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Tuesday, 21 May 2013
These are tough times to be a policeman. Not that it has ever been easy; with the dubious welfare and being sitting-targets for bad jokes and scathing social commentaries. But these days, the shadow of peril is more pronounced, and the deadly attacks on them have attained alarming levels of uniformity.
I remember a few years ago, a friend of ours had a nearly ruptured appendix and we were maniacally tearing through the roads of Enugu egged on by his tortured moans. We made it to the Teaching Hospital, but collectively froze at the entrance doorways. It was a horror scene. At the sight, our sick pal who was earlier bent and twisted in agony, miraculously straightened out and gaped with the rest of us, his pains forgotten. There was blood everywhere: blood on the tables; bloodied bandages across a bloodied head here, and a displaced limb there. The wrenching cries, the shrieking relatives, the obvious hopelessness: a nightmare. And they were all dressed in police uniform.
There was no vacant spot so went to sit outside. We sat beside a policeman; one of the luckier casualties. He had a heavily bandaged arm and leg. We murmured our sympathies and asked “what happened?” Their team was driving home from a routine patrol and suddenly encountered robbers attacking a convoy of newly-weds. The bridegroom was already shot in the head. Gun fire erupted. The bad guys had superior fire power and tumbled their patrol-car down the hills in a hail of bullets and he woke up in this hospital. He stared at us with a bleary eye and muttered “I have a son at the university, three more kids in secondary school, and this is how I would have ended their future. No life insurance, just a beggarly pension, and yet people say we are bad people.” I must have shed tears.
Now, contrast this with the night of my Call-to-Bar in Abuja, a couple of years later. After the formal ceremonies, I was naturally called to another kind of bar by my excited friends. We partied till the wee hours before heading homewards. At an intersection, we were waved to a stop by a police patrol team. They asked to share in the celebrations, and we readily handed out 500 Naira. The lead guy pocketed it but haggled that we could do better, we bantered cheerily that the country was hard; safe in the knowledge that it was just a routine delay. Well, it wasn’t. A big Hilux van screeched to a stop and a more menacing group of cops jumped out. “Step out of the car! Hands on your head!” I quickly looked upon the guy we had given the 500 Naira to act on our incipient friendship. But he looked the other way, and waved his colleagues ahead. We were bundled into the van and to the nearest station. In the streets, you learn not to introduce yourself as a lawyer to the police at night, so we had to empty our pockets to avoid the inevitable. I consider myself sufficiently prodigious, but being called to three different bars in one night would have been a bit too much. In any case, the bitter memory remained, and I eagerly swelled the population of cop-bashers.
Of course my own travails pale beside more gory tales of accidental discharges, random bullying and maiming. And the collective hatred for our cops daily overflows to near apocalyptic proportions.
Yet, at the first sign of trouble...nay, inconvenience; we call them.
And they are always available. In fact they typically avail themselves beyond the call of duty and become enforcers in civil claims and domestic disputes. They become debt-recovery agents, club bouncers and veritable tools for teaching errant neighbours. Depending on the side you are on, they become friend or fiend. And these guys can act any of these parts to perfection. Their talent lies in magnifying little faults and exaggerating possible consequences enough to quake the stoutest hearts.
So, we flee from the courts and other administrative machinery. Their procedures and bureaucracy are frustrating. Police guarantees instant results. So, everyday, we cloak them with more powers, then cry foul when we are visited with the same absolute powers we have conferred. It reads somewhat like the thoughts of Kasco (in Soyinka’s “A Play of Giants”): “Power comes only with the death of politics (procedure); that is why I chose to become Emperor. ...At the realm of my coronation, I signal to the world that I transcend the mundane-ness of politics; now I inhabit only the pure realm of power...”
This was illustrated in a recent bus ride I had from Uyo. Bus discussions were typically noisy, I never partake in them. Having passed series of check-points with corresponding delays, the collective cop-bashing commenced. Some particularly vociferous fellow with an annoying habit of talking with a mouthful of cashew-nuts (which he never seemed to run out of throughout the journey) had numerous police-anecdotes and had the crowd in boisterous stitches. Suddenly, a booming voice interrupted the party in protest. It was some gentleman seated at the back. His English was polished and the thought-sequence, impressive. He stated that people only became police victims as a result of ignorance as dedicated phone numbers were published everyday for people to report police-victimization. He took us on a tour of trial-within-trial and validity-checks for confessional statements, ending by announcing that the police administration was bent on eliminating their bad eggs. Before his arguments could be drowned in the expected wave of cynicism; he introduced himself. He was Police Area Commander of a certain Northern Territory. He dug into his briefcase and brought out brochures with contact details of the relevant administrative officers in every tiny crevice of the country.
There was a stampede for the brochures. “Please, I need the number for Rivers State, Eleme in particular” “Abeg, does anyone have for Enugu?” “Oga, we want your own number too sir” The whole episode would have been hilarious if I hadn’t overheard the girl beside me (who had copied almost all available numbers in the booklet) heatedly announcing to another woman: “There is this man who has had my 400 thousand Naira for two years now, Once I get back to PH I will call the Area Command to deal with him.”
Our hero alighted at Abuja, evidently elated at his redemption message of the Police Force; while in reality, he had just empowered another set of vengeful Nigerians, looking for even quicker dispensation of evil upon those who trespass against them...
