The book, LEGAL PRACTICE SKILLS & ETHICS IN NIGERIA split into 23 chapters, is a combination of essays by learned writers from the bar, the bench and the academia. The Editor ingeniously blends and knits the diverse topics into a continuous stream and flow, as every succeeding chapter appears to be a continuation of the preceding one.
In content and form, the book is aimed at empowering a genuinely thirsty and desirous reader with those skills that are essential for the effective practice of Law as well as other professions. It puts the reader in a better perspective of the tools needed for growth in his chosen profession. Even for non-lawyers, the book is most useful when one considers the chapters dealing with communication, writing, meetings and negotiation skills. For the law student who is genuinely interested in understanding and acquiring the essential skills in the profession, the book is a sine qua non.
The book is broadly divided into two parts. Part I is composed of 12 chapters and is titled "General Practice and Ethics" which incidentally represents the areas that Chief Ibironke, SAN thought at the Law School while Part II comprises of 11 chapters on "Skills".
In chapter 1, Chief Afe Babalola, SAN (OFR) opens with "Key to Success at the Bar". He places on the table, the keys that are necessary for a successful practice at the bar prominent among which is the ability to distinguish theory from practice because, knowledge of the law alone will not suffice unless it is coupled with legal skills and a mastery of English language. He emphasises the need for respect for the etiquette and the code of conduct in the profession as embodied in the Rules of Professional Conduct. Conclusively, he argues that hard work, diligence, politeness and the likes may not themselves achieve the goal unless good luck is added.
The erudite Hon. Justice Niki Tobi, JSC (CON) took centre stage in chapter 2. In his characteristic manner, the versatile author made an exposition of the Bench in Nigeria with particular emphasis on the "Higher" bench. Coming from an academic background, the Hon. Justice’s paper makes an interesting reading as he explains the challenges and the prestige attached to the bench. While agreeing that the conditions of service have improved, he invites legal practitioners who have good and sound learning and character to come on board.
Geoffrey Uwadiegwu Oputa tackles the vexed issues of solicitation, advertising and publicity in chapter 3. He makes an in-depth analysis of the topic both from the 1990 Rules of Professional Conduct and also from the 2002 draft. He compares the American, British and Canadian positions on the subject and concludes that there is immediate need for reforms. Hon. Justice Ishaq Bello reminisces over his experience on his first day in court. He shows that the nervousness experienced by a ‘new wig’ in his first day in court is not a new phenomenon. However, to overcome the nervousness, he suggests the demystification of the court or Judge. There is no reason why the court/Judge should remain a source of scare or subject of obscurity.
In chapter 5, ‘Yinka Fashakin traces the history of legal profession in Nigeria, the various aspects of legal practice in Nigeria and the restrictions on the right to practice. This is followed in chapter 6 by Oladipo Bali’s Emerging Trend in e-Commerce: The Nigerian Legal Perspective in which the learned author browses with the reader into the new world of ’e-money’, ‘e-commerce’, and the extent to which of Nigerian laws have braced with the current tide. Closely related to this is Basil Udotai’s look at "The Growth and Challenges of Information Technology in Law Practice in Nigeria which dissects the good, the bad and the ugly of information technology in Nigeria in chapter 11.
Ngozi Alili, on "The Recovery of Legal Practitioners’ Fees and Charges in Nigeria: Some Matters Arsing", extensively examines the subject and observes that the procedure thereto is now becoming very technical.
The next is Vincent Dike’s "In-House Counsel in Banks and Other Financial Institutions: A Practical Approach to the Challenges" which the learned author, as an insider uses to lay bay the position and versatile roles of the in-house counsel as well as his limitations while in chapter 9, Chibuikem Opara appraises The Controlling Bodies of the Legal Profession in Nigeria; duffs his cap for the Council of Legal Education and suggests a synergy of the other bodies for a cohesive and effective profession and members.
