Judge Nelson Ogbuanya of the National Labor Court in Port Harcourt held that the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) regulate individual lawyers and not law firms.
The judge issued the decision in a case marked NICN/PHC/120/2021, between Mr. Wilson Udo Essien and Unitech Drilling Company Limited.
The applicant had, on October 6, 2021, seized the court to assert his alleged dismissal as managing director/general manager of the defendant company, and for the recovery of his arrears of wages and emoluments withheld, and other miscellaneous reparations .
Responding to the lawsuit, the defendant caused an appearance on its behalf by The Zenith Law Firm and filed its statement of defense and other anticipated defense proceedings dated March 2, 2022 and filed March 4, 2022.
Defendant also filed a Preliminary Notice of Objection dated December 23, 2021 and filed on December 31, 2021, on the basis that the lawsuit was wrongly filed in Port Harcourt Judicial Division against Uyo Judicial Division, where finds the registered office of the defendant. .
The plaintiff however filed a preliminary objection against a new appearance/representation of the defendant by MM. Chistopher Attah and Bassey Anwanane, both of the law firm Zenith, in accordance with Rules 7(1) and 8(3) of the CPR for legal practitioners, mainly on the ground that under Article 7(1) and Article 8(3) of the CPR, the two lawyers and their law firm are not competent to appear as counsel for the defendant, being directors of the said defendant.
The plaintiff’s lawyer argued that an employee director of the defendant company cannot act as a lawyer in court for it.
Ruling on the matter after hearing from the parties, Judge Ogbuanya distilled the plaintiff’s objection, which asked whether the CPR applied to the law firm, so as to prohibit a lawyer from appearing in a matter for a corporation under the auspices of the law firm whose partners are salaried directors of the company.
“There is no doubt that this question, which seems trivial, has become obscure, because there is no known legal authority on the subject, which directly deals with the legal question sought to be answered. I had even toyed the idea of inviting some bar chiefs for an amicus submission, but I put the same aside due to the short notice period between the court’s Easter vacation period and the earlier scheduled date for decision.
“The two existing legal instruments prescribing who are legal practitioners and the professional conduct required of lawyers in Nigeria are the Legal Practitioners Act (LPA) and the RPC 2007, made under the LPA. While the LPA stipulates who is a solicitor in Nigeria, the PRC stipulates the lawyer’s professional conduct and what amounts to professional misconduct by a solicitor in Nigeria.
“I have searched the full length and breadth of the provisions of the LPA and CPR relating to the regulation of the professional conduct of legal practitioners. I am unable to find where the conduct of legal practitioners in the exercise of their legal practice is collectively regulated as a firm. What I find rather is that each lawyer, even in law firm, is still regulated individually, ”said the judge.
He argued that the purpose and intent of the LPA and the CPR is to regulate individual legal practitioners, even if they are practicing in a firm.
“Although individual lawyers may group together in law firms, they are imbued with individual responsibility under the PPR, which is never collective in the legal regime of the practice of law in Nigeria,” he said. -he declares.
His words: “In my opinion, since under the LPA and the CPR a law firm does not practice law and is not also recognized as a lawyer, I have no doubt that the processes filed by lawyers that are not tainted with any potential violation of the CPR remain valid. Similarly, nothing affects the right of audience of a learned lawyer who has no restriction on appearing before the court as a practitioner of law practicing in a law firm, to earn a living and to have professional status in the legal profession. I hold on so much.
“In the circumstances, I find nothing prohibiting or restricting the legal practitioners who have cleared the legal proceedings and appeared for the defendant, practicing under the auspices of the Zenith law firm, through which they carry on their business of practicing law and the platform to represent the defendant in this court in this lawsuit.
“Consequently, I find no merit in this objection. The same is canceled and rejected. I hold on so much.