The Nigerian Bar Association is in moves to address the perennial agitation for better welfare package for its members, especially the young lawyers.
That complaint of poor remuneration of young lawyers is notorious in the legal circles.
According to the Vice-President of the NBA, Mr. Monday Ubani, “the verdict is usually unanimous that the association has not lived up to expectation” in addressing the yearning of its members for better welfare.
Ubani said finally, the current leadership of the NBA presided over by Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), has, however, decided to tackle sundry issues wrapped around the welfare of lawyers.
To this end, Mahmoud, it was learnt, recently inaugurated a 13-man committee to “formulate a pragmatic framework and blueprint on the issue of welfare that will cover all categories of lawyers.”
The committee, whose members were drawn from various NBA branches, is being chaired by Ubani.
Other members are Adesina Adegbite (secretary), Dr. Ibrahim Abikan, Oladipo Ajayi, Chioma Williams, Sadiq Kachalla, Chisom Onuoha, Baba Gana Karumi and Chisor Kejeh.
Others are Damilola Onabanjo, Bereprebofa Amazuo, Anas Naandeti and Chiamaka Chikeka.
Already, the committee had met, carried out the task and submitted a blueprint, which is now awaiting the approval of the NBA National Executive Committee.
The blueprint was submitted to NEC at its meeting in Ilorin between February 28 and March 2, 2018.
Ubani said if the committee’s prescriptions were ratified, there would be a change in the narratives as regards the welfare of lawyers in Nigeria.
Particularly striking among the committee’s recommendations was the proposition of “a minimum of N50, 000 salary for young lawyers.”
Under the subheading “Remuneration of Lawyers,” in its report, the committee said it “noted with serious reservations the present poor remuneration of lawyers across the country and this was extensively discussed.
“A number of recommendations were outlined to engender an improved welfare by way of better remuneration for the young lawyers in Nigeria.”
It, therefore, recommended “(a) a minimum of N50, 000 salary for young lawyers; and (b) lawyers undergoing the compulsory National Youth Service scheme should not be paid any sum below N25, 000 by any employer, be it private or public during the period of their service.”
The committee said it was not ignorant of the difficulty that would be encountered in the process of enforcing this policy, but it “believes that it is a policy that will encourage senior lawyers to have a minimum in mind while employing any junior lawyer.”
It expressed the belief that over time “this policy will be adhered to by senior firms and organisations that employ lawyers.”
“The best thing is to make a pronouncement on the policy and over time, it will be adhered to faithfully by all and sundry.
“The worst is to allow it to remain the way it is presently on the grounds that it is unenforceable,” the committee stressed.
Establishment of welfare monitoring committee
To give effect to the proposed minimum wage, the committee has proposed that a Welfare Monitoring Committee should be set up.
It said, “This committee, which will be a sub-committee of the Welfare Committee, shall perform the role of a task force and will act as watch dogs for the implementation of the novel policies being proposed by the Welfare Committee.
“Any member of the monitoring committee shall have the power to receive complaints/petitions of infractions and or non-compliance and pass same to the Welfare Committee, which shall report such infraction or non-compliance to the leadership of the NBA for appropriate action.”
Award for welfare-friendly firms
The committee suggested the use of incentives, in form of awards and commendations, to drive the improved welfare campaign.
It suggested that there should be reward and recognition for law firms, ministries, organisations, and parastatals that have shown a friendly disposition towards lawyers’ welfare.
It said, “As an incentive to inspire compliance and conformity amongst the law firms and all organisations having lawyers in their employment, the committee proposed that an award programme should be instituted as a form of recognition and commendation for the law firms, Ministries of Justice, agencies, corporations and both public and private institutions who prioritise the welfare of lawyers in their employment.”
It is the committee’s belief that such an initiative will “engender competition and compliance with the issue of welfare by institutions and persons in Nigeria.”
Pupillage for young lawyers
Next to this, it recommended one year compulsory pupillage for every lawyer newly called to the Bar.
There had been a debate on whether or not pupillage for young lawyers should be introduced to stem the tide of falling standards in the profession.
The committee said, “While taking cognizance of the existing effort to review present NBA Constitution, we deliberated on the need to encourage compulsory pupillage for all newly called lawyers.
“The committee, however, recommended one year compulsory pupillage for every lawyer newly called to the Bar.
“It was further recommended that the young lawyers undergoing pupillage should be remunerated during the course of their pupillage.
“Therefore, law firms are to be encouraged to pay such amount as may be sufficient to take care of transportation and feeding of the young lawyers during the course of the pupillage.”
Internship for Law students and graduates
Close to the need for pupillage, the committee said, was internship for Law students and graduates.
