is. It is like seeing a physiologist without having to admit the existence of serious emotional issues. They love the attention they get when the judge writes down their words. They also really like the Millionaire Nigeria-like ‘hot seat’ feeling they get during cross examination.

Nollywood needs the law to get away with lines as ‘I will take you to court’, which comes with the mandatory dramatic slap on the table. Court scenes have also been known to take a fair lengthy of time which could help push a thirty-minute video film to ‘part 2’. Lawyers of course, being the pious lot that we are, have not sent any bills to the industry at this time.

No ‘industry’ loves the law as legislators, though. Since they are supposed to make laws, lawyers justify the allowances our lawmakers pay to themselves. Legislators also carefully write the law in unclear language and create convoluted legal procedures so that lawyers get to challenge these in court, which leads to more laws, and more work. It is a sham, really.
The media needs lawyers. Only statisticians will be able to tell us how many cover pages the hardworking Mr. Keyamo, the illustrious Mr. Falana or the much loved Gani must have helped sell. Lawyers provide the activism or controversy that keeps the newspaper industry thriving. Further, as long as newspapers print headlines with misinterpreted Wikileaks cables, people will sue or at least threaten to. We need lawyers for these cases.

I am sorry to disappoint the supporters of the beautiful first lady but the thing is ‘everyone will die’ – eventually, at least. So, as morbid as it sounds, lawyers are helpful in making this ‘situation’ smoother by writing wills.

Despite the many perils that surround the legal profession at this time, I am glad to realise that I didn’t choose the wrong profession. Law will be around forever. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Let’s Kill the Internet

The legal profession is in peril – again. This time, it is the internet’s fault. Those glorious days of old when clients were satisfied with conceited mumblings of incoherent Latin phrases are slipping away. Lawyers no longer enjoy the thrill of being paid for thumbing through impressive heavy leather bound volumes while their clients nervously wait. Clients are getting to know too much than it is healthy of our noble profession.

We must never forget that law practice is sacred. While not yet proven, my research leans towards evidence that God may have created lawyers as the special specie destined to get paid for helping people and saving lives. Clearly, this position is not for everyone. Having realised the concept of free will and the tendency of humans to long for loftier callings (far above their status), the Nigerian Law School was established to help the creator keep the bloodline pure. Only those divinely called can withstand the annoyance of wearing uniforms for an extra year in order to build a career to wear more uniforms. This acts as a buffer between us and the rest of humanity.

Unfortunately, as the Original Sin, humanity seems poised to destroy this perfect plan this through the internet. People are increasingly becoming aware of the power of Google and the ridiculousness of paying someone else for a legal opinion that any six year old can prepare from an online search. Even worse, everything from court judgments to legal dictionaries has become easily accessible. This has allowed some unscrupulous ‘elements’ to put up templates of agreements online so that mere mortals can almost prepare a rough draft of legal documents. Horror of horrors: a few weeks ago, some misguided enterprising Nigerian, Zubair Abubakar, launched a free Blackberry application for the Nigerian Constitution. Apparently, everyone can get access to the Constitution and even know their rights without having to speak to the divinely ordained sect. Soon, someone might get it into their heads to create another application for the Electoral Act. It is shameful.

The world is forgetting the loveable, helpful otherwise indispensable lawyer. Our egos are being ignored rather than massaged. People are starting to question our rights to charge for what can be found on Wikipedia. Some are even becoming aware of their vocal chords and resisting our entitlement to speak on their behalf to a judge. This is getting really scary.

Things are getting out of control. Some lawyers, who I think may have sold their souls, are even aiding the process that makes the noble path plebeian. The profession as a body must stand against this. We should no longer lose the regal rigour that comes from spending hours looking up court judgments and precedents to Ctrl + F.

Lawyers must henceforth spurn the internet or anything connected to it. All true members of the legal elite must begin by rejecting search engines for research. We must remember - Google is for commoners! We must refuse further attempts to digitalise the letter of the law or court judgments. We must go back to the days when incoherent Latin was lawyer-speak and agreements could not be read without the aid of a (paper) Latin-English dictionary. The only concessions we can make with the internet is Facebook – which can be a useful tool for boring meetings.

We hope that someday we will stop this trend. We will regain our pride and go back to the time when people marvelled at the privilege of being around black robes and were content to touch our uniforms. This is a call to arms. Remember, the more confused and ignorant the clients are the more money we make – which of course, is the original plan.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fair Elections Are Bad for Business*

I like the Jewish traditional year of jubilee. My Aluta continua and Awoist-socialist leanings like the idea of freed slaves and forgiven debts at the end of seven cycles of Sabbatical years. It is a celebratory year of wealth and prosperity. For the Nigerian Bar, our celebration comes in four year cycles during the elections. During these periods, lawyers finally get a chance at helpings of the national cake through politicians who consider ‘graceful defeat’ an oxymoron. Since 1999, the legal community has provided this social service to ensure that funds circulate in the economy. We also keep thieving politicians alive since it provides an opportunity to share what they could choke on while trying to ‘swallow it alone’.

It has worked well. Nigerians have come to accept rigged elections without breaking into a sweat. We proudly tell of our rich history of voters’ apathy and refer to years of electoral malpractices as evidence of the resilient Naija spirit.

From what I see, Professor Attahiru Jega and his barely bearable INEC registration videos want to upturn precedent. The distinguished professor seems intent on wiping away our history, which from my paranoid lawyer lens, would also irreparably harm the world’s noblest profession.

Any true wig knows that the beauty of advocacy (synonym for ‘lawyer’s prattle’) lies in long drawn irrelevant disputes. Fair elections could reduce electoral petitions and therefore ruin the opportunities to grow oratory prowess. Even electoral tribunals serve their purpose – hardened insomniacs have found relief during these sessions.

