By Nonyerem Ibiam Esq.
The conduct of some lawyers has become worrisome as it relates to the charge of professional legal fees.There is so much confusion on the correct legal fees that stakeholders in the legal profession agree that something urgent needs to be done.
Some lawyers have been reported to be involved in many unprofessional conducts when it came to legal fees.
Some of these infamous conducts include:
Not charging enough for the appearance fee.
Giving unsolicited legal advice.
Receiving appearance fee in court.
Undercharging to prepare conveyance instruments.
Appearing to represent a client at detention facilities without charging upfront.
Meeting and charging clients at beer parlours and pubs.
Accepting sexual favours in exchange for legal services.
Giving detailed legal advice without charge.
The lawyers who indulge in these infamous conducts not only shortchange themselves but negatively affect the practice of other lawyers.
Often, one meets clients who will quickly laugh in your face when you tell them what you charge for your services.
Many of them are ready to tell you that lawyer X down the street charges a fraction of what you are demanding for the same services.
While many lawyers in Nigeria are waiting for the Bar leadership to put a stop to the ugly trend, some experienced lawyers have suggested ways to charge proper fees. One view is that charging proper legal fees should start immediately you establish your own law office.
Cliff Nnanta Chuku, a PortHarcourt based legal practitioner has stressed the importance of beginning your legal practice on a good note.
According to him, when you start by charging high fees, your clients will know that your services don’t come cheap.
Mr. Chuku advised lawyers involved in litigation services to always make sure that the total agreed professional fees are penned down in a document and signed before any process is prepared and filed in court.
Many lawyers are so much in a hurry that they start to prepare documents and court processes without a final written agreement.
Some lawyer’s offices are filled with finished and unfinished jobs whose owners have abandoned without paying a dime after the lawyers have spent time and resources preparing them.
To avoid this kind of scenario Mr. Chuku advises lawyers to always demand a deposit of about 50 percent of the professional fees upfront to show commitment, and spread the remaining to be paid before judgment is delivered.
Many lawyers fall into the error of giving detailed legal advice once a client steps into their law office.
Statistics show that many clients who visit the lawyer’s office for legal advice never return to perfect the brief.
Concerning legal advice, Mr. Chuku asks lawyers to tell their clients that it will be best to do a written legal opinion on the issue for a fee. He said the fee for the legal opinion should be agreed upon before you write anything and attach your bill of charges to it and deliver both at the same time.
Another problem some lawyers face when it comes to charging professional fees is how to handle briefs from their friends and family.
Village people, church members, friends, and family constantly come to lawyers for one legal service or another.
Many lawyers find it difficult to properly charge for these services for fear of endangering the relationship they have with the client.
According to Mr. Chuku, the best way to handle briefs from family and friends is to understand that legal practice is a business from which profit is made to keep up with running costs such as salaries, purchase of office furniture and stationery, and other utilities.
Mr. Chuku sees clients who do not want to pay lawyers as dispensable. He said lawyers should be ready to cut off such clients as he/she does not want you to grow.
There is no doubt that lawyers are missing out on getting what they deserve when it comes to professional fees.
There must be a coordinated effort by all stakeholders to teach both old and new lawyers the art of charging proper legal fees.
If the ugly trend of undercharging continues in the legal profession, the quality of legal services and practice will continue to decline.
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