Why Law Firms Cannot Practise Law in Nigeria.

Why Law Firms Cannot Practise Law in Nigeria. Daily Law Tips (Tip 821) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb (UK)

Introduction:  

Law firms, like other businesses, are often more popular than their owners and staff. Millions of Naira and huge resources are spent on branding and pushing the trading names of law firms across the world. Having a popular law firm is good -as it opens the gates- and makes rain. However, there is a thick line (or maybe a wall) between lawyers in a law firm and the law firm itself. The difference is “Why Law Firms Cannot Practise Law in Nigeria”.

Unlike overseas, Nigeria has no true law firm that has been in business for a decade (or even half a decade). You probably may have law firms that started well and at some point, closed down and resumed afterwards in the hands of grandchildren of their founders. However, this seems to be greatly changing with the emergence of many flexible partnership law firms (thanks to technology and the growing demand for attorneys). Now, Nigeria boasts of many billion Naira law firms with huge assets across the globe (truly, separated from the dominance of their owners). This has thrown up more law firm names (business names) than lawyers and all thanks to the millions spent on branding and advertisement (don’t worry, advisement is not prohibited for lawyers). Read more on “Legal Practitioners In Nigeria Can Advertise Anywhere and Anytime” via this link; <https://sabilaw.org/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-193-legal-practitioners-in-nigeria-can-advertise-anywhere-and-anytime/>.

With the growing popularity of law firms (over lawyers) in Nigeria, clients are beginning to take law firms for lawyers. Clients now engage law firms and give authority to law firms. Also, (surprisingly though), many lawyers seem to be carried away by the popularity of their often-westernized law firm names and even sign off documents and perform other lawyering works in the names of their law firms. The websites of many law firms in Nigeria say that the firms are licensed to practise law in Nigeria. This work (“Why Law Firms Cannot Practise Law in Nigeria”) probes the legal implication of having law firms practise law. It reiterates the illegality of the processes and works of lawyers done by a law firm or a lawyer in the name of his law firm. It reminds lawyers and clients that law firms are not lawyers and as such, law firms cannot do any work of a lawyer. The criminal nature of the act of law practice by law firms is briefly examined.

 

Wetin Lawyers Dey Do Self?

Aside from coming to the aid of victims of injustice and helping parties draw up agreements, many Nigerians often wonder “Wetin Lawyers Dey Do Self?” (what do lawyers really do? or what is the role of lawyers?). Truly, this question (often answered in the negative) emboldens the minds of many Nigerians that underpay their lawyers or insult their lawyers and their works. By the way, there are small postcards and stickers that come with this statement; “Wetin Lawyers Dey Do Self?”, apparently seeking to increase awareness of the role of lawyers.

No doubt, understanding “Wetin Lawyers Dey Do Self?” (the role of lawyers) will greatly help in understanding “Why Law Firms Cannot Practise Law in Nigeria”.  Lawyers provide legal services to clients across all endeavours of humankind. This includes representations, dispute resolution, advisory support and many others. The very common works of lawyers across Nigeria includes; to prepare any document relating to rent, tenancy, lease, mortgage, sale, transfer, gift, land, landed property, extracted and not-extracted minerals resources, mines, buildings, structures or relating to probate, letters of administration or any proceedings in court in Nigeria. So, any person that performs any of such works for a fee is performing the duties of a lawyer. Note that to perform the works of lawyers without a license (and be admitted to practise law in Nigeria) is a criminal offence (this is discussed in detail below).

 

Lawyers Vs. Law Firms:

There is a world of difference between a lawyer and a law firm. The difference between the two terms, further explains “Why Law Firms Cannot Practise Law in Nigeria”. You probably see clients write texts like: “… hereby authorizes “XXXXX LAW OFFICE” as our Solicitor/Agent…”or have lawyers sign off documents as“signed by XXXXXXXXX LAW PARTNERS”

In Nigeria, a lawyer is a legal practitioner that has been admitted into the Nigerian Bar and as such licensed to practise law in any part of Nigeria. A lawyer in Nigeria can practise alone or in partnership/association with other lawyers. Hence, in practising law, most lawyers seek to obtain business names that will reflect their focus area, drive, purpose, approach or whatever that they wish. At this point, lawyers create brand names that often seem attractive, pleasing and appealing to prospective clients.

