Tuesday, 22 December 2009

YULETIDE…The good, The BAR, The ugly…

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In a cab, whistling happily in tune with the carols filtering from the air waves, Holiday!…a break from the stifling animosity of court rooms, the torture of insomniac research, penning long briefs and considered opinions, the plague of monotonous speeches to yawning sparse audience at Legal forums, the overall purgatory of law practice... I recline further on my seat and close my eyes; a wave of benign affection washes over me and I feel at peace with the world...
Christmas is made particularly blissful by the fact that it is a time for giving...in full measure, the world is at its most receptive, thus messages that ordinarily will be lost in the haze of daily humdrum are easily passed across this season… with the right words, the right gifts...

Oh yes! Chief on the list…a gift for my boss! A necessary evil that yearly leaves a chasm in my pocket, because my boss is an uncommon woman…she has a heart of gold, a virtue she wears heavily round her neck and on her fingers. She cannot be caught dead wearing cheaper metal and accepts no other gifts as a matter of principle; she therefore takes a huge chunk off my Yuletide budget. For the time being, I am reluctant to invoke dark clouds with gifts of silver linings, more so, in this season of sacrifice, she may just decide I am best suited for that purpose among her workforce, so I need to melt her heart adequately to solder my dreams of one day becoming partner…

But  I am certainly going to draw a line at giving on that obnoxious Chief Bala who I had always deluded myself was my PP (Translation: The under-the table-client tucked away from the Firm’s view) Wealthy bastard, I thought I had landed the big break when we met but I gradually discovered his philanthropic disposition is identical to Silas Marner’s. After numerous expenses I had run up from his often contradictory instructions, I was reasonably expecting a tidy End of the Year pay-off. Last week, I went over and announced my travel plans a third time to him managing to squeeze my opinions on the growing harshness of the economy into the same sentence. The obese tight-fist grunts his agreement, and calls his boy to get the package for Barrister. In my anticipation I started gushing about how his business acumen had transformed my outlook during the brief period of our relationship (What’s keeping the boy so long!) bla bla bla.. The boy appears with a small carton of cheap tin tomatoes, vegetable oil and a fruit drink… ‘This one na for ya Christmas, Barrister’, and he buries his face in a magazine.  The message was clear; go stew in your own juice!
I’m still boiling, and I have a good heart to encourage EFCC to do a tentative audit on his assets.

Ok, I should calm down, it is not a time for bitterness, it is a season for praying for ones enemies. I had not fully understood this injunction until the night of the Christmas dinner organized by an illustrious Silk from our geographical section of the National Bar. There they were, the learned seniors, haughty old millionaires gloating in the affluence they had amassed from the practice of law, and inputting acute pangs of inferiority within our ranks- the struggling juniors. Swaggering in patronizing arrogance on their lofty perches, they elaborately handed down greeting cards and souvenirs to us. The cards bore such inscriptions as ‘…May the New Year aid your growth in wisdom…’ Smiling our thanks, we swallow the obvious insults in huge gulps of red wine standing in contra-distinction from the champagne bottles on the high table. It is a season for turning the other cheek.  But my moment came during the closing prayers. I jumped up to take the role before the verbose secretary had struggled through his unwieldy closing remarks … ‘Father…let a new legal order arise from our midst and in the New Year may the old pass away…’ The Amen chorus that followed my prayer was not weighty enough…but then, lawyers are not popular for their religiosity.

Back to sharing gifts…I have not left my colleagues out…Especially the flippant KK, considered the genius of the firm on the strength of no other value but his ability to design power-point slides (that the rest of you should emulate) and speak English through that nose I would give an eye to pinch... legacies from an over-priced educational career.  My affection for him has not been nurtured by his frequent Back in the States chit-chat with the boss that cruelly sidelines some of us who are a bit like Peugeot cars…made for Nigeria.  Recently he has been lending me unsolicited views on the nature of my research…I had been thinking of a good way to tell him that his opinions stink…so his gift is already packed: a giant bottle of Mouthwash.
That leaves Ujunwa and Tope, two exasperating shrews (spinsters of course!) always on the prowl for the slightest sexist speech. I will get them wrist watches, a gracious way to point out to them that time ticks away and while the beautiful ones may not yet be born; the handsome ones are all getting married. On second thoughts, since they are both always on the Internet, It is better to visit their Face book profile and post them 'time waste for no one' links. I credit them with enough intelligence to read writings on the Wall.

I try to keep away from my friends in corporate practice at this period, but they insist on seeking me out. Their smooth-faced freshness and oily boardroom drawls are depressants. And the conversation never goes beyond Litigation versus Corporate Law… ‘Massai, you are wasting away in litigation, going about fomenting trouble…’ That irritant, Chibyke will quip. ‘It is a season of peace for Pete’s sake!’  Yes, I agree, but peace can only be found in men of good wheels…boosted by end-of-year bonuses alien to the average street lawyer. Oh Santa, will you do just this one thing for me? Blaze a flaming torch round the snows as u reindeer down their big, tax-dodging corporations… the accompanying meltdown will get them all out on the streets to join me in my jalopy …a good way to drive home the need for social justice.

