By Emmanule Majebi
The greatest humiliation I had as a junior lawyer was when one client asked my boss to please personally handle his matterâ€¦ â€œwhy?â€ asked my boss.
He told my boss that every time
we went to court they always mentioned the cases of the Senior lawyers whilst his own gets adjourned because I was handling it and he felt that if my boss were to step in there was a chance that his case would be finally mentioned at least even if not heard.
With my own personal experience I can say without blinking an eye that there is serious discrimination in favour of SANs in our courts which tends to make juniors and non SANs see themselves as discriminated against and inferior and which makes their clients lose confidence in them.
Even when I became in- house Legal Adviser to some companies I noticed first hand the discrimination from the view point of big clients like banks and other companies. Whenever there are small inconsequential matters the Bosses would allow you brief junior or non SAN lawyers but once there is a very sensitive and important matter which is usuallyÂ Â mega paying in terms of fees the unequivocal direction from the board or Management to you as in house Legal Adviser isâ€¦. â€œget a SAN.â€
On the argument of the proSAN group I say with all sense of responsibility that I do not really see how the scrapping of the position of SAN can lower the prestige of the Legal profession. I stand to be educated more on this.
Does the position of SAN enhance the prestige of the Legal Profession or that of the person appointed as SAN? As for SAN being a motivation for hard work I ask shouldnâ€™t the only motivation to hard work for a lawyer be the fact that he has won his case or successfully defended his clients position or expanded the frontiers of knowledge in the legal profession?.
The most contentious aspect of the SAN positionÂ is the process of selection. If one looks at the criteria for award of SAN it is very clear that much more lawyers than can ever be appointed as SAN qualify for the positionâ€¦every year, so how do you now decide who gets the position out of the thousands that qualify?
If as is averred the position of SAN is evidence of hardwork and excellence in the profession isnâ€™t it unfair on those who qualify but are not appointed in this very subjective exercise of SAN appointment?
It would have been a much better situation if appointment was automatic as soon as one met the criteria for qualification, as is done for example in other professional bodies like those of accountants, arbitrators, insurance practitioners etc.
In those professions for example there are criteria for becoming FellowsÂ of such professional bodies and in a given year as many people as meet that criteria are made Fellows! But in the situation where; with the appointment of SANs in the legal profession; 1000 people meet the qualification criteria for appointment as SAN and only 7 or 14 are appointed leaves too much room for negative subjectivity.
My own position is that there are 2 practical solutions to this problem it is either the
position is scrapped and all lawyers treated as equal before the court or law or a very discernable criteria for the award of SAN is put in place and in every given year as many lawyers as qualify be appointed whilst all the discriminatory privileges accorded to SANs in court and in the legal profession generally be scrapped.
If an Accountant foe example becomes a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) it shows he has achieved distinction in the accounting profession but he does not take a premier position over and above other accountants when it comes to doing their business as accountants. If likewise the rank of SAN is supposed to be a mark of distinction of a lawyer in his chosen profession, then that award alone should be enough satisfaction for the person without any need to treat him in court as a superior being.
It is very clear that no matter what people in the legal profession feel the award of SAN rank, itÂ is not about to be scrapped at least not in the near future, but if urgent steps are not taken to address the concerns of the lawyers on this issues to voices against the SAN rank will keep rising by the day and indirectly have an effect of diluting the prestige attached to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria by a majority of the members of the Legal Profession and by extension the general public.