20 Guiding Legal Principles for Successful Lawyers in Nigeria.

20 Guiding Legal Principles for Successful Lawyers in Nigeria.

Compiled by: Moruff O. Balogun, Esq.

1. Counsel to have confidence in the success of a case before accepting it.


OBO V. PHILIPS [1993] 5 NWLR [PT.296] 751 AT 764.

Per Kolawole J.C.A stated as follows:

“One of the elementary lessons which a new wig was usually given upon his being sponsored to be enrolled at the old Federal Supreme Court was that when a junior counsel is briefed to handle a case, he should study the case very meticulously and after he has satisfied himself that the case is thoroughly bad, unsustainable and lacks any merit, counsel should be bold to advise the client that the case lacks any merit and should not be pursued. If the client insists on pursuing the case, counsel should, in honour, decline to handle the case. It is no credit to any counsel who takes a brief knowing fully well that there is no slim chance of success to blindly prosecute the case.

A case is never prosecuted just for the fees due, counsel must have confidence in the success of the case before obtaining the brief. Perhaps, if learned counsel had studied the case very thoroughly having regards to the pleadings and the evidence, it may be that he would have convinced the appellant that the foundation of case was rather weak from the beginning to the end”.



2. Counsel’s duty to distance himself from sentiments.

ADEFULU V. OKUNLAJA [1998] NWLR [PT. 550] 435 AT 452.

Per Ogundare J.S.C stated as follows:

“I pause here to comment briefly that the recklessness shown by Mr. Adefulu, is a clear indication of his frame of mind in this matter. He did not, behave as one would expect of an officer of the court. Rather he exhibited an attitude of a wounded lion, his father being the applicant in the matter. He could not isolate his personal grief from his duties to the court. I think it is undesirable for a barrister to put himself into a situation in which he cannot be counsel in the true sense of the word, because he is in substance the party. Mr. Adefulu would have done himself a greater justice if he had not placed himself in the invidious position of being counsel in this matter”.


3. Counsel choosing only part of Judgment favourable to his case.

G. CAPPA PLC. V. ADMINE & SONS [NIG.] LTD. [2002] 11 NWLR [PT.777] 32 AT 49.

“It is relevant to observe that it is not proper for a counsel to pick and choose the only part of the judgment that seems favourable to his case, any judgment of the court should be read as a whole because the whole theory of our system of judicial precedent is that the decision of the Supreme Court is binding on all lower Courts”.


4. Counsel citing authorities not in support of his case.

ADIO V. A.G. OYO STATE [1990] 7 NWLR [PT. 163] 448 AT 475-479.

Per Akpabio J.C.A stated as follows:

“I would like to emphasize here that learned counsel should always refrain from attempting to mislead the court by citing authorities which do not support their cases. I think it bothers on intellectual dishonesty for learned counsel to set out an array of cases in his brief, none of which supports his case. I think it is also not an answer to the argument of one’s opponent to resort to abuses, by referring to his grounds of appeal as “vexatious, annoying and irritating”.


5. Counsel’s duty to a party where he is the best witness for all the parties.

AUNAM [NIG] LTD  V.  U.T.C [NIG.] LTD [1995] 4 NWLR [PT. 392] AT 765.

Per Okezie J.C.A stated as follows:

“I will not conclude this judgment without commenting on the role played by Mr. R.L Yusuf, learned counsel who conducted the case for the defendant in the court below. In paragraph 4-6 of the statement of claim, his conduct in the entire transaction was mentioned. He is the legal adviser of the defendant and at one time acted as solicitor for both parties in the transaction. He should have been the best witness for the parties and in fact on 25/01/91, when hearing was to commence, Mr. Hamman, learned counsel for the plaintiff told the court that Mr. Yusuf was his first witness. He knew all the facts, and he should have been of immense assistance to the court, but he failed to do so”.


6. Counsel appearing in court without case file.

MADU V. OKEKE [1998]5 NWLR [PT.548] 159 AT 164.

Per Tobi J.C.A stated as follows:

“It is unethical for counsel to appear in court without the relevant case file. It is like a carpenter going to his workshop without the requisite wood. As the carpenter cannot carry out his function of carpentry, so also will the advocate not be able to carry out his function of advocacy. That is bad, very bad indeed. I do hope that counsel will not like to find himself in such a situation again. This court is not likely to tolerate a repeat performance”.


7. Importance of language to counsel.

OGIALE V. SHELL PET. DEV. CO. [NIG] LTD [1997] 1 NWLR [PT. 480] 148 AT 178

Per Nsofor stated as follows:

“Counsel ought to mind their language and choose carefully the terms they use. Words are tools of work by the solicitor or barrister”.


8. Counsel pouring derogatory remarks on judge.

UDO V. OKUPA [1991] 5 NWLR [PT. 363 AT 381.

Per Tobi J.C.A Stated as follows:

“As it is, learned counsel for the defendants/appellants felt so bitter about the way the learned trial judge evaluated the evidence before him, to the extent that he accused him of making up his mind to give judgment to the plaintiffs/respondents. Let me take a little recess to react to that unfortunate language of learned counsel.

It is unfortunate that he strayed into the arena of the trial Judge by using such rather sad language. A trial Judge has nothing in the world to protect than his integrity, probity and fidelity of purpose. Once these judicial qualities are questioned or are in doubt, the judge is in some trouble.

Unfortunately, he has no way of defending himself and so he remains quiet, although he is neither dumb nor a robot. He is one rational thinking being who only respects the sacred traditions of his calling and one of such is not to talk in the circumstances of the attack of learned counsel. I do not think it is part of good ethics for counsel to level unfounded criticisms on members of the bench just for the fun of it. On no account should counsel hide under the appellate process to impugn the integrity of any member of the bench. That is never done in any civilized legal system including ours. Since the learned trial judge, and let me mention him here, Binang J. cannot obviously defend himself, I have a duty in the exercise of my inherent appellate jurisdiction, to protect him, and I so protect him”.


9. Counsel for one party cannot dictate to counsel for another party the conduct of the latter’s case.

ELIKE V. NWANKWOALA & ORS [1984] 12 SC.301

The Supreme Court stated that“ Counsel conducting a civil case is, as a matter of law and civil procedure, in complete control of his case. He is a master in his own house. He sufficiently knows the witness for the case he is presenting to court, the order of presenting and marshaling those witnesses for the proof of vital point for effectiveness and in support of his case”.


10. Legal practitioner representing himself in court.

HABID [NIG.] LTD. V. OYEBANJI [1998] 13 NWLR [PT. 580] 71 AT 86.

Per Opene J.C.A stated  as follows:

“It is pertinent to observe that there is nothing wrong for a legal practitioner to represent himself in a matter before the Court, but common sense and experience dictates that it is better for him to engage the services of another lawyer. This is so because in many cases, the emotion and sentiments could becloud his reasoning and vision that he could not easily see things as any other lawyer could see them”.

This is exactly what has happened to the respondent in this case. He did not only display this in the way and manner that he argued his brief but also in the oral argument before this court”.



Moruff O. Balogun Esq.

Ijebu Ode, Ogun State.


09121207712 [WHATSAPP]

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