Legal Profession: On Plight Of Female Lawyers In Law Practice
Legal Profession: On Plight Of Female Lawyers In Law Practice

By Abdulrasheed Ibrahim, LL.M, Notary Public

Legal Profession: On Plight Of Female Lawyers In Law Practice
I was disheartened and sorrowful when reading the news that two female lawyers were arraigned before a court in Lagos for engaging in a physical combat within the court premises over a client. They are now standing trial for committing an offence punishable under Section 54 of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria 2015. There is no better way to describe the incident than calling it a big shame. Reacting to this ugly scenario, Mr. Torbari, a lawyer said : “ Tomorrow ,they will be appointed to the bench and we shall go and bow and say as the court pleases. Then think of the type of judgments to expect from them .Lawyers without office let alone a library and we are saying all is well. At times, I weep secretly for our profession .Mediocrity is glorified and rewarded while diligence, hard work and excellence is abased and damnified. The basic question; How do we get here and where do we go from here?”

In my own comment, I said : “This is what our noble profession has been turned to. The fight was between what people called ‘charge and bail lawyers’, in America they are called ‘Ambulance chasers’. Those in that system seem to be clamouring for a change of name to ‘Resident lawyers’. What disturbed me most was that the fighters are women who ought to be the first school of children .I hope the NBA and FIDA leaderships are reading this. God save legal profession in Nigeria!”

With the celebration of Women Day still in the air, serious attention must be focused on the plight of women in the practicing of law to avoid the reoccurrence of this kind of shameless act. Lawyers, women in particular are not left out in the reality of economic hardship being faced by the generality of Nigerians courtesy of those “one chance” politicians piloting the affairs of this country. We live in a nation that sits on abundantly endowed natural resources but lack those visionary leaders that are ready to transform that to the advantages of her citizens the way leaders like Lee Kuan Yew transformed his country, Singapore “from third world to first”. One of the major problems being faced by many of our female colleagues was aptly captured by Vivian Uzoma, a female lawyer and virtual storyteller on one of the lawyer social media platforms known as “LAWYERS IN NIGERIA”. According to her:

“Sometime last year, a colleague who just started his law firm told me that he needed a young lawyer as a full time employee. The news gladdened my heart because I had a younger friend who had been looking for a firm to attach herself. I called her on the spot and asked her to meet the principal first thing in the morning. Some days down the line, I realised that I had not heard from my colleague or the young lawyer I sent to him. I called her to find out how her meeting went and she gave me a depressing feedback: the man said he didn’t want a married women. My heart sank on her behalf because this would be the 3rd time she was getting such feedback…One complaint that we get from young colleagues is the inability to find law offices for pupilage after law school and youth service .However ,it is worse for our younger female colleagues who are married and raising families. Many principals are unwilling to give them chance because they see them as unproductive… Stop treating them like second class citizens and give them opportunities to prove themselves. You will never know the strength of a woman until you employ one…”

As if Vivian Uzoma opened a floodgate of lamentation for our female colleagues, the reactions on their part narrating their experiences in the hands one principal or the other were overwhelming. Peace Ugwu, a female lawyer said: “Counsel , you have spoken well, female lawyers particularly married ones are exposed to so many abuses too numerous to mention” . To Miriam Nkiruka, another female lawyer : “Perfectly said! For example , I have worked with males in a law firm and even with my first pregnancy, I was more productive. Unfortunately ,the second pregnancy wasn’t easy on me and my performance at work was affected. In all of this , if the males as employers are more competent ,they won’t be playing the marital sentiment .They want to over labour an employee and pay a sum that can’t foot the accruing bills and expect a 100% loyalty, it’s well o!”. Egwu Zommy Nwankwo Uba relating her own experience said: “I experienced this too…And in the words of the senior lawyer … ‘I don’t want anyone always asking for maternity leave’ Cause I told him then I was still trusting God for the fruit of the worm. Thank God I am doing extra-ordinarily well.”