Only human beings that have been found worthy in learning and character can be admitted and licensed to practise law in Nigeria. Hence, Nigeria has no room for corporate/community/group admission and license to practise law. For example, our law firm is Bezaleel Chambers International (BCI) which houses our lawyers across Nigeria and few African countries. So, while Onyekachi Umah, Esq is a lawyer licensed to practise law in Nigeria, the law firm (Bezaleel Chambers International) is a business name registered in Nigeria but not a lawyer. Some business names may even look like the names of their owners, for instance, imagine that there is a lawyer (named; Emeka Abdul) and he owns a law firm (named; Emeka Abdul & Co or Emeka Abdul Law Firm or Emeka Abdul LLP or Emeka Abdul & Associates). While Emeka Abdul is licensed to practise law, his law firm (by whatever name/style) is not licensed to practise law. Consequently, any lawyer work performed by Emeka Abdul’s law firm, in the name of the law firm is invalid unless performed by a lawyer/lawyers in the law firm in his (their) name(s).

Often, when law firms’ names become popular and celebrated, lawyers and clients make the illogical mistake of interchanging the law firm names with that of lawyers. This mistake is very costly. A case can be lost because a client engaged a law firm (by stating the law firm’s name, instead of the name of a lawyer) as his lawyer (after all, a law firm can never be licensed to practise law in Nigeria). Also, many lawyers have lost cases in courts, simply because they signed documents in the names of their law firms and not in their own individual/personal names.

Lawyers are licensed to practice law but their law firms are not licensed to practice law. The practice of law is the exclusive right of legal practitioners called to the Nigerian Bar. No other person, group, partnership, club or association by whatever name can defend the cause of action of another in a court of law. See SECTIONS 2(1) AND 24 OF THE LEGAL PRACTITIONERS ACT.

In the Supreme Court judgment in FIRST BANK OF NIGERIA & ANOR V. ALHAJI SALMANU MAIWADA  (UNREPORTED) DELIVERED ON 25THMAY, 2012 SUIT NO. SC. 204/2002, the court upheld the principle that a law firm is not entitled to practice law since it is not in the Rolls of Legal Practitioners. The same was upheld in the cases of OKAFOR V. NWEKE (2007) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1043) 521 and  SLB CONSORTIUM LTD. V. NNPC (2011) 3 SCNJ 185 at 191

The Supreme Court of Nigeria has on several occasioned upheld the above view on “Why Law Firms Cannot Practise Law in Nigeria”.The Supreme Court judgment in the case of AMOS OKETADE V. OLAYINKA ADEWUNMI & ORS (UNREPORTED) DELIVERED ON FRIDAY, 5THMARCH, 2010 WITH THE LEAD JUDGEMENT OF JUSTICE NIKI TOBI (RTD). (APPEAL NO. 78/2001), the court held that the acts reserved for lawyers but done by a firm of lawyers instead of a lawyer is null and void. Below are the words of the Supreme Court;

“There is a big legal difference between the name of a firm of legal practitioner and the name of a legal practitioner simpliciter. While the name of OLUJlMl AND AKEREDOLU is a firm with some corporate existence, the name of a Legal Practitioner is a name qua Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria which has no corporate connotation. As both carry different legal entities in our jurisprudence of parties, one cannot be a substitute for the other because they are not synonyms. It is clear that OLUJlMl AND AKEREDOLU is not a name of a Legal Practitioner in Nigeria. I say this because there is no such name in the Roll of Legal Practitioners and that violates sections 2(1) and 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act. By section 2(1) of the Act, the only person in the profession wearing his professional name to practice law in Nigeria is a Legal Practitioner and the definition of the Legal Practitioner in section 24 of the Act does not include OLUJlMl AND AKEREDOLU.This, to me, is not a mere technicality that can be brushed aside. It is fundamental to the judicial process as it directly affects the legal processes that brought this case on appeal.”

 

The fate of Lawyering Work Done by Law Firm:

For whatever reason, lawyers continue to wrongly make documents and perform lawyering duties in the name of their law firms, instead of in their own personal names. Law firms are not lawyers (no matter how many lawyers are in the law firm) and any lawyer work done by a law firm is a waste of time, a waste and a nullity. After all, you “cannot place something on nothing” and sanely expect it to stand! See, MACFOY V. UAC (2006) 16 WRN 185 AND NNB PIC V. DENCLAG LTD. (2003) 4 NWLR (PT. 916) 549 AT 573.