Christmas Carols always held a lot of nostalgia for me because I did a bit of singing as a choir boy in those lost days of innocence. But no more! I went for a CAROL-FEST organized by some charity institution with a lot of important sounding names in attendance. The performance was however done not by the usual cherub faced choir kids; celebrities in the Music industry took the role. Singing the lead was one of those psychedelic females in a ghastly flutter of eyelashes and rouged cheeks, introducing unwarranted sensuality to the chaste lines of Christmas songs. I was awash with thankfulness that the Magi did not have this kind of star to lead them to our Lord. It would have been contempt of galactic proportions.

Have I exhausted my well wishes? Oh I forget my policeman friends…they never stop my car… Probably sacred stiff of the conspicuous NBA sticker on my windscreen, or do I flatter myself? It may be the Can anything good come from Nazareth line that keeps them off when they see my smoking exhaust pipes and tremulous bumpers. In any case, for Christmas, just for Christmas, I will tear off the NBA stickers...in the spirit of sharing.

I will end with an open apology to my Client’s tenants at CBN estate considering that I have made quite a string of friends there. I will come around tomorrow acting under the instructions of my client, your landlord to deliver the traditional well-wishes cards praying that the New Year ushers in a raise in your circumstances…side by side with the card, I shall also bear a Notice to review your rent…upwards.

Published in Thisday Newspapers: December 22, 2009- http://allafrica.com/stories/200912220367.html

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

One Man’s Mate…Another’s Lawyer!

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I am sitting in blissful enjoyment of a rare solitude in my little office, thinking elevated thoughts, thoughts that shape the destiny of a man along the golden terrains of greatness…of immortality…the sort that won’t be thrown out by any legislator…the sort that would rather inspire them to lift a plaque to the world on my memorial…with my name engraved in its eternal marble letters…
The door is pushed open before I had even taken in the fact that somebody was knocking.
It is Henry, ordinarily not the most painstaking in sartorial issues, but today he looked positively clownish in his rolled up sleeves and multi coloured waist coat, and of course the tie was inevitably askew.

‘Massai…up, quick…I need a divorce.’
‘That’s a joke?’  I know his wife Doris too well; sweeter disposition in a female never graced our world.
‘Dead serious’ and his face convinced me he was.  ‘No drink in this office as usual’ he sighed in exasperation. ‘Must you always be prim and proper?’ He went about pulling out cabinets in that absent-minded way of his. I am used to him so I do not mind at all. We had met at Law school and bonded surprisingly…
‘You must understand that this is not a result of any fault of Doris’s. She is wonderful…an angel…and that’s the problem!’
I waited.

‘See, I love her, I value what we’ve had, but she is so, so…’ He searched for a word, ‘“lukewarm”. she just takes the life out of living. I enjoy her loyalty no doubt, but I cringe at her ability to keep quiet, listen and obey. For the two odd years of our marriage, never, not once has a quarrel ever featured between us.’
‘But that’s a blessing’
‘To a lawyer? No! it’s a curse, you may not understand…but I come home everyday…quaking with the rage of another day in court gone awry…why did I not push that motion harder, …the annoying antics of the suave opposing counsel, the blubbering of some  daft client  and I walk straight into the welcoming arms of a loving wife, she asks no questions but murmurs her sympathies, and kneads my shoulders…before I know it I slumber away…and the morrow presents the same scenario…and I always lose.’

He gave me the kind of look reserved for challenged children. ‘Can’t you see it? It’s an indolent life, no brawls…no arguments…my word is law…literally. But even the law suffers revisions and amendments…mine is the law of the Austinian sovereign…she holds no opinion on any subject lest I pronounce on it…and whatever little stirrings of thought she may have on that instantly suffocates, once my own divergent view covers the field. I am stagnating, fire sharpeneth iron…I need practice, my aptitude for the profession is suffering’
‘You therefore choose your career over the peace of marriage?’
 ‘But of course! What is a man without a vocation? A mere bird of passage…Does the saying not go that every successful man has a good woman behind him…not beside him, mind you. So in my quest for success I have to leave the good Doris behind.’
I smiled…you cannot deny the fellow his wit.