In the words of Dejo-Ojomo Esther, another female : “Sis, you spoke my mind .In fact some of these principals would also start looking for any slightest opportunity to push you out once you tell them you are getting married despite the fact that you spent your ‘productive’ single life serving the firm .I just wonder if they were not born and raised by women ,some of whom also worked in office”. It is not possible here to quote all the respondents relating all they had been through in the cause of their efforts to practise the profession they had fallen in love with, but let me add that of Olaide Haminat Adebisi-Adetunji, another female lawyer who eventually took the bull by the horns to establish her own law firm:

“I had my share of it as well, so I decided to just be on my own and take briefs as it comes after my Principal passed away and the firm got shut down. Many of the firms especially those owned by the males were, :Do you have a child ?Yes, I do sir. Am sorry I could have even managed to consider you as a female but you have a child ,I do not like excuses: Sir, it’s my child’s vaccination day or my child is not well or I need to go for antenatal or it’s my child’s open day, etc. Before I got one after Call to Bar, I walked a lot and they all said I do not accept females that will come up with too many feminine excuses. There was one senior counsel that even said if only I wouldn’t be getting married in the next 5 years.”

After reading through the lamentations, I sympathized with some of them for what they had been through in cause of their struggle for survival. Although some of our colleagues have also expressed the view that some female lawyers are the architects of their plight because “when they are in office most times is internet (FB, tweeting on latest fashion, trending blogs etc) but honestly some female lawyers are more committed and loyal to the principal than their male counterpart.”, Uzoma seems to concur with this view in her story when she said : “ I will not pretend that I do not know that some married women are the cause of this ‘wahala’.” My take on this is that when lawyers whether male or female are being employed there must be standing order premised on commitment and hard work in the law firm. Contributing to the story of Vivian Uzoma, I said :

“While am not disputing your assertion, it is not only married women that suffer similar fate. We live in a country where many senior lawyers are not ready to assist or encourage the upcoming lawyers particularly those that were not born with silver spoons in their mouths. Those so-called big law firms hardly employ lawyers from the humble backgrounds no matter how brilliant they are if they do not come from those that the firms can benefit from. I stand to be challenged on this my assertion.”

The rate at which lawyers are being churned out year in year out has honestly made the law market to be saturated. Most time you hear some people saying lawyers cannot be jobless, but in reality the situation on the ground today has deflated that argument or assertion. A lawyer whether male or female that is just called to the bar will surely need a particular place to start with. But if that is not forthcoming what do you expect? Employing new wigs is one of the best ways to mentoring young lawyers in the profession, but in reality how many senior lawyers are ready to employ those new wigs? Most lawyers that send out notice of vacancies for employment always ask for a number of post-call years to be eligible to apply. I have never seen a notice wherein it is stated that there is a vacancy for a new wig. If new wigs whether male or female are not given the opportunity to be employed in law firms, where will they acquire those necessary experience from?

As unethical as the “Charge and Bail” or “Ambulance Chasing” practice may be, I am still of the view that some lawyers in that system are there as a result of frustration. I had written many years back in an article titled: ARE LAWYERS GODS? That:

“…Despite all the advice at the law school that new wigs should opt for private practice with big or old wigs (senior lawyers) rather than corporate practice or juicy employment ,many new wigs have avoided working in law firms like a plague. To them going to chambers to work is like going into slavery. The major reason for this attitude of the new wigs is that they are not encouraged by the big wigs .There is a story a lawyer called to the Nigerian Bar in 1999 and rather than immediately taken up employment in one of the Chambers as a salary counsel ,he pitched his tent at a magistrate court to practice what is called ‘charge and bail’ the equivalent of America’s ‘Ambulance chasing’ .When asked why the tent, he said that the chambers he had been to ,offered him peanuts as salary which was not enough to feed him for a month (read the details in Thisday’s Law, Tuesday , August 29, 2001)…”

When you have a country where people claiming to be lawyers could not find jobs to justify that status and are also finding it difficult to discharge their families’ responsibilities as well as settling their bills, what do you expect? I believe the two female lawyers that engaged in physical combat must have found themselves in that category, but they plied their trade beyond the limit by fighting on a suspect brought to court for arraignment but they themselves ended up being arraigned in court for fighting in public. Lawyers supposed to be the conscience of the nation. Another irony of the country we live is that we have too many people including lawyers who are willing to work but the jobs are not just there.