Viewed in another light too, the policeman’s effort was probably a cry for help to any random Nigerian headed up-North: We are on your side too, please stop killing us.
In any case; we cannot sit aside smugly in our civilian clothes while the violence continues. In a land tilting everyday towards anarchy, I shudder at the possible fate of lawyers when our armed counterparts are being taken out this easy.
Also published on Thisday Newspaper, Tuesday 21 May, 2013: http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/sparing-a-sober-moment-for-our-cops/148107/
Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Making a Legal Case for Married Women this Valentine (Part II of “Legal Arguments against Friday Beer”)
|Credit: Google Images|
The days leading up to Valentine are very noisy. The hype never dies. But somehow, I do not help feeling that there is some false note in all the excitement. Beyond young innocents just being despoiled by the giddy jitters of first love; Valentine seems more like a nervous, knee-jerk reaction by guilt-ridden couples scared of admitting that they have either fallen out of love, or completely failed in their reciprocal duties. It gets even worse for the Married; the women especially.
Thus, whenever I hear married women (or extended mono-dating single ones) talk excitedly about Valentines; I wonder who is being deceived. Even though the Social Media create such enviable scenarios that suggest a picturesque life, one has to face the truth in the dourness of privacy. So, while the woman frantically types away stuff like “Waiting for my True Love’s usual surprise with bated breaths” with one hand; she suppresses bitter sobs with the other, readying herself for another IAT (involuntary alone time) on the 14th. Men are natural predators, and will not waste their imagination on already conquered trophies. They will bear their gifts and wines to unwilling, saucy young lasses, and still feel rejuvenated by thoughts of favourably competing with these young boys. Of course, they do not know how ridiculous they look; so their fun is untainted.
Instead of carrying the cross with stoic cheeriness, maybe it is time for women to move for stricter measures on these errant males. It is even worse than Friday Beer; and deserves more punitive action. Given the requisite legal platform; their draft-argument will run a bit like this:
Women are a critical unit of every society. They proliferate humanity by their exclusive gift of labour. Often, this Labour is activated by love-driven exchanges; and thus literally becomes a labour of love. In this sense, Valentine period should be dedicated to the happiness and pleasures of committed females (as opposed to flighty, psychedelic hangers-on).
The progress of every household is determined by how well it applies its budget to the necessary ingredients of Love (Please Note that these ingredients extend to treats, trips and such other accessorial expenses as may be in vogue). It shall be criminal for the male leadership of the household to misappropriate same in nurturing trivial habits or conferring same on another female who is not his wife (or its mono-dating equivalent as mentioned above).
Thus, there should be a Valentine Enforcement Team (VET) empowered to ensure strict compliance of husbands and (long-time boyfriends) to the pleasures of the wife. It shall be an offence, a misdemeanor, for a husband to fail to provide an assorted array of practical gifts for his partner on this day. Therefore, such meaningless purchases as Rose Flowers, hand-written love-letters, and cheap wine or chocolate shall not avail as a defence. These are not adequate investments. Our investment in the peace of society must start at the home, at the feet of the woman, precisely, and must be administered in such heavy doses as to secure collateral harmony across households and the society as a whole. Every married woman shall be entitled to write a Valentines Wish-List and hide same under the pillow of her partner. Children have Christmas for their wish-lists, Men have every midnight for theirs; thus delineating a single day for the woman is not asking too much. These Wish-lists are not to be deemed idle scribbles of mythical origins. The VET shall insist on a minimum of seventy percent compliance with the details enumerated therein. It shall also not avail in defence that the man does not have the requisite funds to meet the items indicated in the list. Banks and Financial institutions shall be encouraged as a matter of policy, to provide loans at significantly reduced interest-rates during the days leading up to Valentine.
Now, while it is a misdemeanor to fail in the above; it becomes a more heinous offence; a felony, for a husband to respond to any alternate Wish-lists outside the marriage. This shall be a strict liability offence, and the sketchiest suspicions of the wife shall sufficiently trigger an investigation and possible arrests. Of course, it goes without saying that the penalties for conviction are largely pecuniary. The desired objective is to make the relationship turn out fine.
It shall also not be an excuse that the woman has been a bad wife. The woman’s role as a home-maker depends solely on her right to Free Speech. Thus, in whatever manner she prefers to act, by nagging or fretting, she should be given a platform to exercise this, and be fairly heard too (at least within a few miles of the neighborhood).
The VET shall wield wide powers to, well, vet random couples on a Valentine date. Therefore, at their discretion, they may require instant evidence of marriage or at least committed relationship of the couple. If the man fails to satisfy that he is either a widower or a divorcee (with updated alimony records); he shall go in for it. It shall also be inexcusable for a graying man to be engaged with a much younger female who is not his daughter or niece. In situations as this, the VET can effect arrest without warrant.
Our current permissive Valentine environment impedes the healthy development of family life and consequently corrupts our collective morals as a society. Defaulting men shall be ordered to stay grounded, literally. He must not rise until the woman’s every material whim is fully sated. Further, he would be obliged to pay for an exclusive one-month holiday (inclusive of comprehensive vouchers covering shopping, Spa and candle-lit dinners) for the aggrieved spouse. He shall also be required to take up full-page coloured adverts on the leading Newspapers, declaring his worshipful awe of his one and only wife. A picture of him swathed in smiles will also be appended to the advert, acting as viable Encumbrance-Notice to the whole world.