A wistful look crossed his face.  ‘A sad pity that I did not end up with Betty from Law school…’
‘That termagant?’ I knew her too well…the sort you will take home only if you have sedateophobia. ‘She’s married now, isn’t she?’
‘Yes, hell of a lucky dude, her husband’
‘I will not be in a hurry to describe him so.’
‘You would not, with your Victorian outlook to life…Betty is a woman with spirit, her potentials are all awakened and her general sense of awareness accelerated.
The wistful look deepened. ‘You know, she always told me that when she was a kid, she never had female friends…played with the boys…she never owned dolls…she had a catapult…’
‘I see she has always aimed high’ I murmured.
‘Exactly! Admirably ambitious…and a toughened outlook on life, none of this irritating mushiness of so called feminine tenderness’.
‘How do you mean?’
‘In the length of our relationship, not once did I see her shed a tear…not once. A stunt she pulls off from years of practice…’
I raised my brows, questioningly ‘Strange for a lady.’
‘Yes, as a little girl, whenever she did wrong and the mother screamed at her, she never cringed…she always stared unblinkingly back…and her mother cried instead.’

‘Her father was no exception…a ‘Deeper Life’ pastor type, he could not forbid her from wearing trousers…no, not Betty…They fought and fought over it…but she won in the end.’
‘Do you know when she decided to become a lawyer? She was in primary school then, when her brother slapped her once during a fight. Fiery spirit and all, she never hit back, not a finger in revenge.
She simply retired to her room, penned down the experience and addressed it to the principal of the Secondary School where her brother had applied for a scholarship. It was a Mission school; best in those days… the rascal lost his chance.’
‘But that is mean…could she not have simply reported to their parents?’
‘That is the point, she knew they would form a biased panel…they would be judges in their own case…they needed the scholarship even more than the son. She says that was the highest point of her life…she felt a power course through her veins…she needed not to have biceps before she could hold her own among the brutes, men…she would wield a bigger weapon…the law.’

‘Did you ever tell her of yourself?’
‘No, her history was always by far more interesting…you know I’m not so good with stories, and in her charming bluntness she always teased me about that. You could see the bored irritation on her face whenever I attempted…and to pacify her I would offer to listen to hers instead. I did not mind…it was a privilege for that great woman to share her dreams and aspirations with me…’
‘And her fears, must have made you feel stronger’
‘Betty never had fears…she always laughed at mine…made me stronger, you see.’
‘Look at how successful she is in advocacy…sheer will power and drive. Bulldozing through the conventions of superiority that we men build to cover our many inadequacies…she is an Amazon that woman…an Amazon.’
 ‘Maybe, but she will calm down when the kids start coming…it softens them you know.’
‘Betty always made it clear that nothing was ever going to separate her from her career. The kids can have nannies while she works her late nights…is that not the time of day Longfellow’s great people achieved their flight to the top?’
‘Why then did you break up with her if she was this perfect? You never told me’.
A look of pure agony flitted across his features… ‘It was me’. He groaned, ‘I was not man enough to measure up to her intellectual height…I got insecure and she walked.’ He looked so forlorn, I felt sorry.

‘You probably dodged a bullet my friend. the picture you painted is of an inordinately selfish woman, mean-hearted in the pursuit of her interests, vindictive, no deference whatsoever to family or marital obligations and what kind of woman finds kids unbearable?….and never keeps her mouth shut and shows no interest in the furtherance of her spouse’s career, or lacks the tact to totally ignore HIS shortcomings?…well, she has to be a lawyer!’
‘Perception, Massai, perception…in the words of Achebe, give me a child that breaks utensils in his haste any day than a clumsy piece of cold ash.’
‘Not a flattering way to describe your spouse… divorce is not a defence in defamation.’
‘Yes, but truth is.’
‘Okay…I shall file the preliminary notice.’
‘Good, I know I can always count on you, even if your ideas were always a little outmoded.’ And he headed for the door.

Wait a minute…’ I stopped him.
‘I just thought you should know. Betty’s husband was here yesterday…he wanted a divorce.'


First published in Thisday Newspapers: July 28, 2009

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Enslavement of Young Lawyers

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The setting is a danfo, parked under the sweltering heat of a particularly grumpy afternoon, the blazing orb kindling the metal encasement of the bus with a view to gradually barbecue the mass within. Sweaty flesh glides against sweaty flesh as the passengers grudgingly adjust for the next to come in, searing tempers, curses and grumbles. The minutes traipse along and the sun steadily creeps towards a blistering climax.

He sits calmly, seemingly oblivious to the double dosage of heat his black suit is wooing to him, face stuck to the magazine which he interchanges as a hand fan. Beads of sweat tumble down his prematurely wrinkled face, he flicks them off with his fingers, he has no handkerchief.
Thankfully the bus finally fills up, with promises of at least some air and motion but the conductor is evidently deriving some warped satisfaction from the general discomfiture and insists on collecting the fare before the bus moved an inch. Maledictions rain down his head from the incensed passengers.