This uselessness of works done by law firms is rightly considered by Per OLABODE RHODES-VIVOUR, JSC (as he then was), in the case of BANK OF INDUSTRY LIMITED v. AWOJUGBAGBE LIGHT INDUSTRIES LIMITED (2018) LPELR-43812(SC), as:

“So only a person with his professional name is entitled to practice law in Nigeria and this does not include a legal firm. On no account should the name of a firm be used interchangeably with the name of a practitioner. The former has some corporate connotations while the latter has none. Who is a legal connotation while the latter has none? Who is a legal practitioner affect fundamentally the legal process? It follows that where Court processes are issued in the name of a legal firm such processes are fundamentally defective and remain incompetent, null and void. In SLB Consortium Ltd v. NNPC (2011) 4 SC (Pt.i) p.86.”

By the Legal Practitioners Act, it is a criminal offence in Nigeria, for a non-lawyer to prepare for a fee, any document relating to rent, tenancy, lease, mortgage, sale, transfer, gift, land, landed property, extracted and not-extracted minerals resources, mines, buildings, structures or relating to probate, letters of administration or any proceedings in court in Nigeria. The offence is punishable with a fine that is not more than #200.00 or imprisonment for not more than 2 years or both. Where an offender is a company, the directors, managers, secretaries or any such officer as well as the company will be held liable. However, the offence cannot be brought to court after 3 years from the time the offence was committed. So, in this case, having a law firm perform the works of a lawyer is also a criminal offence and punishable with a fine and or imprisonment.

 

Conclusion:

Giving Caesar what belongs to Caesar will include restricting lawyers work to lawyers and ensure that law firms’ names are not used in place of that of lawyers. There is no law firm in Nigeria that is licensed to practise law in Nigeria rather lawyers in a law firm are licensed to practise law. Law firms are mere envelopes and not postcards, no matter how well designed or attractive they may look. To clients, engaging a law firm instead of a lawyer can ruin your case! To lawyers, be professional and ethical, ensure you do not misplace your business name with your personal name, it may cost you a fortune.

 

My authorities are:

