Repositioning legal services for optimal impact in the public sector (3)


Ebun Adegboruwa.

By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

Services are to service providers what fruits are to trees that bear them. Thus, the internal contents and conditions of the tree will show up in the fruit it produces. Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. A legal professional’s service cannot be divorced from his character and personality. What a person does, his behaviors, attitudes, worldviews, etc are a byproduct expression or manifestation of his true character which is who he really is. It is our view that every service carries the enduring stamp and badge of the character traits of the service provider.

The point of examining the character-personality factor, vis-à-vis the initiative of repositioning legal services is to say that every genuine attempt at repositioning legal services must begin with the person of the legal service provider. 99.9% of the problems of the world are anthropogenic. In other words, they are man-made. Whether legal services are good or bad is purely the handiwork of whoever the legal services providers are in person! It is very much like the fable told about a lad who wanted to outsmart a popular sage in his community. The lad encloses a butterfly in his fist and asks the old sage: “tell me if the butterfly in my fist is alive or dead” (intending to crush the insect if the sage said it was alive or show the insect alive to everyone if the sage said it was dead; thus putting the old sage between the horns of dilemma) … to which the old sage replied: “whether the butterfly is alive or dead depends on you!”

The qualifying academic training of a legal professional right from the cradle of his legal education up to his call to bar and even beyond is critical to the quality of legal services he ends up bringing to the table later in his professional life. In the common computer parlance, it is a garbage-in-garbage-out situation. A person can only give what he has. The quality of service that a legal practitioner would end up providing eventually would depend largely on the quality of training received and keeps receiving. A lawyer ought always to be a relentless and insatiable student of not only the law which is his professional calling but also other fields of knowledge. He ought also to be abreast with current affairs and news locally and globally. At the university and law school levels, for instance, the use of Clinical Legal Education as an educational initiative designed to allow law schools to meet emerging practice-based needs which the traditional legal education framework fails to address remains commendable. We submit that such a pragmatic approach to learning the law must be encouraged as it helps to lay the groundwork for efficient legal service in the professional life of lawyers. Post-call, the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners mandate lawyers to participate in Continuing Legal Education, thus:
“A lawyer who wishes to carry on practice as a legal practitioner shall participate in and satisfy the requirements of the mandatory Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Programme operated by the Nigerian Bar Association…”

By the design of our legal professional system, after a candidate has been called to bar, ideally, the greenhorn is expected to undertake a few years of pupilage under a law firm. The goal is to groom the young professional in the practice and business of law real life, real time and hands-on. Unfortunately, due to the love of money, like a cake that is not turned, half-baked or undone, some of our young colleagues plunge into practice on their own with no direction. The result is almost always predictable, poor legal services. Much as law is in the books and the language of the law remains one of statutes and decided cases, the intricate labyrinths and dynamics of legal practice and legal services are better caught hands-on than taught (merely academically). Thorough ardent and diligent understudy of the ticks and tips of the practice of law under the hand of a good mentor in a well-structured law firm or public or governmental organizations such as the Ministries of Justice, would lead to profound legal service delivery in all sectors when the young legal professional branches out into any career path of his choice, whether in the public sector or private practice. Much of the unsatisfactory legal services provided nowadays in the legal profession are as a result of paucity of adequate practical post-call, hands-on training. It is suggested that the culture of professional mentorship and pupilage in support of lawyers will go a long way in improving their capacity and proficiency which invariably results in efficient service delivery in the public sector.

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Much of the low-rate legal services we encounter and experience today is a direct fall-out of appointment of incompetent legal staff to man jobs which require high levels of competence, skill and ethical rectitude. As a bad workman who quarrels with his tools, the inept legal officer (who, out of his own pride, may not even seek assistance of a more qualified person) goes on to grapple with the task and the result is shoddy output. It is suggested that for appreciable repositioning of legal services, the employ of the relevant sectors in this regard should be peopled by capable hands based strictly on merit and competence.

The law and the legal profession generally are conservative in character. The temptation is always great for lawyers and legal service providers to allow themselves to be reined in by the pitfall of anti-technology conservatism. Yielding to that kind of attitude surely dulls the edge of efficiency in legal service delivery in an information-and-communication-technology-driven world. There is no greater moment in the history of the world in which the technology revolution or explosion has been witnessed than in our own time. From the ground-breaking advance in computers, the World Wide Web (the internet); social media and now to the use of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI), virtually all areas and walks of life are technology-driven. This is good news, isn’t it? But there’s a little bit of bad news too! In today’s rapidly-evolving legal technology landscape, the use of modern technology has remained, for many lawyers, a bit of a head-scratcher, especially lawyers of developing countries like ours. In the comity of professionals, as far as modern technology is concerned, many lawyers seem to rank number one, counting from behind the queue!

Granted that many lawyers both in the public and private sectors are bracing up to the challenge of technology, which is commendable, yet many still struggle and lag behind in the use of technology. They must repent of that. It’s almost a sin! This collective revival and embrace of modern technology by lawyers have become indispensable in that the complex of the socio-cultural, political and commercial environments in which law must be practiced are quite dynamic, ever developing and changing. There is no gainsaying the fact that law drives change. But it is lawyers who drive the law that drives the change. Therefore, for optimal impact in the public sector, the latest technology must remain the tip of the spear of our professional legal service deliveries and deliverables to clients. Current areas of application of technology include, but not by any means limited to: Legal research, legal drafting and documentation, vetting of contracts and legal instruments, virtual or remote meetings, etc. Embracing legal services will enable lawyers and legal service providers to offer physical and virtual services to both physical and remote clients locally and internationally. This is in keeping with current global best practices.

With the current drive-train of Information Community Technology (ICT)
the whole world can literally be held in the palm of the hand! A direct effect of that is that it is now effortlessly possible to be abreast with the most current information in all fields of life. With the right gadget, even such hand-held gadgets as a handset, with good internet connection; one can access information on the latest developments both nationally and globally in the field of law. Current up-to-date news, data, or information on the latest law such as decisions of superior courts of record can be accessed almost instantaneously on such platforms as NWLR, Law Pavillion, Nexi Lexis, etc. We submit that legal officers must take diligent advantage of all the media available to keep up-to-date with current legal development nationally and globally.

It is common knowledge that a good number of legal officers holding superior positions in some of the public offices have a track record of job apathy. Many of them are more interested in pleasing their political benefactors than rendering legal services anchored on conscientious efficiency. A good number of them do not go through files they are meant to work on so as to provide some leadership, guidance or administrative quality control to their subordinates and those under their influences. The result of that is poor output in the form of unsatisfactory legal services. This has to change.

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