The fellow, apparently no stranger to evil wishes smilingly remains deaf to the mounting rancor and cheekily stretches out his hands to each cursing passenger, taking all the time in the world to fish for change … it eventually gets to our gentleman’s turn to pay and he digs out an unnaturally crumpled note, the conductor rejects it instantly and tosses it back to him, the veneer of calm wears off and the gentleman inaugurates his own tirade drowning out all others, with emphasis on the unschooled mind of the ruffian being the propelling force behind his wretchedness. Unfortunately the conductor deciphers the word wretched and bunches his fist menacingly close to the gentleman’s face, inspiring the latter to bellow out an introduction… ‘I am a lawyer!  Dare you touch me and see if I don’t bundle you to a place where touts of your kind are housed’ We all turn, and indeed the gentleman has a starched collar on. 

At the word lawyer, the conductor’s anger melts away…and is replaced by loud raucous laughter which lasts two full minutes. ‘Lawyer!’  He chokes, making a derisive sweeping gesture with his left hand, ‘Olorun! So if lawyers start to de come out even this one go follow…why you no fit buy your own car put AC for am? See as im wear coat under sun…me I no be lawyer but at least I get sense to wear only singlet as the afternoon hot so’. (Here I recognized slight similarities in the hygienic state of the said singlet and the gentleman’s collar)
Many more of the conductor’s epigrams were swallowed by laughter; the passengers were at last getting their moneys worth… I felt like shedding tears for the poor fellow.

This happened years ago. If it were now, maybe my reaction would have been more proactive. Do we not owe a duty to our learned friends?
Duty...that’s a word we throw around so carelessly in the legal profession, sweet sounding jargon as ‘rights and duties are co-relatives, civilized society would be elusive without an effective interplay of both…blah blah blah…’
Now, that was one of a class in that bus, a class of victims of a duty-free legal practice, convenient pawns to be tossed about in pursuit of the bigger picture.
They abound, and are so easily spotted: Greying white shirts, oversized suits, trousers creased and folded in multiple places, and when the jacket comes off, the damp ring around the armpit region testifies to a hard life in a hard job.

Yes, that is the package many an Associate (how that word deceives!) in our Law firms are turned out in. Does it mean they lack decent taste…I wonder
Assigned all the dirty and back-breaking work, they take home barely enough to lift them over the destitution line.  You can sight them anywhere under our belligerent sun, looking harassed, with sweaty faces and reddened eyes …A bike here, a keke there…forget cabs, unnecessary luxury their principal calls them.
It is bad enough to be poor, but trying to put a cloak over it comes off as downright ridiculous.
But the profession demands proper dressing at all times, no blames. We must appear respectable. Respectability means a black jacket, tie, collar, the works …It inspires confidence in clients.
Sorry, it is an expensive rule but every lawyer is expected to measure up.

Of course the success of the measuring up is seen through the client’s eyes, and clients are not blind. A person you hire to wrestle tens of millions from a defaulter should at least exhibit more sartorial competence than your average scare-crow.
They even ask for tips… ‘Ah ah now oga, nothing for your boys?’ This, to a barely literate client. Well, let’s call it the Bar-tender instinct.  
For the men (who incidentally form the bulk of this group) it is impossible to work out a marriage/family plan with the next to nothing remuneration…to them, the law is indeed a jealous mistress.

The concept of duty is not voluntary, bah! Leave duty to the altruistic inclinations of man and nothing is done. Thus the need to impose a standard…
Recently we have all been buzzing with arguments and counters as to why the position of SAN should be scrapped…while I have as yet not taken any sides, I will need to remind that it is only in the issue of conferring that title that some form of standard is introduced with respect to the material packaging of the practitioner; a vital ingredient. It will not be a bad idea if extended to every law firm in the country.

Many a principal sits looking well fed and smug, swiveling in his easy chair barking out orders to his foot soldiers and dusting crumbs down to them from his table by month-end. The standard should be: the right to establish a law firm being automatically attached to the duty to provide a prescribed level of welfare to all the fee earners. And compliance should be mandatory.

Away with the rambling speeches of seminars and conferences…Young Lawyers: Carving out a Rich Future for the Legal Profession. The Law: An Instrument of Socio-economic Transformation.  yak yak yak. Rather let us introduce stringent measures: chunky salaries and allowances, reasonable appearance fees, staff vehicles (or monetary equivalents) as preconditions to being an employer of (legal) labour.

Back  in Law school, one of our lecturers in trying to illustrate what constitutes conduct incompatible with the legal profession made a joke about mounting a horse with ones wig and gown on…ok, we don’t have horses now, how about climbing onto a bike, perched in a keke…or overhanging from a molue in ones professional regalia?
Stop and search…discover the employer. For perpetuating a travesty, he should face the ire of the Disciplinary Committee, with penalties ranging from mild chastisement to full-blown suspension.