  1. Section 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 318 and 319 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
  2. Sections2(1) and 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act
  3. Onyekachi Umah, “Law Firms/Chambers Cannot Be Engaged and Briefed To Render Legal Services or Sign Documents” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 23 July 2018) <https://sabilaw.org/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-147-law-firms-chambers-cannot-be-engaged-and-briefed-to-any-render-legal-services-or-sign-documents/> accessed 30 August 2021
  4. Onyekachi Umah, “How To Make Power Of Attorney To Be Genuine And Acceptable.” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 16 April 2019 <https://sabilaw.org/how-to-make-power-of-attorney-to-be-genuine-and-acceptable-daily-law-tips-tip-312-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-llm-aciarb-uk/> accessed 1 December 2020
  5. Onyekachi Umah, “Agreements in Nigeria Do Not Require Signatures of Notaries Public or Magistrates or Court Staff to be Legal and Binding” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 13 January 2018) <https://sabilaw.org/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-121-agreements-in-nigeria-do-not-require-signatures-of-notaries-public-or-magistrates-or-court-staff-to-be-legal-and-binding/> accessed 1 December 2020
  6. Onyekachi Umah, “Memorandum Of Understanding (Mou) Is Not A Binding Agreement(Contract).” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 11 February 2020) <https://sabilaw.org/memorandum-of-understanding-mou-is-not-a-binding-agreementcontract-daily-law-tips-tip-502-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-llm-aciarbuk/> accessed 1 December 2020.
  7. Onyekachi Umah, “How To Write Agreements (Contracts).” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 11 March 2016) <https://sabilaw.org/how-to-write-agreements-contracts/> accessed 1 December 2020.
  8. Onyekachi Umah, “Effect of Power of Attorney Not Executed Before a Notary Public” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 23 March 2021) <https://sabilaw.org/effect-of-power-of-attorney-not-executed-before-a-notary-public/> accessed 14 April 2021
  9. Onyekachi Umah, “You Don’t Need To Register Any Agreement In Courts or With A Notary Public” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 2 December 2020) <https://sabilaw.org/you-dont-need-to-register-any-agreement-in-courts-or-with-a-notary-public/> accessed 14 April 2021
  10. Onyekachi Umah, “Stamps and Seals of Courts and Commissioners for Oath Are Not Needed for Agreements To Be Valid.” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 8 June 2018) <https://sabilaw.org/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-118-stamps-and-seals-of-courts-and-commissioners-for-oath-are-not-needed-for-agreements-to-be-valid/> accessed 14 April 2021
  11. Onyekachi Umah, “Requirements For A Lawyer To Be Appointed As A Notary Public For Nigeria” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 3 June 2020) <https://sabilaw.org/requirements-for-a-lawyer-to-be-appointed-as-a-notary-public-for-nigeria/> accessed 14 April 2021
  12. Onyekachi Umah, “It Is Not “Notary Public Of Nigeria” But  “Notary Public For Nigeria” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 30 January 2020) <https://sabilaw.org/it-is-not-notary-public-of-nigeria-but-notary-public-for-nigeria/> accessed 14 April 2021
  13. Onyekachi Umah, “Power Of Attorney Can Not Transfer Ownership/Title Of A Property” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 19 July 2018) <https://sabilaw.org/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-145-power-of-attorney-can-not-transfer-ownership-title-of-a-property/?> accessed 14 April 2021
  14. Onyekachi Umah, “Contents of a Valid Affidavit of Change of Name” (LearnNigerianLaws.com,17 May 2018) <Contents of a Valid Affidavit of Change of Name> accessed 23 June 2021
  15. Onyekachi Umah, “Things that Cannot Be Contained In An Affidavit” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 15 May 2018) <https://sabilaw.org/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-101-things-that-cannot-be-contained-in-an-affidavit/> accessed 23 June 2021
  16. Onyekachi Umah, “Banks Should Not Refuse Affidavits/Documents Made By Notaries Public” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 28 April 2021) <https://sabilaw.org/banks-should-not-refuse-affidavits-documents-made-by-notaries-public/> accessed 1 June 2021
  17. Onyekachi Umah, “How to Certify Documents & Make Affidavits Without Courts” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 14 April 2021) <https://sabilaw.org/how-to-certify-documents-make-affidavits-without-courts/> accessed 27 April 2021
  18. Onyekachi Umah, “Effect of Power of Attorney Not Executed Before a Notary Public” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 23 March 2021) <https://sabilaw.org/effect-of-power-of-attorney-not-executed-before-a-notary-public/> accessed 14 April 2021
  19. Onyekachi Umah, “Agreements in Nigeria Do Not Require Signatures of Notaries Public or Magistrates or Court Staff to be Legal and Binding” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 13 January 2018) <https://sabilaw.org/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-121-agreements-in-nigeria-do-not-require-signatures-of-notaries-public-or-magistrates-or-court-staff-to-be-legal-and-binding/> accessed 1 June 2021
  20. Onyekachi Umah, “Estate Surveyors and Valuers Cannot Prepare Tenancy/Land Documents” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 30 November 2020) <https://sabilaw.org/estate-surveyors-and-valuers-cannot-prepare-tenancy-land-documents/> accessed 17 March 2021
  21. Onyekachi Umah, “It Is An Offence For Non-Lawyer To Prepare Any Document/Agreement Relating To Rent, Buildings, Land Or Mineral Resources” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 12 September 2019 <https://sabilaw.org/it-is-an-offence-for-none-lawyer-to-prepare-any-document-agreement-relating-to-rent-buildings-land-or-mineral-resources-daily-law-tips-tip-413-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-llm-aciarb-uk/> accessed 17 March 2021
  22. Onyekachi Umah, “It Is An Offence For Non-Lawyer To Prepare Any Document/Agreement Relating To Rent, Buildings, Land Or Mineral Resources” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 12 September 2019 <https://sabilaw.org/it-is-an-offence-for-none-lawyer-to-prepare-any-document-agreement-relating-to-rent-buildings-land-or-mineral-resources/> accessed 17 March 2021
  23. Onyekachi Umah, “List Of Agreements And Transactions That Are Invalid If Handled By A None Lawyer In Nigeria” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 3 October 2019) <https://sabilaw.org/list-of-agreements-and-transactions-that-are-invalid-if-handled-by-a-non-lawyer-in-nigeria/> accessed 17 March 2021
  24. Onyekachi Umah, “Legal Practitioners Cannot Sell Land In Nigeria.” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 31 August 2018) <https://sabilaw.org/daily-law-tips-by-onyekachi-umah-esq-tip-174-legal-practitioners-cannot-sell-land-in-nigeria/ > accessed 17 March 2021.
  25. Onyekachi Umah, “Unknown-Court-Staff & the Affidavits Obtained During Court Strike” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 2 June 2021) <https://sabilaw.org/unknown-court-staff-the-affidavits-obtained-during-court-strike/> accessed 30 August 2021
  26. Onyekachi Umah, “Why Payments for Agreements not made by Lawyers are Invalid and Useless?” (LearnNigerianLaws.com, 18 March 2021) <https://sabilaw.org/why-payments-for-agreements-not-made-by-lawyers-are-invalid-and-useless/> accessed 30 August 2021

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