In severe cases of default, the aggrieved woman may apply for the man’s Facebook and Blackberry profiles to be audited. Every female contact shall be investigated to reveal the true extents of their relationship. Only proven professional colleagues and blood relations (not exceeding the first-cousin stratum) shall remain. The rest will be expunged; after being notified on their Profile pages that the man involved is married/committed. Any lady who is availed this warning but continues nonetheless shall be docked as a disruptive element in the synthesis of societal cohesion: a felony.
Notwithstanding the above remedies; an aggrieved spouse shall still be entitled to demand that the husband be quarantined. This quarantine period is to ensure that there are no transferable health hazards picked up in the course of his malfeasance. In the interim, the wife shall not suffer neglect and may elect any alternate (uncommitted) male company to temporarily carry out the expected activities of her partner for up to a minimum period of six months. There shall be no obligation for this alternate companion to spend from his pockets for this purpose. The interim arrangement shall be wholly financed from the estate of the defaulting husband/partner.
This is an avoidable nightmare. Chase it off with a few nice gifts; a few warm texts; a good outing and a cozy night…in the legitimate arms of your committed partner.
Happy Valentine, Ladies!
Tuesday, 5 February 2013
|Credit: Google Images|
The Rule is: Never take the Law into your own hands. This means, leave it all for the Lawyers. This should ordinarily make us excited. Well it does. But trust me, there are a few areas we would rather you do not get us involved in.
Now, here is a quick tour of the Briefs a Lawyer would rather not take:
1. Police Arrest for Wandering:
Yes, you are a free citizen, entitled to freedom of movement. We know that. The Policemen know this too. However, the possible charges they can bring against you if you walk the nights are just so numerous that they can’t help gambling on you now and again. It could be for smoking cigarettes in public (PLEASE NOTE that even lawyers are not so sure of the Law on public smoking). It could be for patronizing illicit company under the shadows. (Note that this charge instantly accrues if your female company is not totally swathed in an ankle length bouba. Any slight show of flesh is incriminatory). It could be for behaviour capable of disturbing the peace (This typically happens when after a bottle or two, you are loudly arguing with your stroll-partners on whether Chelsea goes trophy-less this season or not).
Now, immediately they declare you under arrest, you fish out your phone to call your lawyer. We would rather you did not! First, you assume that it is a convenient time for us to appear. And of course, you will call a junior lawyer. They are not paid well enough to drive, so they have to break their heads over the affordable cabs at that hour. Worse still, odds are that you had run out of money, thus, the negotiation shifts to the lawyer. A policeman in the dark with a gun is open only to cash-based negotiations; therefore a lawyer’s rant is a wrong move.
Invariably, you are whisked to the station. This raises a conundrum for the Lawyer. If you sleep there overnight, you will lose all respect for him and the reputation will spread of this kain weak lawyer wey no even fit handle small police case. So, the Lawyer pays from his pockets. The tag “Bail is Free” is a Constitutional hypothesis. Upon regaining your liberty, you pay us a minuscule token: no be just police case? Meanwhile, the lawyer’s head swims with the derisive jibes of the officers. Nobody cuts you to size than a Nigerian policeman, trust me. So please, if you are an incurable night crawler; try and keep a little cash for police expediencies. Let us sleep. Wake us for more profitable matters.
2. When you hit a woman’s car
Oh no! This is the worst case scenario! A Nigerian woman is the worst person to collide with. The scale doesn’t matter: from a microscopic dent to shattered rear-lights, it is capital offence! When you invite us, what do you want us to say? She is stomping and yelling “I only service my car at Honda Place o, and you must take the car there!” Of course, again, you would have called a junior lawyer and exposed them to the lady’s scathing tongue: “Oh, you went and called a lawyer!” She will hiss. “By the time I finish with two of you...” (this part is said with a contemptuous sweep of bejewelled fingers while whipping out a Samsung SIII and punching in some important looking digits).
In cases like this, your options are limited to apologies. And Lawyers hate apologising. Please do not call us in at this stage. Try a little psychology instead: If she shouts way too much; you should relax, she is probably just bluffing. But if she starts yelling into the phone and you overhear the word “Major” or “Colonel”, well, bear your cross bravely. We cannot help you. On the streets, uniformed men are above the Law. Please call us instead after they had battered you and seized your phones and car keys. It is more dignifying for us to appear in court brandishing your fundamental rights to a sympathetic judge than being present when the fight is at its dirtiest. The Law doesn’t soil its hands, remember?
3. When your Landlord is evicting you
Pay your rents promptly please. Or otherwise, endeavour to get us involved at the incipient Notice stages. Do not wait until the last minute when all negotiations have broken down and the Landlord has employed thugs to throw you out. What would you have us do? Fight? Plus, there are chances another lawyer is on the other side to counter our effectiveness. You have simply brought us to be made a fool of. To save face, we will probably end up acting as emergency sureties for you, assuring that you will pay at a designated period. Now, we are placed on the line of fire, with possible backlash from the NBA. Please, if you do not get us involved at the preliminary stages, then wait until the eviction is complete. You can even help your case by physically challenging one of the thugs. If your face is sufficiently bruised and disfigured, our chances of securing justice become amplified. Trust us to bring in the requisite drama in the safe haven of the courtroom.
