HOW PRACTICABLE IS THE RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT (RPC) FOR THE 21ST CENTURY LAWYER? (RULE 22)
By Sam Omotoso Esq, ACIArb.
Any member of the legal profession called to the Nigerian bar post-2007 will be all too familiar with the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007, hereinafter referred to as (the “RPC 2007“). This is because it is the most recent iteration of the codified rules of ethics that members of the legal profession in Nigeria are required to comply with. The rule being so principal is the bulk of the curriculum of the course Legal Ethics (Law in practice) and also spans through all other courses in the Nigerian Law School.
Prior to 2007, Legal Practitioners had to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct that was in force since 1967 (as amended in 1979) (the “Old Rules”). One must admit that the RPC 2007 introduced reform to the Old Rules in a significant manner. One of such areas is that whereas the Old Rules practically prohibited the advertisement of legal business, the RPC 2007 provides a softer prohibition on advertisement among several other areas. However, one cannot close his eyes to the fact that certain provisions of the 13 years old RPC 2007 has become too medieval, primeval, and primordial to keep up with the pace of the 21st century millennial legal practice and has, for a fact, been flagrantly disregarded, ignored and thrown into the basket of nonexistence by most Legal Practitioners. While several of the provisions of the RPC 2007 can still struggle to stand on both feet, several other provisions sit on a wheelchair with no wheels. Hence, even the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (hereinafter referred to as LPDC) cannot push for its enforcement. One of the provisions in such a critical state is Rule 22 of the RPC 2007.
Before we consider the aforementioned rule in the RPC 2007 that has been found wanting of meeting current realities and standards, it is expedient to revisit one of the most fundamental features of the law, which is the dynamic nature of law.
According to Professor A.O Sanni –
“Law evolves over time in order to meet the specific needs of the society in which it is operative.”
For instance, between 2010 and 2017, the Nigerian Constitution has been altered four times to meet current standards. The RPC 2007 might want to take a cue from the grundnorm.
As stated in the introductory part of this article, the focus shall be on rule 22 of the RPC 2007.
Rule 22 RPC 2007- Calling at client’s house or place of business
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 reason preventing his client from coming to his law office.
For fear of misinterpretation, this provision simply infers that a Legal Practitioner should not go to his client’s house, office, shop, or workplace for the purpose of fulfilling his legal duties. The exceptions provided include special circumstances such as sickness, extreme old age, and urgent reasons.
Without prejudice on the following statement, rule 22 of the RPC 2007 is either the most contravened or one of the most contravened provisions due to its –
- Partial Impracticability and
- Vague nature.
The Partial Impracticability of Rule 22 of the RPC 2007.
I would start by painting a graphical picture.
Mr. Chukwu Esq is a Legal Practitioner who is starting up his legal profession and does not have a law office yet. His law reports, case files, client documents, and laptop are in the boot of his Toyota Camry 1998 model. A friend and client of his, Mr. Anolaba, calls him and requests that he comes to his house because he has an important job for him that could fetch him good money. Mr. Chukwu Esq, very excited, enters his car and zooms off to meet Mr. Anolaba wherever he is so that Mr. Anolaba will not change his mind and contact another Lawyer who will be more than willing to take the job.
The appropriate thing to do, according to the RPC 2007, is to tell Mr. Anolaba to come to his law office. Unfortunately, he is yet to have an office.
In the locus classicus case of Heydon, where the mischief rule of interpretation was established, the court explained that when interpreting a law, the intention of lawmakers should be considered. The intention of the draftsmen in rule 22, like other rules contained in the RPC, is to protect the sanctity and nobility of the legal profession. Hence, it will be more appropriate for a client to visit the law office. However, like Thomas Aquinas once said, “a good law must be practicable,” but rule 22 falls short of that essential feature for several reasons. One conspicuous reason is that some Legal Practitioners do not have law offices. Such Legal Practitioners still have to survive by delivering documents, interviewing clients, and advising clients in the clients’ houses or offices, pending when they can acquire an office. Nevertheless, this should be done subject to rule 1 of the RPC 2007, which enunciates that Legal Practitioners maintain a high standard of professional conduct and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner.
Furthermore, what is obtainable in the business world is also obtainable in the legal industry, which is “client’s satisfaction.” Customer/client satisfaction simply means meeting a client’s/customer’s’ need to the satisfaction and convenience of the client/customer. A lot of clients, especially the rich and or busy ones, will prefer their Lawyers coming over to their houses or offices due to their busy schedule, for security reasons, or for any other reason. Speaking veridically, no one will want to lose a client simply because rule 22 of the RPC 2007 says, “Do not call at a client’s house or place of business,” especially if the purpose of the meeting is for business.
Nevertheless, the rule is not totally impracticable. Some Legal Practitioners with standard law offices accept brief only in their offices. Hence rule 22 does not pose a problem to them. (This is applicable to senior lawyers). But to young wigs or older wigs that are not yet fortunate enough to tap from the milk and honey obtainable in the profession, rule 22 might pose a risk to their growth; hence compliance becomes impracticable.
The Vague Nature of Rule 22 of the RPC 2007.
Rule 22 contains vague phrases like “special circumstances” and “or for some other urgent reasons” without clearly defining the meaning of any of these phrases, thereby leaving room for permutations and false interpretation. The danger of laws not clearly defined is that they could easily be misinterpreted, and mischievous Lawyers can use it as an umbrella to perform acts that are not noble, fit, and proper. Many have interpreted special circumstances to mean extreme old age or sickness; however, this is at best speculative. Hence it comes as no surprise that no Legal Practitioner has been disciplined by the LPDC as a result of rule 22 of the RPC 2007 because the exceptions create a very wide sanctuary, large enough to cover inappropriate actions.
Rather than remain dormant or of no effect, rule 22 should be expunged or amended to meet the current standards and realities. I suggest the latter.
Finally, while we await the long-overdue review and amendment of the RPC 2007, Legal Practitioners are still supposed to treat the profession with sanctity and not hide under the vague nature of rule 22. To recall the pronouncement of the court in NBA vs. Ohioma (2010) 14 NWLR (PT. 1231) 641 at 68, the Supreme Court mentioned that:
Legal practice is a very serious business that is to be undertaken by serious-minded practitioners, particularly as both the legally trained minds and those not so trained always learn from our examples. We, therefore, owe the legal profession the duty to maintain the very high standards required in the practice of the profession in this country.
- The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
- The Rules of Professional Conduct 2007.
- https://ir.unilag.edu.ng:8080/bitsream/handle/123456789/8359/IntroductionToNigeriaLegalMethod.pdf Accessed on 29th Jan 2021.
About the Author
Samuel Omotoso Esq.