The legal profession like every other profession has its ethics and code of conduct guiding members of the profession. In order to maintain the standard, values, and integrity of the legal profession, the ethics of the legal profession must be adhered to by lawyers in the course of discharging their professional duties, and day to day interactions with members of the society.
The legal profession is a profession for the diligent, those with integrity and good virtues, those who can discharge their professional responsibilities as required. Thus, the Supreme Court in the case of N.B.A vs Ohioma (2010) 14. N.W.L.R (PT.1231) 641 at 680 states:
“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 legal profession all over the world has legal ethics that govern the conduct of legal practitioners, their duties to the Court, to the clients, to the society, to their colleagues, and so on.
Being a profession that is of great importance to the society, the legal profession must keep up with societal changes, technological innovations and emerging trends. These can be done by reviewing the Code of Conduct governing legal practitioners when necessary, that way it won’t seem outdated, and it will conform with the social system.
The Rules of Professional Conduct 2007
The ethics of the legal profession in Nigeria has been codified in the Rules of Professional Conduct 2007 (RPC). This outlines how legal practitioners should carry out their legal duties.
The RPC enacted in 2007 can be said to be a welcome development to the members of the legal profession since they were subjected to a much more strict principles. In modern times however, the RPC no longer reflects the realities of the legal profession as some of its provisions have been influenced by the impact of technological innovations thereby making it archaic. In order to cater for the shift in time, some of the provisions of the RPC need to be amended.
The Provisions of Section E of the RPC and the Impact of Technology and Social Media
Section E of RPC (Improper Attraction of Business) sets out the rules on the conduct of attracting legal business.
Rule 39 of the RPC deals with Advertising and Soliciting. Rule 39(1) provides:
Subject to paragraph (2) and (3) of this rule a lawyer may engage in any advertising or promotion in connection with his practice of the law, provided:
(a) It is fair and proper in all the circumstances
(b) It complies with the provisions of these Rules.
This appears to be an approval of advertising of the legal business as long as certain conditions are complied with. This is not the case as Rule 39(2) and (3) have clearly stated the boundaries within which such advertising must remain.
The legal profession is not immune to the influence of technology, and regardless of how conservative it is, technology has overtime found its way into the legal profession. As a result of the impact of technology, many countries have changed their Code of Conduct for legal practitioners especially as it relates to the rules of advertising and soliciting for legal business. The use of technology in providing virtual services and the use of Artificial Intelligence has affected the manner in which legal services are promoted.
Advertising to Prospective Clients
Rule 39 (2) (c) and (d) of the RPC provides: ok
A lawyer shall not engage or be involved in any advertising or promotion of his practice of the law which
(c) makes comparison with or criticizes other lawyers or other professions or professionals;
(d) Includes statement about the quality of the lawyer’s work, the size of success of his practice or his success rates
The above provisions can be complied with by traditional litigators. However, this is almost impossible for the modern day legal practitioners, commercial lawyers especially.
Some prospective clients seek of details from law firms or legal practitioners, what differentiates such law firm or legal practitioner, how they can perform better, and also what benefits the client stands to gain from working with such law firm or legal practitioner. Releasing of the details required by those clients goes against the provisions of Rule 39 (2) (c) and (d) which prohibits comparison and statement about the lawyer’s quality of work.
The use of websites by Legal Practitioners
The RPC made mention of the use of note-papers, envelopes, and visiting cards, signs and notices, the publishing of books and articles, and email address. It however, did not include the use of websites. Most law firms and legal practitioners both within and outside Nigeria now have an online presence through their websites where they promote their legal services to members of the public. Most clients will not even think of working with lawyers or law firms without websites.
The use of Social Media to Promote Legal Services
Rule 39 (3) (a) states that a lawyer shall not solicit professional employment either directly or indirectly
(a) by circulars, handbills, advertisement, through touts or by personal communication or interview.
The use of social media by professionals to advertise their professional expertise is now a normal thing to engage in. Infact, not having a professional social media platform/s makes one look unserious and unprofessional. Members of the legal profession are also not excluded.
Having a standard social media platform like LinkedIn can promote people and assist them in achieving their aims. LinkedIn profiles now serves as online CV as people advertise their potentials and what they can offer to their targeted audience. Law firms are also not left behind as they also operate different social media handles.
The use of social media and websites by lawyers and law firms in Nigeria may not necessarily be against the RPC, the issue on ground is that it is almost impossible to use them without violating the provisions of the RPC.
The legal profession in Nigeria has not been able to embrace the standards required of the modern day legal profession. Nevertheless, legal practitioners in Nigeria have been influenced by technology and this has changed the way they perform their legal activities.
The RPC is an analog rule in a digital age as it does not tally with societal and technological changes. Although the RPC has been enacted to keep lawyers in check, its provisions will only be more effective if it conforms with the current situations of legal practitioners.
Hence, amending the RPC to cater for the changes that are taking place in the legal profession is necessary. This will assist lawyers stay abreast while carrying out their legal duties. It will also promote the integrity of the Nigerian legal sector and assist it in keeping up with international standards.
Halima Ummi Ismail is a Law Student from Bayero University, Kano. She can be contacted via email: email@example.com