Chapter 10 by Y. D. U Hambali on "Professional Ethics and Discipline at the Bar" thrashes the nagging problem of misconduct and suggests effective ways to bring erring lawyers to book before Mrs. ‘Gbemi Odusote closes this part with a very critical Appraisal of the Legal Status of a Legal practitioner’s Client Account with a call for penalty for lawyers that fail to provide separate clients’ accounts.
Part II starts with Kevin Nwosu’s "Key to Successful Negotiations" in chapter 13, which gives a picture of a successful negotiator as the person who is specially skilled in both the art and science of negotiation. He proceeds to elaborate on the need for adequate preparation prior to negotiation. While hinting on the bad habits to be avoided in negotiation, the author takes time to explain some of the terms, strategies, styles and tactics associated with negotiation. Particularly, he demonstrates the way the Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) is worked out. In a related vein, Chantal Epie in her paper, "Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills: Understanding the problem solving (win/win) Approach in Negotiation" in chapter 22, does a juxtaposition of adversarial and collaborative systems of dispute resolution and advocates a paradigm change in the mindset of lawyers. She uses vivid illustrations to demonstrate the working of the win/win strategy in negotiation and particularly argues that unlike hitherto believed, lawyers will be more relevant in resolving disputes if they re-direct their training and expertise from litigation to problem solving whether as ‘expert advisers’, ‘moderators’, ‘agents’ or ‘mediators’.
One of the areas where a legal practitioner negotiation skill is often employed is in respect of leases, tenancies and assignment. In chapter 14, titled "Guides on the Negotiation of Leases, Tenancies and Assignments", Larry O. C. Chukwu presents a step-by-step insight on the negotiation of various issues and points out however that the far a negotiator pushes his case depends largely on the positions of the parties. Where the factors are lopsided in favour of one party a good negotiator should know where to limit his demands. The party with a better "BATNA" should know how to make vital concessions without being subservient.
Another skill that dominates the book is the writing skill. Here, Dr. Paul Obo Idornigie in chapter 15 examines how a meeting can be successfully conducted, whether private or public meetings. He discusses how meetings are properly convened, constituted and conducted as well as how decisions are taken and how proceedings in a meeting are recorded in the form of minutes. In chapter 16, Prof. John Ademola Yakubu does a review of source materials in legal research papers, dissertations and thesis. He identifies the use of the Internet as a relevant and important source of material in legal research stating that the problem imminent in this appears to be the problem of control in view of the laws relating to intellectual property. Dr. Ibibia Lucky Worika, in chapter 17, guides the reader on how to choose an excellent topic; the research involved and the actual writing with citation, footnotes, endnotes and references in research. As law students, lawyers and law teachers continue legal education; they make contributions that invariably influence the world for according to the learned author, "…we invariably influence the world around us by those contributions we make, however, intangible that attempt to merge puritanical idealism with the prosaic world of actual reality".
Sylvester Imhanobe writes on "Legal Writing and Drafting in Plain English" in chapter 18 where he identifies the common failings of lawyers. While he does not advocate a blanket abandonment of all technical terms and strict legal concepts, the learned author insists that there is no replica for plain English in legal writing and drafting and proceeds to demonstrate to the reader how this can be achieved.
In chapter 19, Mrs. Roli Hariman’s approaches communication from a holistic angle. In her paper, "Basic Communication for Lawyers", she discusses basic communication rules for oral, written and non-verbal communication instructing that communication skills can be improved on if the reader is ready to read extensively, listen to good speakers, develop a large collection of words/phrases, improve his grammar, practice regularly and take advantage of available information technology.
The importance of management as a skill is examined in two chapters of the book. While Wale Obayomi writes on "Raising Standards in Litigation Management in Nigeria" in chapter 20, P.C. Okorie takes management skills from the law office angle by examining some of the basic management/administrative requirements for successfully running a law firm.
Conclusively, Mr. Kevin Nwosu, in conjunction with Mrs. Roli Harriman knit these various skills into one in the last chapter as "Presentation Skills for Lawyers". Their work is typified in the quality of the book - LEGAL PRACTICE SKILLS & ETHICS IN NIGERIA.
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