I write from my little desk which has been serving as office for the last month. It is easier to stay at home particularly when you know that you can go out if you want, but if you are told that you cannot go out even if you have nothing serious to do out there it feels like a prison sentence. As lawyers, we understand the principle of false imprisonment better than the layman.
You will agree with me that, If there is any moment in our lifetime that can be referred to as a defining moment in history, this one will pass for it. From the beginning of time, mankind has faced various global troubles, armed conflicts, which have changed the course of history.
The generation before us lived through the second world war while their predecessors went through the first world war and the influenza pandemic of 1918.
In Nigeria today, the coronavirus crisis has already changed lives and livelihoods as we know it. A lot of things will also change in legal practice business too.
The phenomenon called digital age is now experiencing greater growth than ever in our Country and our practice is no exception. The idea of teleconferencing or virtual meeting is now becoming essential. Physical meetings will now have to intertwine with virtual meetings when we resume partially on Monday, 4th May, 2020, or when we resume fully as this has become inevitably part of life henceforth.
It is pertinent for us to know that until the concept of ‘social distancing’ and/or physical distancing is relaxed, chambers meetings, clients’ meeting or Court appearance and proceedings as we know and used to, will never be the same again.
A masked man used to scare people, but now he may actually be safer than the unmasked! People will now be wary of unmasked men. This is because the fear of the virus is rising and also raising stress and psychological problems. I see people who are panic-stricken because they have a cough, or had a headache.
The economic crisis that is developing from this will make you even more scared and we don’t know when this will end. As for Nigeria, our revenue is about 90% dependent on oil for which reason the world economy will need to recover for oil demand to pick up. Though, for economic sustenance, Nigeria must continue to diversify and be less reliant on oil revenue as it is no longer viable.
Like the Rotary International has been doing in the case of Polio in Nigeria, a vaccine will need to be found, and mass vaccinations done for people to feel free to engage in productive economic activities. The experts are telling us that any reliable vaccine will still take about twelve to eighteen months away to be in sight. Airlines will find it difficult to fly full capacity because it is impossible to have social distancing in an aeroplane. That is even if any country will let you in!
The other worry is the expectation of a ‘second wave’ of infections when this phase subsides. We expect this because it has always occurred in previous pandemics. Isn’t this scary?
Whichever way it is, we are in it for the long haul. So, learned silks, seniors, younger colleagues and contemporaries, unknot, take off your tie and relax, it is going to be a long day.
In the course of this lockdown I have taken part in several online sessions/webinars and have found that the growing community of Lawyers cannot but step up our practice style and standard. The business environment has changed and the question to ask oneself is ‘am I in or out’ of the box.
As well delivered during the virtual knowledge sharing session heldd on 30th April, 2020, Ngozi Aderibigbe of Jackson, Etti and Edu, asked a rhetorical question implying the assumption that every participant who is a lawyer has personal laptop to work with. Should a Lawyer not have a personal laptop that you can operate by yourself in this age and time, then, your business has not started at all. Yes, you may have been in active practice but not in active business.
As far as the pandemic is concerned we are in uncharted territory now. This is the situation for lawyers who are yet to join the bandwagon of IT-compliant community of lawyers. Even though, it was the opinion of the Israeli Attorney, Michael Decker, the second Speaker during the webinar attended on the 30th April 2020, that virtual meeting is not going to completely take the place of physical meeting, I still posit that it is advisable to join the bandwagon in this unpredictable period. We are not sure when we will be fully out of this pandemic.
Despite the several legal issues already raised about whether the Rules of Court as presently drawn can accommodate full-fledged virtual court proceedings, we need to begin to study the new Practice Direction of the Lagos State High Court in this regard, so as to ensure we remain in business. This is another reason we must join the bandwagon now.
These are challenging times, but since the world has survived worse times I am confident we will beat this too.
I welcome us to a brand new month.
Let’s not forget to stay safe to stay alive.
Adeyemi Abijo, Esq. is the lead-partner at LegalHub Partnership, Ikeja, Lagos.