Ten Common Pitfalls in the RPC for Lawyers

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The Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 (RPC) is the set of rules which regulates the affairs of Legal Practitioners in Nigeria. All Legal Practitioners are expected to abide by the set rules in their professional conducts. There are however several acts/omissions by lawyers which are in direct contradiction with the RPC. Some of the acts are highlighted below:

  1. Signing Documents Not Prepared by Lawyer

Order

Order 3(2) RPC provides: A lawyer shall not in return for fee, write or sign his name or permit his name to be written or signed on a document prepared by a non-lawyer as if prepared by him.

Pitfall

This is very prevalent in corporate practices. Loads of documents are prepared by various individuals (non-lawyers) or departments and the name of a lawyer (usually company secretary) is included for signature.

  1. Registration as Capital Market Operator

Order

Order 4 RPC provides: A lawyer shall not permit his professional service to be controlled or exploited by any lay agency, personal or corporate which intervenes between him and the client.

Pitfall

Lawyers who intend to act on behalf of their client at the Securities and Exchange Commission must mandatorily register with SEC as Capital Market Operator before such legal practitioner (Law Firm) can so act. Hundreds of law firms in Nigeria are registered with SEC as Capital Market Operators.

  1. In-House Counsel Cannot Sign Agreements/Contracts/Letters etc. For their Employers.

Order

Order 8 (2) RPC Provides: A lawyer, whilst a servant or in a salaried employment, shall not prepare, sign or frank pleadings, applications, instruments, agreements, contracts, deeds, letters…

Pitfall

In-house counsel prepares and sign agreements, contracts and letters for their employers.

  1. Do Not Act as Lawyer When in Default of Practicing Fees

Order

Order 9(2) RPC provides: A lawyer shall not sign documents, pleadings, affidavits, depositions, applications, instruments, agreement, letters, deeds, memoranda,… when he is in default of payment of his Annual Practicing Fees.

Pitfalls

Lawyers in default of Annual Practicing Fee sign documentations as legal practitioners.

  1. Legal Practitioner to Notify NBA Local Branch of Legal Practice

     Order 

Order 13(1) RPC provides: Every person who sets up provide legal practice either alone or in association or partnership with another or others shall, not later than thirty days after commencement of such legal practice and, if he continues to carry on the practice, deliver a Notice in the Prescribed Form to the Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association within whose jurisdiction the law office is situated.

Pitfall 

Lawyers set up practices without notifying the NBA Branch within whose jurisdiction the law office is situated.

  1. Legal Practitioner not to Call at Client’s House or Place of Business 

Order

Order 22 RPC provides:

A lawyer shall not call at a client’s house or place of business for the purpose of giving advice to, or taking instruments from the client except in special circumstances or for some other urgent reasons preventing his client from coming to his law office.

Pitfall

The norm amongst lawyers now is to visit rich clients or politicians in their homes or places of business to take instructions.

  1. Legal Practitioner Not to Engage in Trial Publicity

Order

Order 33 RPC Provides: A lawyer or law firm engaged in or associated with the prosecution of defence of a criminal matter or associated with a civil action shall not, while litigation is anticipated or pending in the matter, make or participate in making any extra-judicial statement that is calculated to prejudice or interfere with, or is reasonably capable of prejudicing or interfering with, the fair trial of the matter or the judgment or sentence thereon.

Pitfall

Legal practitioners, including senior lawyers step out of court and make comments on the suit they attended.

  1. Lawyer Not to Solicit for Briefs

Order

Order 39(2) RPC provides: A lawyer shall not engage or be involved in any advertising or promotion of his practice of the law which includes any statement about the quality of the lawyer’s work, the size or success of his practice or his success rate.

Pitfall

Top Tier law firms and commercial law firms regularly send “letter or Introduction” to prospective clients”. See our publication on ambulance chasing.

  1. Lawyer to Use Sober Design for Notices 

Order

Order 41 RPC provides: A lawyer or a firm may display at the entrance of, or outside any building or offices in which he or it carries on practice, a sign or notice containing his or its name and professional qualifications. The sign or notice shall be of reasonable size and sober sign.

Pitfalls

Law firms now adopt the best of graphics and designs to display their sign and notice outside their offices.

  1. Lawyer not to Accept Lump Sum Payment for Litigation 

Order

Order 49 (2) (a) RPC provides: Where a lawyer accepts a retainer in respect of litigation, he shall be separately instructed and separately remunerated by fees for each piece of work and accordingly a lawyer shall not represent or undertake to represent a client for all his litigation or a part of it on an agreed lump sum over a period of time. 

Pitfall

In desperation at the moment, some lawyers accept retainers that would cover all court cases that may be instituted against the client or defended by the client in the period of the retainer. See our post on A perfect example

If all the above provisions are to be strictly enforced, all legal practitioners in Nigeria would probably have a day with the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee.

So what is the way forward? Continue to operate with an unrealistic rules of engagement or an amendment that would provide a practicable rule that would be enforced to restore sanity in the legal profession.

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