The lawyers expressed dismay at a recent letter from the law firm Wole Olanipekun & Co., which they described as a violation of Rule 39 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, prohibiting self-publicity and solicitation by Nigerian jurists.
Lawyers said what the company did was “a serious breach” that needed to be corrected to protect the integrity of the profession.
It comes after it emerged that a partner at the firm, Adekumbi Ogunde, wrote a letter to Caio Francesco of Saipem SPA, clients of the law firm Ajumogobia & Okeke, soliciting briefs.
The letter became public through a response from H. Odein Ajumogobia (SAN) of Ajumogobia & Okeke and addressed to Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Founder, Wole Olanipekun & Co.
In an email dated June 23, 2022, with the subject line “Claim of US$130 million in Nigeria – Rivers State Government against Saipem SPA, Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited and Ors”, Ajumogobia referred to a letter written by Ogunde, a partner of Wole Olanipekun & Co, which he claims violated the rule against self-publicity and solicitation by Nigerian lawyers and amounts to “gross misconduct of the worst kind”.
Ajumogobia, who said his firm’s clients had brought the correspondence to his attention, expressed “extreme disappointment and utter disillusionment” that such a letter came from Olanipekun’s firms, “given your stature at the Bar. in general and as current President of the College of Counselors, in particular.”
Stating that the letter “also contained false and misleading statements with several defamatory imputations about myself and my company”, the former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources thus demanded: “Within seven days from the date of this letter , a written apology to the firm Ajumogobia & Okeke of Wole Olanipekun & Co, for this most deplorable conduct of Adekumbi Ogunde and your firm.
He also requested that Wole Olanipekun & Co write to Saipem senior management to retract said letter, adding that the retraction and a copy of the apology to Ajumogobia & Okeke law firm “must be copied to Saipem SPA senior management and the same recipients as the original email.
Responding to Ajumogobia’s email, Wole Olanipekun & Co. dismissed the letter, saying the writer acted entirely on her own.
In a disclaimer dated June 24, 2020, the firm described the entire scenario as “very embarrassing for the entire office.”
Dissociating itself from the disreputable development, the firm said: “The said letter was written without the instruction, authority, mandate, approval or consent of Wole Olanipekun & Co.; nor was it brought to our attention by the writer.
He said it has never been the law firm’s practice “to solicit business or clients, and we will never engage in that disturbing practice and trend.”
The company described Ajumogobia as one of the leaders in the legal profession, strong in character and knowledgeable.
Wole Olanipekun & Co. said, “The letter is hereby unequivocally and unreservedly retracted.”
Two associate attorneys, James Adesulu and Quam Owolabi Bisiriyu, signed the disclaimer on behalf of the firm.
Lawyers, however, said the disclaimer fell short of expectations.
A senior lawyer, who sought anonymity, described it as ‘incredibly offensive and disparaging’, saying it was ‘extremely disrespectful and beyond Mr. Ajumogobia’s pallor’ that two junior associates had signed a letter addressed to a senior lawyer in Nigeria.
Another senior lawyer said the breach needed to be dealt with urgently, saying: ‘Unilaterally or not, a serious breach has been committed and it is filthy that if left unadmonished it will open a floodgate for all sorts and that won’t be long before the profession is destroyed by funny people.
For Aham Njoku, an investigation should be immediately launched to establish the veracity or otherwise of the assertion of the partner to the effect that he is using his position to influence business.
Furthermore, Elijah Briggs, a solicitor, pointed out that the partner in question should be appropriately personally sanctioned by the Law Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) for the breach.
For his part, Muhammad-Sani Umar said the partner deserved to be brought before the LPDC and given the opportunity to defend herself.
According to him, it will be pure providence if she escapes the sanctions, adding that a simple suspension of a few years would send the right message.
But, a senior lawyer from Nigeria, Yomi Alliyu, said the lady did not do what had not been done elsewhere except she did it brazenly.
He observed that a diplomatically worded letter without soliciting and asking for an appeal would have had a better result.
“It would have even revealed to him that his intervention was unnecessary because the matter was closed,” Alliyu argued, adding, “anyone who has not committed such a sin should cast the first stone.”