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NBA and challenge of repositioning the Bar

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By Innocent Anaba

The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, recently, held its Bar Leaders summit, which brought together leaders of the association from the 36 states of the federation. The summit, was to chart a new course for the NBA.

NBA President, Chief Okey Wali, SAN, at the event, with the theme The Nigerian Bar Association: The Past, Present and the Future noted that the idea of the summit was to bring together eminent Bar Leaders to appraise the Nigerian Bar with a view to identifying gaps and articulating recommendations for reform.

He said that the event was expected to address issues relating to professional ethics; legal education; welfare of lawyers; strategic planning;  liberalization and globalization of legal services, among others, adding that at the end, it was envisaged that the communiqué and reports would form part of the materials for drawing up a comprehensive five years strategic plan for the NBA.

“It is expected that in drawing up the said strategic plan, the aims and objectives of the NBA as provided for in the NBA Constitution and other useful resource materials would be relied upon.”

Further he said, “burdened as we are as Bar Leaders with charting the direction and role of the legal profession in Nigeria, we must query how well we are discharging our duties.

Are we leading the profession in the right direction? Are we performing all the duties thrust upon us by history?  Should we redefine our role by increasing or decreasing our responsibilities?”

He noted that it was disheartening to note that Rules of Professional Conduct are obeyed more in the breach, than in compliance, and “this is not the best for the profession.

When lawyers practice law in group settings, compliance with ethical obligations becomes an organisational and individual concern because any individual lawyer’s conduct, can impact every other lawyers in the group.

“Accordingly, it is important that the organisation implements and maintains systems and procedures, dedicated to ensuring that all lawyers in the organization conform to the Rules of Professional Conduct. The organistion’s leaders must make ethical behaviour a top priority, and take action that demonstrates their commitment to the ethical practice of law.”

•Chief Okey Wali, SAN, NBA President

He expressed concern over the standard of legal education in the country, saying “there have been growing concerns over the past decade or so about falling standards in the Legal Profession. These concerns have been expressed among Bar and Bench, and also among the Lay public. Areas of concern have included a sharp decline in the quality of lawyers’ language, writing, and communication, poor advocacy skills, and professional ethics.

“Most of these deficiencies can surely be blamed on the quality of legal education. We must invest heavily in legal education and continuing professional development. I have already said this at other fora, but this cannot be repeated often enough: the NBA must become intimately engaged in the planning of legal education. We must participate in designing courses, curricula, and syllabi. After all, the seniors among us are the major employers of young legal labour.

“Daily, as we try to coach, mentor, and train younger colleagues, we encounter deficiencies in them that should inform our contribution to legal-education curricula. Law faculties and the Law School must pay attention to the industry as to the competencies and skills most in demand in the legal-services market. The NBA is surely warned about the deteriorating professional standards. The NBA is now determined to play a major role in the professional lives of its members,” he added.

Chief Afe Babalola SAN, in a paper entitled Professional challenges of the Nigerian Bar Association in the 21st Century, said: “The legal professional has an ancient history and predilection. The modern legal professional, earning his living by fee paid for legal services become clearly visible in the Late Roman Empire, the practice later spread to Europe including England.”

Presented by Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George, SAN, Afe noted “It has always been the most respected and loved. Lawyers, it is often said, are influential agents of change having prominent roles as organisers and spokesmen of civic reform groups. It is submitted that the above represents the summary of the key enormous burden squarely placed on the shoulders of lawyers by the society.

The role of lawyers, especially in the area of costs of legal development, cannot be overemphasised. This is more profound in developing nations of the world.   Often, the assumption has been all too frequent in both developed and developing countries and international organisations that legal systems and institutions can take care of themselves while investments in development can safely by-pass the legal sector,” he added.

Director-General, Nigerian Law School, Dr. Mamman Tahir, in his presentation, identified the challenges facing the profession to include environmental factors that may hinder ethics; transformation from profession to business; prevailing culture of impunity; declining opportunities in legal practice/economy; distortions in reward/value system and ignorance of the rules of professional conduct.

Director-General: Ethics and Corporate Compliance Institute, Mr Jideani Chukuemeka, in his presentation,  said “Legal practice is a professional business of formidable societal influence steeped in idealism, self-discipline, public spirit, economy and wisdom.

The legal education system should be modified a little  bit to prepare our law graduate for life in the modern market place. In addition to strengthening professional ethics – organisational and business ethics should be incorporated into the curriculum. This will equip them with proficiencies in such areas as “conflict of interest”; “enterprise risk management”; “Regulatory Compliance” among others.

Speaking on Institutionalisation of Ardial Bar and Bench Relationship for Professional Development by  Dr. Onyechi Ikpearu, SAN, he said “With the realisation that most lawyers and judges do not belong to other associations, it is rather obvious that the Bar and the Bench are not only married to the legal profession but are indeed fused as members of the same family.”

The paper presented by Arthur Obi Okafor, SAN, Ikpearu said, “With similar interest, objective and aspiration towards the preservation of the rule of law, cordiality in the relationship is not only imperative, but necessarily healthy.”

At the conclusion of paper presentation, the summit broke into working group, as The  Institutionalisation of the Bar Bench Relationship had Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, as chairman;  Professional Challenges of the NBA in the 21st Century had Chief OCJ Okocha, SAN, as chairman; Committee on the Paramountcy of the Welfare of Members of the Bar, need for Versatility and Job Creation was chaired by Mr  Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; Committee on the Entrenchment of Qualitative Legal Education and Mechanism for Professional Progress was chaired by Mr Joseph Daudu, SAN, while that on Unethical Conduct at the Bar, Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN.

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