4. Your rascally son is expelled.
Odds are, he is in a Missionary school and had jumped the fence to go for a party with the girls. He is consequently expelled on both moral and disciplinary grounds. If you wish to contest his expulsion, please do not invite us to take the Brief. How does it sound for a lawyer to challenge constituted (and possibly divine) authority? How do we even start positioning our arguments? We opine that the school authorities acted in unconscionable disregard of petulant whims of a teenager? And in support, we are constrained to throw in those sex-laced Freudian theories to justify that a teen’s excesses should be condoned. It is a Catch 22 situation since we may also be the family’s preferred lawyer handling everything from their land to business speculations.
So, the threat of losing this Retainer looms. Our advice is: do not get a lawyer yet. Start by forming a consortium of other affected parents, and then call us in as their dignified spokesman. We would prefer to have a mediation process where the school Principal leads talks, instead of throwing our full fire-power and subtly teaching the kids that a lawyer can get them off every horrible nest they stir in the future.
5. Your Visa Application is refused
Ok, so the Embassy staff do not like the face on your passport. You probably didn’t do a good job of concealing your desperate eagerness to escape Nigeria for good, and those eagle-eyed snobs spotted it instantly. And you call a Lawyer in? To do what? Petition the Ambassador or High Commissioner as the case may be? On what grounds? Apart from the absolute defences of Diplomatic Immunity, do you really think we share the conviction that you should force another man to host you in his land? Our take is that you go home and bear the ill news calmly. Legal intervention is easier availed those who travel for high-level businesses. Say you have an invitation to a Conference on Climate Change. If your Visa is denied, we can theatrically sermonize on the monumental collateral loss to the global commonwealth which it could occasion. Big words are always more dignifying.
Anything else apart from the above? Give us a call.
Tuesday, 15 January 2013
|Credit: Google Images|
I wrote this story many years ago. So I have dug it out from my dusty archives to share here with you guys. Here goes:
Richard kept blinking at the figures before him and shaking his head to dislodge the fuzzy feeling. Tears sprang to his eyes and blurred his vision. The digits tilted and wavered, then steadied again. Three Million Naira!
He would have screamed, but his throat had gone dry. He could only swallow hard. Gradually, very gradually, he regained a bit of his composure. Fortunately, the dainty Customer Care lady did not appear to notice his hormonal calisthenics and had already turned to the next person on the queue. Murmuring his thanks, Richard stepped past the door and fled the bank.
Back at his shanty, he tore out the booklet again. Apart from the slight blot created by his perspiring palms, the figures remained constant. Three Million Naira! The world started spinning and he gave his head a more vigorous shake.
Minutes earlier, he had stepped into the bank to evacuate the remaining funds from his Savings Account; about four thousand odd Naira. He had stopped to confirm his balance and presented his booklet. It was handed bank to him stating that his account balance was Three Million Naira! He asked the curt desk Personnel to confirm, and she handed the booklet back nodding absently while muttering “It is correct, Three Million Naira”.
What could have yielded this jackpot for this unemployed law graduate still living on rapidly dwindling goodwill of his remaining friends? His head scanned possibilities: an anonymous rich relative? No, his pedigree contrasted sharply with such testamentary largesse. Could it be those Internet pop-ups at shady sites announcing one to be the lucky winner of fantastic sums?
There must be a mistake, mistake…the word struggled to the fore of his subconscious but was smothered by a more frantic whisper: I’m rich, I’m rich!
He grew light-headed again and there was a ringing in his ears. The world spun faster and swiveled him on to a lethargic haze.
In this dim state of half-sleep; two apparitions tumbled out into his room in a puff of smoke and stood before him. Too bemused to scream, he stared wildly.
The apparitions were miniature men, about three feet in height, and they both bore an uncanny likeness to him in both countenance and mannerism. They were similarly clad in the robes and wigs of lawyers, but the resemblance ended there.
One was good-looking. A reflection of what Richard always wished he looked like: open-faced and fresh coloured. The other apparition however possessed all the gnarled and wizened features of Richard’s nightmares of neglected old age. It also had wise eyes glittering with cunning.
This apparition addressed him first: “Quick boy, what are you waiting for? The cash is all yours. Well, all yours less the tiny ten-percent you should hand me as legal fee” The other apparition cut in- “Pay him no heed son, that sum is not yours legally. It was occasioned by the perfunctory errors of an overworked Teller. Return it, please”
“Ha! Listen to that!” Gnarled Face piped. “Overworked! You walk the streets everyday under a belligerent sun searching for jobs, while she sits pretty under the air-conditioner…and she complains of overwork! Be smart boy, to the bank!”
“Just a minute” Open-Faced apparition pleaded. “Yes, she loused up, no doubts, but you can still cure the defect. Picture what she stands to face at the cold hands of the Capitalists she serves. She may be jailed. Do you wish that to sit on your conscience?”
“Conscience is an over-rated concept” Gnarled Face hissed.
Open-Faced apparition wagged a finger “son, for every minute the truth is put off, the wounds of the conscience fester”
“What wound cuts deeper than the life of deprivation you presently endure? The servitude, the ridicule, the maddening frustration?” Gnarled Face contorted further with the fury of his words.