For instance, if a serious minded lawyer is employed in a law firm or any other place of work where the atmosphere is conducive with reasonable take home at the end of the month, will such lawyer have time for “Charge and Bail” or “Ambulance Chasing” practice? But the scenario in most of our Magistrate courts today is very unfortunate when you see the way some lawyers run after suspects that are brought to courts by police for arraignment. I find it difficult to differentiate this from those young men you see in areas like Ojuelegba, Mushin and Oshodi bus stops in Lagos, running after commercial buses carrying loads with the hope of fetching and carrying them for the owners in return for payment to keep their bodies and souls together. This is the level to which our country, the so-called giant of Africa has been dragged to. Must lawyers be chasing clients or be chased by clients?

This happening is another wake up call to the NBA and FIDA Leaderships. The burden is on them to find solutions to the plight of lawyers particularly the female ones. We need to be asking our senior lawyers who have made it in this profession, what are they doing to assist the upcoming lawyers? With all the wealth and fortune they have made, how many lawyers have they also made? Some great lawyers will go into the positive side of history of legal profession for being great and have also made other lawyers great. The words of advice and encouragement to our female lawyers are that they should not relent, lose or give up the hope. The struggle must continue and victory is ascertained. The history of legal profession in this country has chronicled the great achievements of many of our female lawyers that should be seen as their role models and source of inspirations.

IF I WERE JUSTICE ONNOGHEN

I read in the press for the second time, the reactions of Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Kanu Onnoghen, former CJN that he was not given fair hearing before he was removed from office as the Chief Justice of Nigeria. During his lordship ‘s 70th Birthday celebration organised in his honour by friends and associates, the learned jurist stated it in clear term that he was denied fair hearing. He has again raised the issue for the second time at the launching of a book titled: “Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009, Practice, Procedure, Forms ,and Precedent” by Chief Ogwu James Onoja (SAN). According to the latest report: “Onoghen said the rumour was thick and spread fast ,but he decided not to react to it because he never travelled to Dubai or held any meeting with anybody ,including Atiku.”. The former Chief Justice was quoted to have said:

“Prior to my suspension, I was confronted with no allegation .There were rumours that I met with Atiku in Dubai .As I am talking here today, I have never met Atiku one on one in my life .As if that was not enough I was also accused of setting free, high –profile criminal, whereas I ceased to be a High Court Judge as far back as 1978…”

I was shocked by this revelations coming from our former Chief Justice, but I keep wondering , why did he keep quite when such thick rumours were spreading? Was remaining silent at that time the best opt for him in the age of social media? If I were him at that time, I wouldn’t have kept quite as keeping quite would amount to admission of fact. If I were him then, I would have issued or instructed my Personal Assistant or Press Secretary to issue a press statement debunking the thick rumours. Keeping silent was like shooting oneself in the legs. Recently when the news went round the list of new Court of Appeal Justices prepared by the President of the Court had been compromised ,didn’t the PCA came out with a circular debunking that news? While the dust raised by the first reaction of Justice Onnoghen was still yet to settle as Dr. Alex Chukwuemeka Obiechina , a former PDP gubernatorial aspirant in Enugu State took up the former CJN on the issue that it was the acceptance of his prayer that resulted into the removal of Justice Onnoghen, having refused to grant his application before the Supreme court crying for justice. The lesson here is that when people are spreading false rumours about you,do not ignore or keep silent but react appropriately.

NOTE: Anyone is at liberty to disagree with my above submissions as I will surely appreciate a balanced, fair and objective rebuttal.


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