The world has gone materialistic and owes no apologies for that, gentlemen of the world’s leading vocation should ordinarily set the pace. They deserve every bit of the good life.
Banks and Oil Companies are the dream workplace. Yes; they work their behinds off, but the AC drones all day and takes the bite off the pressure, coupled with the certitude of a sizable salary, profit sharing, upfronts and other juicy ancillaries.
That is welfare.

Not so for the junior lawyer…he should be content with fanning himself with the sheaves of paper on his desk whenever power fails while fighting the evil teeth chewing up his empty entrails. He might as well have skipped Law school; poverty needs no rigorous preparation.

Recently I was in one of those nice buildings at Victoria Island alongside a small crowd of people waiting for the lift to descend, when a delightful fragrance wafted through. We all turned to look and there stood two regally attired young persons, a gentleman and a lady. Sparkling white shirts, glossy plastic collars, inch-perfect suits and shoes that observably had minimal interaction with the earth. Even their voices wore an immaculate polish, their car keys jingled, and their faces glowed with robust health and confidence. They waited with the rest of us. Nobody could stop staring…
My heart swelled inside…those are my learned colleagues, I almost shouted.

That’s what I’m talking about; the ideal lawyer’s look… the minimum standard.

                  I rest my thesis.

Published in Thisday Newspapers: June 2, 2009-  http://allafrica.com/stories/200906020235.html



Tuesday, 5 May 2009

'Tis a Long Road that leads to the Old Wig

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It is an exhilarating feeling to be formally called to Bar, I have walked that road.
Few things in life can compare to the climactic upsurge when you are clothed in the robes and receive the venerated wig unto your head. When you are inducted into that enclave of the most prestigious vocation, barricading the oaken door to non-initiates as you settle down to establish a bond with the masters over dinner. Nothing beats the air of mystery as you reappear from the dinner, wearing an inscrutable expression that befits your new status, smiling inwardly at the muted questions of awe-struck family and friends, altogether transported to the pinnacle of their regard, a revered figure. You are positioned to tread the highly acclaimed road of being a custodian of the law.
It is indeed a once-in a lifetime feeling.
 Alas! Like all once in a lifetime things, it soon wears off… and you are brought back from the nine clouds with a thud!

Your first day in court.

You walk into the room puffed up, well maybe a bit by the elaborate raiment of your new office but more from an exaggerated feeling of importance, and stride majestically towards the bench for the day’s cause list. You expect the world to stand still and acknowledge a special one; you constrict your countenance to the right level of dignity…. ‘Smiles cheapeneth the face’, didn’t somebody say somewhere in history. You strain your ears for the murmur of awe that should accompany your impeccably shimmering appearance.
None of this happens, rather you are shocked at the snicker -from no more a person than the half initiate court clerk, you turn to descend on him until you discover the source of his merriment, you almost drop the cause list (which by the way you are holding wrong side up) he is literally looking over your head, so you adjust your headgear…then the bombshell drops, ‘You’re a new wig are you not? It’s so obvious. Relax, you’ll get used to it’ You dutifully ignore him; the day is so momentous to be dampened by irreverent rantings of a flippant clerk.

But your travails are not yet over.
As you take your seat in the bar, drinking in the dizzying fact that you are now part of the esteemed circle, the other lawyers are all reaching out to pump your hands, and the room is filled with a hum of ‘New wig! New wig!’ ‘Congratulations boy! You are thankful when the door is pounded to announce M’ lord’s appearance.
He sits and surveys the hall with stern features, and all of a sudden, his eyes light up with a twinkle… ‘Oh I see we have a new wig today, please stand up’ you look back praying it is not you, but the tell-tale wig draws you to your feet and you answer a few personal questions revealing more humbling details of your neonate status. For the older lawyers, the session has started on a comic note. You catch the court clerk’s glance again and there are tears in his eyes, he is helpless with laughter. The rest of the day crystallizes your lowliness, your case is high up on the cause list, but you are called last. You shakily stutter out your motion and flee the premises.

Again and again the cycle is repeated…the glossy wig , with all the threads firmly in place coupled with the shiny blackness of your gown spot you out for miles as the profession’s latest green horn. And friend, it is indeed a long wait before that wig of yours begins to grow old.

The road is long that leads to an old wig…it is paved with incredible tales of bloody conquests, bruising defeats, close shaves and a quagmire of soul-selling compromises. The wig gets blackened by smokes of sustained crossfire, stained by the muddy pitfalls dug by foes, gnarled and twisted by the rough weather of the profession. But what an enviable place awaits him on whose head the old wig is perched.

He shuffles slowly into the courtroom (none of that sprightly overzealousness of the young) and is ushered into a reserved seat at the bar. When his case is called up, he demonstrates that there is an uncanny dignity in the tremulousness of voice and limb, he squints at documents and the court stands still until his presentation is made. His deep throated submissions ring with the finality of an adage. The opposing side does not object with vehemence ….he merely begs to disagree. And if sustained, the judge turns away his face in apologetic embarrassment.