“The after-life son, of course you believe in it” Open-faced apparition gently warned.
“Wrong!” shrieked Gnarled Face. “There has to be a life first before an after-life. This is your chance to go get a life. Now, not a minute more to waste, to the bank!”
“Not so fast” Open-Face held out a hand. “Do you need to sacrifice another life to get your own life then?”
“But of course!” Gnarled Face cooed. “For life to be fair on one being, it must darken its glow on another. It is a world of eat or be eaten. Her loss, your gain...”
“What gains...?” Open-Face began, but Gnarled Face swept in: “Did you not always wish to set up your own Practice? You can afford that now. For another ten percent fee, I can work on reserving a few good names for your Firm and scouting ideal office spaces. Life is brief; and you’ve earned the right to enjoy it!”
Open-Face shook his head. “You wish to build your Practice on blood? Stand by and watch a poor lady pay with pints of hers? Do the honest thing, give the money back!”
“Honesty is the excuse of the weak heart. And who is the ultimate winner if you return the money? Does the Bank even notice the loss? Its eyes are on the mega billion deals. Oh, do not fret over the poor lady. She had a duty; she broke the duty; so she naturally suffers the consequent damage”. Our Laws on negligence are clear on that.” Gnarled Face finished off with a smug smile.
“But the Law will turn on you as well” Open Face studiously ignored Gnarled Face. “You are currently innocent, but if you alter your position by spending the cash, guilt accrues”.
“You are calling an innocent finder a thief now?” Gnarled Face turned on Open Face with an expression of utter scorn. “Your aptitude for the Law is suspect! The young man did not set out to steal! He merely stumbled on a lost item which the Teller had misplaced in the maze of electronic transfers!” In a softer voice he continued, “My boy, heed him not. Yes, the Law may investigate, but we can tarry the process a little. Lose your SIM Card, relocate...”
“The arms of the Law are very long, remember?” Open-Face chipped.
“Who is scared of the Law?” Gnarled Face fumed. “What we have here is merely a detached and incidental beneficiary of a mistake. Boy, when the Law comes snooping, we can acknowledge mere indebtedness as opposed to active theft. For just another ten percent of the sum, I can work out a convenient repayment plan and your Practice booms meanwhile.”
“The hasty change of address and phone numbers, are they not suggestive of a guilty mind?” Open-Face reminded.
“A matter for the courts to establish, beyond reasonable doubt.” Gnarled Face sang. “For another ten percent, I will place a myriad doubts before them.”
Now, you must hurry before the error is discovered and your account restricted. You have little time, the banks close by four. And remember; separate withdrawals from separate branches across town.”
There was a loud pop and the apparitions disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
The fuzzy haze cleared and Richard sprang awake. Clutching the Withdrawal Booklet, he stepped out the door, a resolute look on his face.
Whither he was headed; to point out the error, or to claim the cash; we may never know.
Wednesday, 9 January 2013
Ok, you have broken off the “employee” mould. You now live for yourself, not merely existing in the shadows of another man’s dreams. You are young. You are smart. You are poised to rule this Profession. But, tarry awhile. First; you must note that Clients make or mar you. Yes, that’s the irony of being learned. These lay-persons outsmart us every day. In the jostle to win more and more of them, you forget to talk money first; and the population of poor lawyers swell by the day.
Remember the Pareto Principle? (The 80-20 Rule). Choose the effective clients. Trash the rest.
Now, a few favourite phrases of the Client who wants to manoeuvre past Legal Fees:
1. “I lost my phone. I had to call your mother to get your number again”
This is the guilt-card. This Client is probably an old friend you had lost touch with. In human relations, you only lose touch with people you don’t need. The natural implication is that you never valued him as your friend. He is the one doing all the chasing. And he still has your mother’s number since University days! You have been a bad friend, so you quickly want to remedy things. The story then starts; “I sold a land and the buyer gave me a bounced cheque...blah blah blah”. (Ridden with guilt, you forget to ask why you were not consulted during the sale in the first place). Anyways, you offer to draft a petition to EFCC. “Don’t worry, no charges. What are friends for?” He gains eventual remedy, pockets the cash and playfully reprimands you for not staying in touch. RESULT: You have finally been a good friend; but a horrible lawyer. Do not fall for such cheap tricks again!
RECOMMENDED RESPONSE FOR THIS CLIENT: “Wow, Funny, I was just thinking of calling you myself just now: strange world.” Having said this; you are on equal footings. You both think of each other, but the days have been too busy to stay in touch. Anything else is business.
- “Can you help me review a Short Proposal?”
[Smart client this. He deliberately understates the issue and plants the idea that there is really nothing much to the work. The Proposal is already drafted, he merely wants you to browse through it and fine-tune where necessary. This approach is typical with professionals in other specialist disciplines. They are not dullards, so it becomes flattering that they need your approval for a document they had painstakingly prepared. Without thinking, you croon, “Sure thing, swing it across”. By that singular phrase, you commit yourself and it becomes a matter of honour.
Then, he sends you an email “FYI. Thanks boss.” You open the attachment to see a twenty-page shoddily pieced assemblage of incomplete sentences and tentative paragraphs. “Kindly feel free to expand as you deem fit” He quips in red highlights.