Chaotic elections keep lawyers relevant. Keeping with the presumption of innocence, lawyers play knights in black robe to ensure peace and security in the middle of snatched ballot boxes and party chieftains with stolen votes under their agbadas. We like rigged elections and unscrupulous electoral processes. These justify overpriced legal fees. We like it.

Fair elections are not newsworthy. INEC must be a little oblivious or selfish as its aims would destroy the newspaper industry and lead to the loss of jobs. Worse, if Nigeria begins the fifth republic with well-intentioned leaders, newspapers would lose additional income. Editorial pages are unskilled in recognising leaders who actually did their jobs. Papers won’t be able to complain against injustice or corruption or whatever bad news fills the front pages these days. Few people would buy papers that fail to provide self-validation from feeding off the misery of others.

Another dangerous development is the potential for an ‘overzealous’ legislative arm. Fairly elected lawmakers could take their work too seriously and actually make laws that have nothing to do with budgets. Who knows – they may even stop throwing chairs! The Nigerian bar has thrived on the existence of laws made when Lord Lugard was thinking through a name for Nigeria. Law has stayed the same – and we like it that way. No tattered wig would want to now worry about having to keep up with the law. Consequently lawyers must come together to fight against any semblance of sanity.

This business about fair elections was not reasoned through. We must yet realise that it is unfair to hold the distinguished professor to our noble standards - how much can a mere mortal understand? The most appropriate prayer for Professor Attahiru Jega may be that of another Jew – ‘MiLords, forgive him for he knows not what he does’.

Voters’ registration runs between 15th and 29th January 2011. Please register in order to vote in May. We must protect our right to choose.

R is for Register #RSVP

*Rookie lawyer offers fictitious mindless and indulgent rants about the legal profession. She does not reflect the true position of law practice.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Just in case you come here between 15th and 29th January

... and are Nigerian or know Nigerians in Nigeria

Registration for the 2011 elections are probably going to be tough, annoying and often inefficient.
But we must register to vote any ways - not because we want to 'help' Nigeria or pay some altruistic goody two shoes bills. We must register because we need leader who know that we voted them in. We need a Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads (our votes) threatening them to do right OR ELSE we'll de-elect them in 2015.
Your vote is insurance. It is power to determine whether we will get electricity, water, good roads - basic stuff that even Ghana enjoys.
Please, register to vote. Tell others too.

The R in RSVP.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Yet another Tedious New Year Rant

I like the delusion of a new year. It is a mental bridge that assures me of an ability to do things differently without having to work too hard. In the Naija ‘E go better’ spirit, I started the year in church, steely proclaiming the final seconds of the year done and embracing the goodness of the new. Like I did for most of the years of my life, I also created a mental list of things that will automatically change in 2011. Unlike those years, I have also penned them with the flourish of experiences from my tedious legal briefs and Facebook notes.

My first resolution is to ignore anything that would destroy my illusions of grandeur. That has started of nicely since I intend to share my tedious definitions of ‘being a better person’ with anyone who wants to read it. The next step is to appear in the Supreme Court by myself. The only hindrance I foresee is convincing any reasonable senior or client to allow me on this egoistic rampage. I have considered options as poisoning Big Oga, Posh Tall, Plain Short, Ghandi and basically everyone in the upper rungs of the ladder till I am the only one left but I think that might be too obvious. I am open to any other suggestions in reaching this goal.

I will be a ‘sweeter ‘Rookie. Playing tough, hardworking or a female Keyamo wannabe is Abacha-era old and won’t make you president. I am therefore looking at another model – a harmless-looking female Goodluck Jonathan in a black robe and wig. I am also considering a calm Ayo Obe and an Abike Dabiri mix. Just so I don’t become underrated and underpaid as the Super Falcons, I’ll balance my sweetness with brownnosing my way into a pay raise. Nothing will be beneath me – not even the Minister of State for Information, Labaran Maku. I will consistently thank the court for bringing justice to West Africa and the clients for helping me pay my Law School debt. Within the firm, I will gush in awe at the senior partner’s black tie as I compliment his eye for colour. I will wonder aloud about his excellent taste as I marvel at his green stripped bowtie. Hopefully, he will soon start to notice my ‘perceptive personality’ and ignore the fact that I hardly do any work.

To add some depth to the sweeter 2011 version of Rookie, I will start wearing oversized glasses to court., never mind my 20-20 vision. While research has not shown a link between glasses and brilliance; Gani Fawehinmi, Rotimi Williams and Femi Falana have assured me of the link to oratory prowess. Judges are mostly human so they’ll probably assume some relationship with smartness and whatever comes out of my mouth.

I will use Facebook less and concentrate more on Spider Solitaire during the day. In the false camaraderie that follows the Christmas parties, I added a couple of my colleagues as ‘friends’. Friends know when you gossip or use employer time to do non-employer stuff which is bad for ‘business’ or my pay raise aspirations. To balance the limitations of Facebook, I will delegate more – which really means dumping all the work on the poor juniors who just got out of law school. I will be nicer to the juniors though so that they give better work and won’t murmur when I steal their credit.

I’ll try to make my affidavits for extension of time more believable. I will ditch the over-recycled story about one of my colleagues who left the firm with the client’s file and switch to more interesting ones ending with how I lost it after I heard about a bomb threat. I will also vote during the elections. Far from a patriotic zeal for a better Nigeria, I realise that I can do with some first-hand experience for the flood of election petitions that will come afterwards.

I hope 2011 will be a better year, near-believable elections and more peace than the last year.


I think I am back - See it first on THISDAY LAWYER every Tuesday.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Means what it says on the tin :)