Can an old wig lose a case? When his writings contribute to numerous persuasive precedents…When other lawyers quote him…he may have even taught a judge or two…Be it in silk or of the ordinary stuff, the old wig stands as the symbol of experienced knowledge. Like Dorian Gray’s portrait, it is the outward reflection of the time worn innards… Naturally, the old wig continually wears thin; revealing a deep portion of the grey beneath…grey meets grey…wisdom embraces wisdom…an earth shaking communion!

The aged wig reflects the law in its perfection. He is a jurisconsult; the lawyer’s lawyer. He oozes self confidence, his knowledge is a fortress; there is no trick in the bag he has not practiced. Do not be deceived by his occasional absent mindedness, he is not senile…at such times he merely releases his spirit to the secret dwelling place of the law…he is the medium that transcribes its darker mysteries. It is whispered that many a judge sits at his feet in the twilight seeking direction for a decision of the morrow.

He smiles at the excesses of the young, he watches them rush to their ruin in their mad play to the gallery…the race is not for the swift footed nor the nimble…it is for the seasoned warrior sure of where to place his feet and defeat the raging quicksand. The real world opens up new chapters uncovered by the theories and ideals of law school…The young is befuddled by the discrepancy…The old wig has seen it all.

When the wig grows old…it also grows prosperous. Youth believes so much in its strength, thus it gambles and explores, nibbling only at the edges, never becoming a true master,
For the old wig, there is only one profession…the law…he grows old in it and it pays him. He is celebrated…his hallways are lined with plaques and medals. He is grand patron to a horde of eager disciples.

The wig does not grow old at the bottom of the dresser…it is a regular helmet on the battlefield of law practice. Again and again, it marches to gory swordfights and comes back stained. Every crease, a notch of glory. Every tear, the scalp of a foe.…Rugged statements of invincibility.

When the wig grows old, it captures the sentiment of D.H. Lawrence when he penned the lines:

It ought to be lovely to be old
To be full of the peace that comes of experience and wrinkled ripe fulfillment
The wrinkled smile of completeness that follows life…
My new wig is very smart, in fact it is a fashion statement, but I dream of the glorious days when it shall grow old…


First published in Thisday Newspapers: May 5, 2009

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


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I have many friends at the Law School. I sit out with them now and again over some drinks (Is that not what the bar is about after all?) and recount my own Law school days.
Of course the genial hands of time are steadily moulding my memories of the place into an idyllic monument, so at the slightest push; I wax lyrical about it. But these friends of mine never get caught up in my enthusiasm. Most of the time they listen with a woe-begone expression and subtly change the subject. After much prodding, they  finally let me into their reservations and I am most tempted to reproduce them on this page, but of course they swore me to secrecy…it is infamous conduct to harbour thoughts of that hue about the revered institution.

On closer reflection, I am inclined to hold that the vehemence of their feelings might be a bit exaggerated.The issues are purely based on a conflict of perspectives and a break in communication. In this regard, I think that the liable party is the Council itself. There must be something faulty with the orientation programme they package for the entrants.  Oh, forget that charade of effusive speeches and polite applause. These rehearsed monologues hardly enter one ear before leaving through the other.

They fail to understand that the new applicants to the bar are usually at their most impressionable, thus a well delivered message goes a long way. You can see that from their willingness to jot down any sound that escapes the speaker’s throat. (Coughs and sneezes not exempted.)The council should make their policies known from day one so that the new students can understand what they are up against.

I hate arm-chair critics, so I have decided to contribute actively to correcting this anomaly by sketching a model welcome address for the D.G. that will serve to make the new intakes understand better the probable perspective from which the Council sees legal training.

The speech shall run a little like this:

We use the above term with no apologies whatsoever to the gender hyperactive ones among you. The term has subsisted these long years to cover both sexes and we do not see any reason for it to be tampered with.
We must point out that we do not accede to the ludicrous version “gentlemen in skirt” when referring to our females members…As this is not Scotland, the very picture of a gentleman in skirt wakes up disturbing images which thankfully our laws have not yielded to yet.

That said, we proceed now to offer you our congratulations for having scaled the tortuous hurdle of tertiary study. While we are impressed that your numbers soar with the passing years, we fail to quell the nagging suspicion that the lecturers in our universities are growing less imaginative in setting exam questions. For what good does a sieve serve when all the grains make it through? But then, that is matter for another day.

