Enforcing a Scale of Charges for Legal Services in Nigeria

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Abubakar Malami
Abubakar Malami

The law firm S.P.A. Ajibade & Co, last Thursday, brought an array of top Nigerian Lawyers together, to brainstorm on the crucial issue of remuneration for Lawyers for legal services. Leading the discourse was Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, represented by Mr. Abiodun Aikomo; President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Akpata, Chief Executive, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Mr. Babatunde Irukera, represented by Mrs. Eme Ojugo; Raymond Mgbeokwere; Head of Legal, First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Mrs. Gloria Etim, Chairperson, Nigerian Bar Association, Eket Branch; Mrs. Bunmi Jasmine Omeke, Managing/Executive Partner, JGC Partners; and Mr. Reginald Aziza an Attorney at Chevron Nigeria Ltd (represented by Mr. Adetola Onayemi).

The webinar was the annual business luncheon of the firm which is in its 13th edition, and was moderated by Mrs. Shola Soyele, Legal Correspondent, Channels Television.

Dr. Ajibade, SAN who gave the opening remarks and welcomed the speakers and attendees said: ‘The issue of establishing and enforcing a scale of charges for legal services in Nigeria is an important subject, and one that has been of concern to me personally. Legal Practitioners have lost a significant level of respect in society, because of the inability to regulate our profession properly.

‘With discipline in the profession and compliance by clients, enforcing a scale of charges for legal services in Nigeria is possible.’

This Business Luncheon sought to address the issues surrounding the subject.

Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Federal Republic of Nigeria, represented by Mr. Abiodun Aikomo said ‘Talking on his views on a comprehensive scale of fees for legal services in Nigeria, there is no doubt that the Legal Practitioners Act (“LPA”) empowers the Remuneration Committee to set a scale of fees for Legal Practitioners and their services in Nigeria.

Mr. Olumide Akpata, President Nigerian Bar Association on whether or not the establishment of a scale of charges for Legal Practitioners is necessary, he stated that generally, there is no law in Nigeria that stipulates to Lawyers how much they must charge their client for the provision of legal services. The basic rule is that the fee must be fair and reasonable, as is the practice in most jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom.

Mr. Babatunde Irukera, Chief Executive, Federal Consumer Protection Commission, represented by Mrs. Eme Ojugo said ‘A scale of fees is a way of charging legal fees, it is for clients and interest groups also. It seeks to determine what is appropriate. It ensures transparency, and that there are no hidden charges. It encourages transparency, uniformity, discipline and prevents arbitrariness. It is therefore, pro-competitive.’

Mr. Raymond Mgbeokwere, Head of Legal, First Bank of Nigeria Ltd submitted that ‘The Legal Practitioners (Remuneration for Legal Documentation and other Land Matters) Order, 1991 establishes a scale of charges, banks are the worst culprits in refusing to pay the standard legal fees.

‘Lawyers do not charge in accordance to the scale, they do not issue invoices in accordance with the scale of charges as provided, and the breach or non-compliance does not invalidate the transaction.’

The webinar concluded that ‘There is no standardisation or scale of fees for Lawyers in Nigeria. This leads to a wide gap between what different Lawyers charge.

‘Section 15(3) of the LPA enjoins the Remuneration Committee to create a scale prescribing the maximum fees that can be charged. Considering the fact that we operate in a free market economy, this may be too restrictive and impracticable.

‘Section 52(d) provides that Lawyers should charge based on the customary fees, considering the existing scale of fees.

‘The NBA should set a minimum standard that is transparent to prevent the undervalue of legal services and preserve
the dignity of the profession.’