You slave through it for hours and hours. A lawyer never signs off on a shoddy job. You send it back and he responds with a boisterously warm text. And you are none the richer.
RECOMMENDED RESPONSE FOR THIS CLIENT: “Oh, I would rather you briefed me on the preferred content of the Proposal so I can develop an initial draft. You may incorporate your thoughts for my final review.”
Now, you have caught him both ways. And he will be constrained to ask “Ok how much will it cost to do the proposal and review?”
3. “Don’t worry about your Transport and Lunch, I’ll fix those”
This Client is like a Nanny for male infants: He short-changes you. He does it so smartly that you have no chance to come up with a formal Legal Fee. Conveniently, he merely pays you an “Inconvenience Allowance”. The stated Brief may vary from filing at the Lands Registry to conducting a Search at CAC. He avails you just enough to defray the formal statutory charges and no more. Now, he encloses a further 20k in a mint envelope. And therein lies the trick: Because you know that lunch at Iya Ibeji’s (opposite TBS) does not cost 10k; nor does it take up to another 10k to bus to the Island from Kilo-Aguda; you are full of praise for his generosity. And for a mess of pottage; your right to a fair Fee is waived.
RECOMMENDED RESPONSE FOR THIS CLIENT: “No thanks sir. In fact, let me do you the favour of actually waiving Lunch and Transport. Just pay the Legal Fees only”.
This way, you appear to be the one doing him a favour by limiting his aggregate legal costs. But of course, you have totally lost this client, trust me.
4. “My last Lawyer was so shoddy on this job”
Another very ingenious approach. This Client waves the “competence” card. By rubbishing a learned colleague; he motivates you to prove yourself as different. Plus the unspoken promise of “If you satisfy me on this one; you automatically become my new lawyer.” This Brief then becomes more of a test-run. You concentrate on proving yourself as opposed to striking a hard bargain. And it is only after you have slaved on the task that you remember that you did not issue a formal Bill. Need I say that this is likely to be the last and only job you ever do for this guy? He was just in an unusual fix, and played that card. Ordinarily, he never really needs a Lawyer.
RECOMMENDED RESPONSE FOR THIS CLIENT: “Oh, too bad about your Lawyer. These things happen. But I won’t work miracles. I will only do my best”.
The implication being that you are putting in your best in this. And that best must be paid for. QED
6. “I am a bit tied up tomorrow; my niece in Law-School will come down to your office with the files.”
5. “There’s this deal we can partner on, and it falls under your Specialty”
This Client activates all the buttons that weaken a Lawyer in one fell swoop. Every Lawyer wants a bigger stake in the client’s business not just the crumbs of Retainers. Having sufficiently whetted your appetite, he proceeds to give you a sketch of the Project. Odds are it would be quite ambitious but the language will be vague: Some cross-border collaboration to create a specialist monitoring platform for overseas-remittances. There is a lot of mystery in the unformed phrases, and like the show-off every Lawyer is, you dive headlong into the preliminary research. Plus, he has the funds. You then fix meetings to educate him on the legal aspects of the Project, observing his frantic note-takings as good signs of an enthusiastic partner.
Then suddenly, he drops out of touch. Your reminders are met with curt references to “certain unexpected bottle-necks”, and gradually, he stops responding to your emails.
You shrug it off and move on. But tomorrow, you see his name on the neon-lights. The idea came to light after all. The language on his heavily subscribed websites are all yours down to the last punctuation. But in your eager haste, there was no talk of intellectual property or percentages. You gave it all out, free! So you miss out not just on the cash, but the fame as well. You are the anonymous brain behind it all. Note that an anonymous Lawyer is an oxymoron.
RECOMMENDED RESPONSE FOR THIS CLIENT: “Thanks, but I will prefer to be your Consultant. Let’s hear the details, and I will send in my scale of fees.”
6. “I am a bit tied up tomorrow; my niece in Law-School will come down to your office with the files.”
This comes to cancel a pre-fixed Briefing meeting. At the last minute, he sends you the above text. Odds are that the niece in question is very pretty and appealing. She will also have a great dress sense (meaning; a pencil skirt riding dangerously close to her thighs). This Client expertly sets the primal-trap. And it happens on cue: The girl enters in the wake of a bewitching perfume, and coiffed lashes overhanging a disarming wide eyed innocence.
You struggle not to lose your composure and go through the files with her. Time speeds by. Your other files suffer. But no, you are undeterred in the present task. In a bid to impress, you go overboard and almost complete the Case even before you have been fully briefed. And when it all had to end; you initiate small talk and sustain it for another hour. The just-past-her-teens Beauty hangs on your every word; and nods in hypnotic awe. It would be impolitic to mention Fees, because while the girl is old enough to ruthlessly stir the blood; she doesn’t look to be of earning age yet. She eventually rises with “I will take the files; Uncle is sooo lucky to have such a smart lawyer as you”. You shiftily adjust your trousers as she wheels off to the seductive clicks of heeled shoes.
And when the Client calls to know how it all went; you will be burdened with the guilt of having harboured impure thoughts for the possibly under-age niece. Breezily, you will say “Ah; don’t worry. Nothing I can’t handle. Plus, you should encourage that Niece of yours. She is quite smart." And no talk of fees arises again.
RECOMMENDED RESPONSE FOR THIS CLIENT: “Oh, never mind sir. I will send my Assistant to come pick the Files up. Along with our Invoice.”