As I look into your midst, I see a sea of eager faces, eyes glittering with the exhilaration within. I see barely concealed bloats in your egos, no doubt created by the prospect of being received into our regal fold. I see holders of certificates that boast of worthiness in the sublime merits of character and learning. With the above, we shall not be so hasty to concur; what with the distasteful news that filter daily from our Universities of today. We strive to believe that your various Faculties of Law shielded you from the stains, but we cannot be too sure. While we acknowledge your LLB status (it is surely no mean feat) we shall not forget that the erudite Alexander Pope points out the perils of half learning. Our focus in this institution is to provide that missing better half, a task we shall set about with the stoutest of resolves.

In your university days, you enjoyed freedom; you were like birds, with the horizon as your ambit. Those days are now irretrievably gone. Here we recognize the danger in trusting the notion of free will. Unbridled freedom negates the very concept of our profession.The Law is meant to effect a coercive order of human behaviour.The Naturalists may hold reservations about this but the Council has attained its present enviable status largely because we choose to stay positive.

Therefore, from henceforth, any nocturnal stroll between opposite members of the sexes is declared illicit. Likewise, we forbid visits to any hostels that house members of the opposite sex. While we do not wish to make hermits of you, we are worried about the effect that the fertility of your minds may have on your bodies. Mens sana in corporea sana.
We shall observe you closely at all times. Such public displays of heterosexual attraction as pecks and hugs shall be looked upon with a stern frown. Gentlemen greet themselves with smart hand shakes and we shall unwaveringly adhere to that standard.Your ultimate conquest of the world begins with the annihilation of every unwholesome thought and desire.

We proceed now to the issue of fees.
We gather that there has been an outcry among some of you against the relentless rise in our fees with every new batch and that we make the purchase of laptops a stringent requirement.
We are glad that this cry is not unanimous. Our position is vindicated by graduates of our private universities who consider what we charge as akin to a tax holiday.
The council proposes to reward such progressive thinking by accrediting more of such institutions. We also hope to swell the number of our (oh so adorable) students in the Diaspora, who toe the same progressive line.

The allegation stems exclusively from the beneficiaries of public schooling.
This peasant category has come to expect life to be replete with subsidies and gratuitous grants. We wish to inform them that while education may be expensive, ignorance keeps a dearer school. Our profession is not for commoners, and if they cannot cope, they should please exploit the open door policy of this institution, literally. We shall not miss them. And as for the laptops, we have our strong reasons for them. We have fashioned a do-it-yourself curriculum. (Your spoon feeding days are over) Your lecturers would be spared the irritations of your oftentimes naïve questions…With the laptops, simply google the answer and save the whole class precious time needed to cover the volumes that make up your schedule.

Following from this, we also wish to reiterate that while we encourage fearlessness and diligent courage as virtues of the lawyer, they are placed at subservience to the prime notion of order of precedence and seniority at the Bar. Our predecessors who set this laudable standard have deemed us worthy to wear this grey wig of wisdom, but you are as yet mere applicants. So even in the unlikely event of all of you here eventually making it to the bar, you are by far our juniors and we shall therefore brook no challenges whatsoever from you with respect to our authority. While we wish you luck in your quest, we maintain that you recognise your place in the interim; to be seen not heard, except when you are specifically addressed.

Ah! I see creases of dissent on some of your faces, you mouth the silent question; are we breeding timid lawyers? No we are not gagging you, we only groom you to say the right things and save the profession the embarrassment of vociferous radicals.

Lastly, I must inform you that over the years, we have received strong worded protests over our grading system. We are accused of using the lowest score to determine a person’s eventual grade. Such questions make me marvel at the phenomenal laziness creeping into the minds of our youth. The law admits no apostles but the impeccable. On this ground, the test is no more that of the reasonable man, but of the intellectual.

So, if you record a mere pass despite a string of 80s and 90s, I hope you understand that you still possess an Achilles heel…that part of your anatomy, the profession suffers you to relinquish. Do not give me the quote: “God forbid that a lawyer knows all the law…” The learned jurist that made that famous dictum unfortunately overlooked the fact that ours is largely a profession of atheists.

Once again, we welcome you to Law School and wish you a most enjoyable stay.’

 I rest my thesis

First published in Thisday Newspapers: March 24, 2009

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


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I love fantasies; often I have been called a head-lost-in-the-clouds dreamer. I love that tag. Dreams are not always the escapist pastime of a slothful mind- they may subconsciously provide the seedlings for the birth of great ideas. Yes, dreams are not real, but when they come to life, present reality changes. Dreams precipitate change. As a dreamer therefore, I am an agent of change…
I had lapsed into this philosophico-poetic mood after I was roundly battered in an argument with some of my young lawyer friends the other day. We were discussing the sense (or lack of it) in the restriction of advertisements in the legal profession in Nigeria, by the Rules of Professional Conduct. I was passionately of the view that the provisions of the rules are too stifling and inconsistent with the modern world.

