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Few words to a contracting client and his lawyer

Our society has developed to have an appreciative percentage of enlightened people who can read and write. This makes it easy for all the persons…

Our society has developed to have an appreciative percentage of enlightened people who can read and write. This makes it easy for all the persons in the literate class to understand the wordings (not the jurisprudence) behind many terms of contract agreements. It also gives those people the confidence to feel they can draft legal documents themselves; or at the minimum command the lawyer’s way of doing it. Some clients even copied their previous agreements to a new transaction and forward it to a willing lawyer to sign or even do it in the name of the lawyer behind his back. It may be due to the overconfidence that the party has in his business partner or sheer greed to pay a lawyer his rightful fees for the job.

For example, this writer personally witnessed a case where a person lent his business partner millions of forex without signing a single paper. Another scenario is where a lawyer drafted an agreement without proper search for a property which was purportedly transferred to about four preceding buyers just for the fifth buyer to realise after erecting a building on it and after about 10 years of purchase, that the original allottee has never transferred his interest in the property and the record in the lands registry and the land tribunal held same.

This clever by half attitude of clients has been coming at a huge cost to them and has been necessitating costly avoidable litigations and losses which a mere proper search, investigation, and drafting by a lawyer would have prevented.

However, the worse part of this practice happens when a fellow lawyer allows himself to be used for it. How does it happen? A client will call or rush into your office and define to you what he wants. He will tell you “I have bought a property from Alhaji A. and I want you to draft a deed of assignment for us”. By his introduction, he has shown the lawyer that he just wanted him to type an agreement and handed it for him/her to sign just like any printing business centre attendant will do. He cares less about the lawyer’s idea on the seller’s root of title and a search on any pending litigation or risk on the property. Sometimes they even lied to tell their lawyer that the seller is their friend or he is a friend to a trusted friend either because they don’t want anything to stop the business in which they have foreseen huge gain or they just want to reduce the lawyer to a typist in order to pay less. The lawyer who has been presumably trained to calm the client and think differently may desperately and unfortunately rush to draft such a document without any due diligence. His job, of course, has been simplified and his meagre fees are assured to come the soonest. He will therefore draft the agreement and append his seal.

The danger of this practice on the lawyer is the fact that where troubles later emerge in the transaction, the same client will blame the lawyer and even disown him and this is a good ground to petition against the lawyer for breach of the rules of professional conduct because, it is the duty of the lawyer to ensure the legitimacy and propriety of the transaction in accordance with Rules 1, 3, 4, most especially 14 and 15 of the Rules of Professional Conducts for Legal Practitioners, 2007. It is also the lawyer’s duty to ensure that transactions and all his representation for a client are in the best interest of the client and he has the duty to withdraw his services where the client fails to give him the necessary support.

The evidence of a lawyer’s seal or signature in the agreement presupposes that he advised the agreement and does the needful and except where he insisted on an instruction letter from the client, limiting his duty to only drafting the agreement, he may not exonerate himself for any peril that may arise in the transaction.

Finally, failure in the observance of due process on handling contractual briefs and the usurpation of the job of lawyers has proved to be costly to both the lawyer and his client and the trend is assuming an alarming dimension. There is a need for us to kindly take heed in our respective interests.

 

Hussaini Hussaini is a legal practitioner based in Abuja

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