Tuesday, 15 January 2013

There are Lawyers in every Conscience: a Fairy Tale

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

6 Signs that show the Client doesn’t want to pay. (Tips for the Hustling Lawyer)

Credit: Google Images

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.

  1. “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

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

Forecasts for the Law in 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.


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.