And the matter will end sweetly.
Great tips, yea? Now, pay me!
Tuesday, 1 January 2013
|Credit: Google Images|
I trust that by now we have understood that Resolutions are best confined to corporate decisions. Their binding effect is only assured by the witnessing shareholders/directors. Thus, any attempt at private or personal resolutions will fail. I have no resolutions for 2013. I will not pledge a sudden hatred for alcohol; neither will I promise to meet each of my client’s minute deadlines. I shall treat every issue like a good lawyer; on a case-by-case basis. There will be no attempt at drawing up a sweeping reform-list certain to fade within the first fortnight of January and fill me with needless guilt.
I love looking ahead though. I try to make personal and business forecasts; then I mentally align my expectations and pursuits, accordingly. That is more practical. So, let’s share a few of my legal forecasts for 2013:
1. A myriad Lawsuits from The Cashless Nigeria Project
Given the torture of moving a Bill through our two legislative houses; it has always been more convenient for regulators to issue quick directives and policy statements to address exigencies. So far, these have worked. Whether as a result of the merit of the directives themselves or a docile citizen response is another story of course. Now, everybody is being virtually forced off offline financial transactions. This in a system where there is as yet no stand-alone Electronic Transactions Law or credible legal/enforcement machinery for cybercrimes.
With the projected benefits of the exercise focused more on transactional convenience and faster access to cash; you wouldn’t need a prophet to predict the natural outcome. With a wide ICT capacity dearth; consumers will bear all the risks in an inchoate rights/duty environment while cybercriminals will keep smiling to the banks; or rather, to the ATMs. As usual, nobody will remember the Law until trouble knocks. But then, how many lawyers can competently take the mantle? I already see them dusting off their Sale of Goods Act (1893) in readiness. (Smh: shaking my head).
2. Boom in incorporation of "Airline-tickets-only" Companies
No doubts, the Government is sadly watching the steady decay of a once-hopeful industry, the Aviation Sector. Emphasis of course is on the watching. Happily, enterprising private Nigerians do not need to set up numerous committees and probes to wade into the issue. Their answers are just a junior-lawyer away! Airline passengers will not decrease in 2013, even if the remaining airlines are down to their last crafts. The trick is to set up alternative travel-ticket shops. Faced with extinction, the airlines will be open to new business ideas. They will announce that their websites will no longer sell tickets directly and have outsourced same to approved companies.
They will sell to these companies at a premium, and the costs will be transferred to the passenger. Many more middle-men agencies will crop up to fleece last-minute travellers after having bulk-purchased from the outsourcing agents. Enough said. CAC lawyers are in for a boom. Plus, the government will marvel at the internally generated revenue from Aviations and call off any further probes in the sector. The boom will last forever! The sky is indeed the limit.
3. Same-sex law-suits
So what if it has been prohibited by Law. Is the Constitution not clear with respect to discrimination on the basis of sex? (Be it the gender, the act or the preferred partner, I suppose). Problem is; many lawyers do not want to stir the nest yet. But in 2013, some courageous dude might risk the odds, successfully. And a new crop of Legal Practice will emerge to favourably compete with the Corporate Commercial and Human Rights giants. It will be called; ADVOGAYCY. There will be outrage in many quarters, as many faceless persons emerge from the closets to fight at the courts. Their lawyers will face ridicule, even threats. But in the words of Donald Trump: they would have made the tough decisions, with an eye on the bottom-line.
4. Creating the Lawyers’ Roll on Facebook
Who isn’t on Facebook these days? But has anyone thought of it as a possible source of firsthand database of Lawyers? First step; register a Group on Facebook: Nigerian Lawyers. The Supreme Court’s Chief Registrar would be the site’s Admin. Intending members would log in with their call-to-bar numbers, and this net-based database would easily fish out the frauds. It will create an instant interface with the public Facebookers as every lawyer is free to populate his page with his specialty, tales of conquest, pictures and certifications.
For once, the public can test for themselves whether the SANs possess anything extraordinarily different from the rest. The competition will be sublime. On a fun part, there will also be daily updates from members. If a judge likes your comment on a case you are handling before him, you would screen-munch the page and bill the client some more for significant progress. Technology is not so bad after all.
5. Increased attention to Entertainment Law:
I wince whenever I see new creative acts freely splash their songs and videos on YouTube and other social media. They call it promo, and enjoin persons to download for free. This way, they waive their rights to future claims of infringement. The Law needs to come in here. For a token, lawyers can take up the case of these future Stars. Those Blogs that upload these videos to win hits and adverts will be forced to share the revenue. And if they are being used as caller-tunes; it gets even better. Nigerians will pay for anything good and new. Plus, this beats the hell out of the Copyright levy any day.
...AND; THE THINGS THAT WILL NOT HAPPEN:
1. Long jail terms for fuel subsidy looters
There will be long volumes of Press releases on the concerted efforts of law enforcement. There will be arrests, bails and then it will all grow silent. And we will forget and move on to the next one.