It, therefore, proposed that the NBA should institute a standing policy that would allow willing undergraduates and young Law graduates to attach themselves to a law firm of their choice for “not more than one year.”
It said, “This programme is aimed at affording Law students and fresh Law graduates the opportunity of being mentored and tutored by experienced legal practitioners as a form of extra-curricular activity.
“The programme also has the tendency of enhancing the practice skills of lawyers and improving the quality of legal practice in Nigeria generally.”
Specialisation in legal practice
Furthermore, the committee held the view that specialisation in different areas of the legal practice would enhance the fortune of practitioners.
It is its proposition that specialisation should be driven through regular Continuing Legal Education seminars and workshops that will expose practitioners to specialised areas of legal practice.
It thus suggested “that the NBA national secretariat should collaborate with NBA branches to organise training programmes in specialised practice areas for the benefit of members. The committee further proposed a minimum of two of such trainings in a year.”
Protection of Nigerian lawyers from foreign firms
The committee amplified the concern of Nigerian practitioners about the incursion of foreign lawyers into the country, who are now being engaged my multinational companies to handle high-value briefs to the exclusion of Nigerian lawyers.
To address this threat, the committee said the NBA should “intervene by way of regulation of the process to ensure that firms and multinationals engage indigenous law firms to prosecute transactions on their behalf as against the practice of wholesale importation of foreign legal services.”
It said, “Most of these foreign firms secure briefs directly from multinational companies operating in Nigeria and other corporations to the exclusion of indigenous law firms.
“This unwholesome domination of legal practice in Nigeria by foreign law firms deserves immediate and urgent intervention of the NBA in terms of regulation.
“It is observed that in the Aviation sector, for instance, airlines often engage foreign law firms to negotiate aircraft acquisition transactions and documentations on their behalf to the detriment of Nigerian law firms with requisite competence and expertise.
“Such unfortunate and unacceptable practice also goes on in other sectors such as Energy and Power, Oil and Gas etc.”
Menace of non-lawyers doing lawyers’ job
The committee wants the NBA to take a serious stand against non-lawyers doing lawyers’ job,
To begin with, the committee wants the NBA to “insist and see to it that any legal document registered that is not franked by a lawyer should not be accepted for registration at land registries.”
It called for a clampdown on “some lawyers who ridicule the profession by giving out their stamps to non-lawyers to affix on documents prepared by non-lawyers.”
For that category of lawyers, the committee has prescribed disciplinary action by the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee.
It added that all hands must be on deck, with all NBA branches setting up a task force to “monitor the activities of lawyers who act in a way that lowers the standard of the profession.”
Endowment fund for dead, physically-challenged and critically-ill lawyers
The committee is also calling for the setting up of the NBA Endowment Fund to cater to the needs of dead, physically-challenged and lawyers who are faced with accident and life-threatening Illness/complex surgery.
It proposed that the endowment fund should act as an alternative to or an outright replacement of the existing insurance policy which the association had subscribed to.
The committee said lawyers had not derived optimum benefit from the current insurance policy.
It said, “We propose that the Welfare Endowment Fund should be funded through the following sources: (a) Voluntary donations by members of the association; (b) Deduction of the sum of N1, 000 from the Bar Practicing Fes payable by every legal practitioner and remitted directly into the Welfare Endowment Fund as currently being practised for the Insurance Policy’s subscription.”
Who can benefit from the endowment fund?
(a) Every legal practitioner called to the Bar in Nigeria and who have paid his/her Bar Practising Fees as and when due
(b) The committee proposed that the benefits in the event of death should be raised to N2m for now, subject to review from time to time, while the Endowment Fund Management Committee should recommend the appropriate amounts to be paid as benefits for other heads of claims.”
For the family of a deceased lawyer to benefit, the committee suggested, as part of conditions for entitlement, that the deceased death certificate should be submitted to the NBA national secretariat not later than three months after the lawyer’s death.
Provision of infrastructure for physically-challenged lawyers
The committee said it had resolved that the Nigerian Law School should be mandated to make arrangements for suitable infrastructure for physically-challenged students – both in the hostels and in the lecture theatres.
It also “called for appropriate infrastructure provision for the physically-challenged on the court premises, university structures and all public buildings.”
The committee “most humbly and passionately appealed to NEC to pass resolutions approving the recommendations as contained in this report, as they are all aimed at improving the quality of legal practice in Nigeria and promoting the welfare of the Nigerian lawyers.”
It expressed the belief that the recommendations, if approved, “will go a long way in abating the present negative perception of the NBA by lawyers, especially young lawyers in our midst.”