Tuesday, 5 October 2010


He sat poker faced, an older man, methodically sipping from his glass, not speaking.  I had his full attention and maximized the moment. Speaking in slow, tailored tones I struggled with the alcohol which was threatening to inspire me to more spirited and less dignified submissions. I cloaked my opinions with a generous dose of legalese, and the phrases resounded, weighty, sage-like. This little trick has never failed to work when I’m baiting a potential client. 
Furtive, sideway glances always revealed their lips slightly agape, eyes swimming in the advanced stages of hypnotic awe.  How come so much knowledge is reposited in such a young lad! I would suddenly pause in mid-sentence and knot my brows, shaking my head slightly as if silently debating with an inner instructor. At such moments, the catch in their breaths is almost audible, they would hang onto the silence, and when I spoke again, it would be in whispers. They would strain forward, not daring to interrupt, desperate to catch every syllable. Then with a bored expression, I would mention my fee. Enveloped in the aura of my erudition, they never haggled…

But I seemed to have landed an uncommon fish today. The gentleman kept an unwavering stare on my face.  My punch-lines did not even elicit a nod, my wise-cracks sounded hollow. I started feeling slightly ridiculous and quickly blurted out my fee without the attendant rituals. That was when he smiled…He smiled with all the warmth of an air-conditioned igloo, and the frozen words rolled off his tongue, briefly: ‘Don’t be silly, boy’. This affront stung some heat into me, and I unleashed a withering denunciation on people so bloated by their own ignorance, they do not appreciate the enormity of a lawyer’s job. I waited for a reaction, none. 
He curled his lips downwards in another of those ghastly smiles and condescendingly breathed ‘I am a lawyer too, my boy…don’t look so combative. I have practised law for years, here and outside the country, but overcome by the sham of it all, I left, and veered into business, occasionally lifting young lawyers from the starvation line by offering them jobs I don’t really need done.’
He must have read the retort bubbling in my chest… ‘I admire your enthusiasm, but my boy (why does this Siberian keep calling me that!) save up your energies for some worthy ideal, lawyers are going out of fashion. Forget about the bright colors of our speech and language, these merely disguise our shadowy grasp of the tools of modern living.

Who is the corporate lawyer today? Those charlatans at CAC? Lugging multiple files and purporting to: (He made his voice squeaky in mimicry) “Not just incorporate your company sir, we shall also advise on the best strategy for share-holding and directorship.” I humor them most times, acting like a layman. I would say… “No, no don’t worry, I don’t really need the company for anything serious, it’s just to chase contracts.”  
Then you hear their Ohs and Ahs… “But sir, you will still need to clearly enunciate your Objects clause in a manner that would clearly communicate your adeptness”… abeg abeg abeg, like that fellow, Uti would say. Yes! I watch Big Brother Africa! Those guys are more real than this charade we call a profession. Which adeptness?, Do you not know that unschooled Business Centre operators have grown more adept at crafting MEMOS and ARTICLES, while the corporate lawyer remains stagnated in his big words, ignorant even of how to format documents on Microsoft Word.

And the so-called Estate Lawyers? How do their job details differ from the ‘agents-on-the-hustle’ which this town is festooned with? One of them came to my newly completed house at Maitama the other day. Of course I kept a straight face, though I recognized him as one of those always loitering around while work was in progress. He looked different of course, a new jacket, a borrowed car, and crispy Call-cards. Yes sir? “I wish to introduce our dynamic law practice to you sir. Our special practice focus is on Property management and …” 
“Ok, so what services would you offer me?” ‘He instantly grew breathless.’ “A myriad sir, Further to ensuring that you are not cheated out of the aesthetics of this choice location, we would utilize our best efforts to generate the most suitable clientele in the likely event that you would wish to place the accommodation on the public domain…” and ‘they’ proceeded to mention a preposterous amount as Legal fees. “Ok, you mean you want to help me and look for tenants?” ‘I asked. He looked taken aback.’ “Sir, we don’t put it so crudely” 

“How crude do you want it? Is it not percentage you want? You want to be my caretaker, not so? Do you bear in mind that your competitors, the self trained estate agents are asking for a mere tenth of the amount you mention? And they would even help me enforce payment from my tenants the street-way if need be” ‘Of course he slunk off, he met the wrong mugu. Yes! Mugu, the Law is a fraud. Wetin Lawyers dey do sef?’ He suddenly switched to pidgin. ‘Nothing! That’s what lawyers do. They simply position themselves around every transaction and trumpet that none can be completed without their aid. Lies!
They propose to draft an agreement for you, carrying on like they will lose a minute’s sleep over it, and charge you millions. Millions! For the mechanical routine of rifling through their antique volumes, duplicating time-worn principles, with their unique vocabulary as the only original input. Some daft SAN came the other day (I gasped at the blasphemy) and asked for tens of millions to file my Motion on Notice. In his arrogance he scribbled an invoice, winking conspiratorially that every smart business man had to be silky. I found it hilarious, because even if I lost that case, the plaintiff’s claim is not up to half of what the swaggering clown charged.’ I caught myself nodding.

‘When I go to a hospital, the medical personnel manipulate machines, concoct medication and invariably fetch me actual relief (as opposed to Legal relief, which is largely imaginary). The engineer builds a bridge; I walk on it and marvel. Have you ever seen the engine of a ship? That, to me is the climax of human thinking. Using the brain to make creations, and effect practical changes.
So, my boy, before you get to those millions, you have to wait till next year, when the election petitions will open the floodgates. Make the most of it while you can, because very soon, even the politicians will grow wiser and understand that the outcome remains a gamble nonetheless, unaffected by the drama you guys bring to the courts.
You people have even lost your footing on the practice of Charge and Bail. Detainees now pay directly to DPOs…’
I immediately had to interrupt…

He smiled again and lifted his drink. This time, his eyes actually glinted.  He signaled the waiter… ‘One more bottle for Mr. Okafor, please.’ Leaning forward he whispered, ‘At least, lets both make the best of the Bar tonight.’

- published in Thisday Newspapers: October 5, 2010- http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/lawyers-have-gone-out-of-fashion-/77338/