All the publicity the Rules allow is; a reasonably sized sign-post in front of the practitioner’s office.
‘Many people do not even notice those signs, their bleary black and white prints are swallowed by more interesting items on the landscape’ I had stated. ‘Can you win clients that way?’
‘Massai’ My ultra-conservative friend Edward had interjected ‘a good lawyer needs not be aided by psychedelia, let your records speak.’
‘But that is the point!’ I had screamed ‘how do you transmit the said records without adverts?’
‘Simple, does the law not permit you to affix your qualifications on your business cards?’  that was from Mike, another incurable stiff-back.
‘It is not enough’ I insisted ‘we need to spice up the whole thing a lot more’
‘Do you then recommend that we slide to the arena of pedestrian trivia?’ Samuel-every inch a stuffed shirt - murmured.
‘Yes!’ I was getting heated up. ‘We need to leave our lofty pinnacle and approach equal altitude with the people we are supposed to serve in the first place…’
My friend, I think you have what it takes to conquer the world, but first you must wake up from your silly dreams’ Edward delivered the masterstroke.
The rest of my well laid submissions were drowned in laughter.

Now in my quiet moment, I am convinced more than ever that my views are workable.
People complain that the law goes over their heads, lawyers are a mysterious horde, and thus, it takes a fair dose of courage to walk into the hallowed interiors of their sepulchral chambers. End result; the propagation of a populace completely apathetic to litigation and invariably, a proliferation of poor lawyers.
Where then is the dignity which the rules seek to preserve?

What is the way forward? Easy, obliterate the rules!
First, lawyers should be allowed to do away with the reasonable size and sober design cliché from their sign-posts and in their stead, put up eye-catching, life size billboards, amply bedecked with neon lights. Having done this, the lawyers’ gifts of imagination which have been asphyxiated over the years shall be given new life. Their battle of wits will seep beyond the confines of cross-examination and evolve into bits of humorous catchphrases for their law firms.
Slogans like: ‘You will never turn in your Grave…’ inscribed boldly at the bottom corner of business cards and posters will better buttress expertise in Wills and Testaments than a dry list of L.L.M.s and L.L.D.s. In the same vein, the words: ‘When the Police is not your Friend, We kick his butt’ bestows a Charge and Bail specialist with more class and appeal. And if you want to sweep home all the clients in town, a most fitting slogan is: ‘At Z & I Group…we dine with the judges…’

This will be followed by press-conferences, interviews and documentaries of landmark cases where the firm had obtained favourable judgement. It will become common while flipping through the pages to see colourful promos broadcasting:
An Irresistible Litigation Bundle Offer from the Law Offices of Clement & George.
Submit three briefs in 6months and win yourself a pro bono case!
Hurry while offer lasts…

Not to be beaten, a rival Law firm will contract a rave of the moment celebrity, say D’Banj to appear on national TV, complete in his dark shades, plus the venerated wig and gown! : ‘if you are not sitting with S & J Associates, you are on a loooong case!’

Outside a few cardiac seizures to prim and proper hearts, the effect on the profession will be largely positive.

Law offices will overflow with customers, oops, clients; the movement would have bred a new mind-set in the citizens. We all hate what we cannot understand, so if the people get to recognize that the lawyer is just another average entrepreneur hustling for his daily bread and butter alongside other ordinary species of humanity, they shall open their arms wide in fraternity. The great wall of suspicion will collapse; a harmonious accord will be reached. The publicized competition will pull down litigation costs, creating a more legally responsive society… and the lawyers will reap the plums of increased patronage. It is Eldorado in the making!

Of course, to complete this revolution, every serious minded Law firm will engage in some bit of ambulance chasingThe phrase would be renamed to purge it of every derogatory taint, it will simply be called-Marketing. Paralegal staff and interns will be posted on strategic locations in the streets. (A welcome change from sitting and rotting away over mountains of case files). Everyday, persons get knocked down by over speeding cars, fall from dislodged kerbs and get hit by falling objects from overloaded trucks…The field staff will be on standby with sheaves of handbills. These handbills contain detailed workings of the victim-counsel settlement ratio when the negligence suit is won, and shall be distributed to families of the victims. When no family member is around, it will suffice to discreetly press same into the hands of the victim as he is being stretchered away.

Oh, I am dreaming again…
Reality is different; reality is contained in the Rules. The Rules say that unfettered advertisement brings the profession to disrepute, creates prejudice and does not foster fairness in the legal practice. Maybe this is right, maybe not…time will tell. Our world is being fast unravelled; there are no more sacred grounds. Flow with the stream or get stagnated behind. Last year, an Australian High court affirmed that court processes can be served on Facebook! What more can I say? I am eagerly waiting for our rules to be unbuckled to that degree. 
I already have the advert slogan for my law office waiting. I am keeping it simple: "Life is BRIEF; Get a Lawyer…"

I rest my thesis.

First published in Thisday Newspapers: February 3, 2009