2. Abolishing the title of SAN
This is the prayer-point of many junior lawyers who are sick of the disproportionate market. Calling a few persons SAN is like telling the public that there are golden lawyers on the one hand, and anything else, from aluminium to copper on the other. Sadly, although many are called; few will answer this title in their lifetimes. #harsh-reality
3. No more robes and wigs to court
By February the heat-waves will accelerate in intensity. We will still be bedecked in stiff three-pieces and sodden head-gears. We will keep hoping and dreaming for smart suits and colourful ensemble. It will still not happen in 2013. We will still argue in black and white. The judges will still write in long hand and clients will still not pay promptly.
Be that as it may, I hereby label 2013: the Year of the Law.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Tuesday, 25 December 2012
|Credit: Google Images|
The Law is full of crap. I can get around any Law you may write. The Law can get twisted out of shape to serve a wicked civilization. The rich can escape the law and sometimes even the poor get lucky. Some Lawyers treat the law they way pimps treat their women. Judges sell the Law, Courts betray it.
All true. But remember this. We have nothing better that works. There is no better way we can make a social contract with our fellow human beings.
- Mario Puzo: The Fourth K
It is Christmas Eve. The excitement is doubled this year because the world did not end after all. Of course, I maintained an intellectual front through it all, publicly. All day you would hear me volubly dismissing the global concerns as the sensation-cloaked ignorance of modern-day media. But when I got home, I would take fearful peeks into the NASA website and pray with a racing heart.
So here we are, sharing that traditional bottle of wine. We, being the small group of boisterous lawyer-friends that I am usually stuck with this season. As always, we joked and bantered about the professional hazards of the fading year: The psyche battles with clients; the ego tussle with seniors, the pending coup against all SANs; time and wine dulling the edges off the less savoury stories.
Eventually, the conversation naturally steered to the government, the shoddy efforts so far and the remoteness of possible solutions. Of course, it sobered us all up. Beneath the merry laughter and demonstrated fellow-feeling; the guards-down mood of Christmas merely represented another easy channel for man to steal, even more easily from his neighbour.
Prices soar, illogically. Ok, maybe it is nothing personal, just cold economics. But it sure rings a contradictory note in the face of much touted goodwill and love-fuelled giving. Fuel queues stretch for miles, housing agonized travellers. And the station attendant smiles warm greetings to the sweating driver who pays the extra fee for expedited service. But we love it all, the mad rush homewards; to show off, to gloat, to indulge; at the next man’s fiscal or mental expense.
In line with the changed mood of the table; I decided to share a story I had kept to myself all this while. It happened in my first few years of Law practice. The Firm’s client had bought a piece of land and paid in full. Upon moves to take possession, it was revealed that the vendor had availed false papers. Somebody else had better title, and my client was hung out to dry. Of course, the vendor’s phones had long become unreachable.
I had more energy in those days, and I moved, fast. I recall it was Christmas season. We tracked and traced the vendor through every dinghy nook of Lagos. Precisely on December 22nd, we discovered his hide-out. Oh well, if you can describe a detached duplex flanked by glittering wheels as a hide-out.
We pounced mercilessly. Yes, one of those rare times when Police is really your friend. The young wife and chubby infants wailed themselves hoarse. The gentleman begged, knelt and cajoled. I insisted. There were frenetic phone-calls, an undertaking, a criminal charge, accelerated recovery. The process triggered off a chain reaction and the dude was ruined for keeps.
My principal roundly commended me. But I could not shake off the wretched feeling. The Client’s insisted pay-off tasted like blood money. This was the best Christmas gift a Lawyer could possibly give: cruelty.
I have since grown used to the reputation: The furtive glances of tenants whenever I came visiting at Christmas. The message in the greeting cards I bore surely contradicted the Client’s instructions- a reviewed rent. We are singled out as spoilsports. In a bubble of sparkling wine; the world will rather smile and sing through the sham and pain of it all. They need no nagging reminders to toe the straight and narrow line. Christmas preaches forgiveness; but the lawyer seeks justice (read; revenge). Christmas is colourful and sprightly. The lawyer is dour and sober.
But the Lawyer is losing the battle, no doubt. The concept of Law as a distinct Discipline fast fades away. These days, the lawyer must specialize in the specific business areas of his client. And since he cannot exactly measure up to the expertise of the business owner; he plays second fiddle. Very soon, big corporate decisions will happen without any bit of legal intervention. I overhear already that soon, in Nigeria, Companies would be incorporated by lay persons. Already, every agreement impliedly ousts the courts. They prefer mediation. Even arbitration is dying off. The world hates the judicial flavour.
Lands will be sold, Wills drafted and read, with at best, passive intervention of lawyers. Citizens may negotiate directly with law enforcement without some nosy prude insisting on procedural conformity. Surely, everyday will soon become Christmas.
Emasculated, the Law will take the rear-seat and gape impotently at the unchecked and untamed celebrations. The Government will also rest easier. They will take up glossy pages in Newspapers announcing a joyous partnership with the citizenry. Absence of lawyers means an absence of petitions and litigation. And absence of litigation is in itself prima facie proof of a satisfied populace. Leadership ratings will soar. Santa has hearkened to the most sublime wishes.
Even these may all come to pass. And the world will still not end. We will continue the wait, heeding or defying rumours and prophecies. We will always look forward to that eventual end of the globe. And therein lies the irony. From whence the globe came, or where it is headed; no one knows yet. But of man’s transitory passage through it, we have had centuries of knowledge. Yet man still waits for the world to end.
...But it is already ended the day the Law dies.