The thought of Visiting the prestigious chambers of the distinguished senior Advocate Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu was a step in the right direction. Our actual visitation on the 6th day of April 2018 confirmed this fact. After due notifications and correspondences were sent across to facilitate the Visit, we were invited to come with delegates from the 1st to 5th year classes who were members of the forum.
We were not only accepted but was treat with utmost respect and was privileged to be received by the Administrative Head of the Ikpeazu chambers, South East Division. Barr. BENJAMIN OSAKA. A sagacious scholar and a distinguished legal practitioner who gratefully led us into the very bedrock of legal excellence.
HISTORY OF THE IKPEAZU CHAMBERS
The Ikpeazu chambers was founded by the late Hon. Justice Chuba Ikpeazu (of blessed memory) in the year 1946. The 72 years old chamber ranks as one of the biggest and successful chambers across the country. The Ikpeazu chambers has in its long decades of existence produced refined legal giants ranging from Judges, Attorney Generals of which Chike Ofodile (SAN) the former A.G of the federation is one of them. It has produced numerous senior Advocates, Over a hundred legal practitioners within the fields of maritime laws, electoral laws and other general practice.
The chamber embraces all who aspires towards scholarship and has treated with open mind everyone who wishes to tap from its enormous and time proven wealth and resources for research as a repetoire of knowledge and learning. It has one of the most updated chambers having relevant and latest Law reports from English, Austrialian, Indian, American, Nigerian courts. All Nigerian Law reports, practice book, rich depository of textbooks, Journals, magazines, Periodicals and a whole lot more legal documents for the reading pleasure of all who wishes to access the Library.
After the brief history of the chamber, It’s activities and scope has been recounted, we were required to introduce ourselves, levels and this was done with so much enthusiasm as the air became ready for learning in the hall sized library where we were properly assembled around the conference table with the chamber Head at the top of it to deliver the lecture of the day.
He began with…
THE ETHICS OF THE PROFESSION.
“If you want to be a millionaire over night, then forget the legal profession”. This statement stirred a long bout of laughter and as well reflection. He continued. Most young Lawyers and new Wigs has become regular candidates before the Judiciary disciplinary committees for issues ranging from embezzlement of client’s money meant for trust, revenues from estates and properties managed by them and other related fraud of not even being called to the Bar while in practice, Impersonation, misrepresentation and breach of public trust.
He stated that a lawyer must be disciplined, honest, sincere and importantly, humble as against the popular view that lawyers are proud. A lawyer must dress properly with all full and necessary clothings else, the case will be lost on arrival. As people need to be sure that you can properly handle their case before they entrust it to you. They need to believe in you as a person and all these will be determined partly by your outward appearance and composure.
He alluded that in the past, that Law was for the Aristocrats and was not a career for poor men. Only noble men of high social echelon were allowed to determine the fate of other men since, they were less likely to be bought over and even in the recent past in Nigeria, The words of a lawyer were his bounds. He decried the fact that many Things seems to be falling apart and going wrong in the legal profession and must be curbed so as not to rob the legal profession of its nobility and the high esteem which it is to be held. He admitted however, that lawyers have vices just as lay men have complex and it is a matter of self restraint.
THE PROS AND CONS OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION
The chamber Head went proper into the foundation of legal practice and opined that “Many clients as you may have do tell alot of stories and lies in a bid to convince you in order to defend them. But it is the duty of the lawyer to seive the facts from the truth and the truth from the lies and then properly advise such client on the right thing to do or the best step to take in order to successfully prosecute the matter. He stated that success in the legal profession is a gradual process and it should be a step at a time. And moreso, everyone has special grace and favour from the Almighty God. But it takes a lot of hardwork, studying of cases, writing numerous brief. And you have to struggle as the tasks requires a high level of commitment and seriousness. And to be more exposed to the changing trends in law, one must read all new Law reports as they come and make notes on them. Also one must refer to properly decided old cases which is important As they form the footings upon which new cases are expounded in order to accomodate new areas of human endeavours.
You must learn the basics and develop your knowledge base and Remember, 2/3rd of what is taught in the University are not what is seen in practice. Some of the times it includes recycled notes. However, every lawyer must be aptly armed with the substantive Law as they are the compass upon which the procedural laws are navigated. Take for instances, where it is a matter involving contract, it will require pleadings of parties, in some cases of breach of contract, summary trial may be applied. How to commence these processes and the elements of contract must go hand in hand in order to prosecute the matter properly and also the manner in which evidence are tendered need to be properly learnt.
TESTING THE WATERS OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION
He stated that every new wig or lawyer have ‘A first day in court’ which is characterized by so much tension, fear and anxiety. It is described as a moment of ‘ testing the waters‘. The uncertainty of how the case will turn out has discouraged many lawyers from venturing into full legal practice but this is not acceptable. All that a new wig needs on his first day is a lenient Judge who will bear your inadequacies and naivity and offer help to save you from the already tensed mood.
He narrated his experience on his first day in court which he described as a nightmare having to appear before one Justice Ojiakor who had no sympathy for old or new and lashed out on the slightest flaws or mistakes. He stated however that he was confident having studied his brief well and the case of the Senior Advocate Who he was to challenge in the land matter before the court. He advised us “keep your lecture notes well” he was of the view that he won the case based solely on a line in his contract note which his lecturer gave them. Which stated that “in land matters, the land in dispute must be defined, the plan of the area of the land, the survey of the land and proper documentation of the details of the land must be made for the court to validly decide upon it”. He relied on the case of Edet V AGIP. which stated that a court cannot make an injunction over a land that is undefined and uncertain. On his making the submission, the Judge was surprised at him and the Senior Advocate was also shocked with that stunt. Thus, he won his first case in court on his first day of appearance.
With proper knowledge of the law and facts, you can win any case no matter who is involved. He advised, look at the case file critically, get the full facts of the case, try as much as possible to understand your client’s case in order to defend him well and also know the pitfalls and strengths of your opponent’s case in order to attack from there. Unfortunately, most people consider only their own case and end up in fatal mistake and errors.
Going further, he also gave q narrative to buttress his point that a lawyer must be a careful and eagle eyed. In a case where he represented the Nigerian bottling company in an action for compensation due to injury and termination of employment in the company. The plaintiff feigned pain as a result of the injury to hand sustained as a worker. but while outside the court room he had observed how freely he used same hand. So during examination, he, in mock annoyance against his own clients that is the defendant, decried their poor working environment, employer-employee relationship and with this he bought the mind of the claimant. Who later fell for his tactics to show the court how the hand worked before the injury and what he could do then. The claimant in ignorance of the implication, raised both hands properly which indicated that he indeed suffered no pains as he had complained and that was how he won the case.
He stated that “the defendant’s case is to deny you the brief and it is yours to deny him his” the both parties are at war in a manner of speaking but that should end in the court room as clients come and go but the profession still remains.
LEGAL DOCUMENTS AND PROCESSES.
He went ahead to lecture us on documents and various processes used in initiating and commencing different actions ranging from criminal, civil, Electoral matters. VIZ;
PETITIONS – A petition may be used for the process of winding up a company, it could be written in cases of divorce and also in election matters.
WRIT OF SUMMONS – could be used for land matters or in civil matters like breach of contract, torts, negligence. When a writ is used other corresponding documents like claims, counter claims and affidavits may be attached to it.
ORIGINATING MOTIONS – This is used for commencing fundamental human right matters and cases of their violations.
ORIGINATING SUMMONS – This is used in cases where the facts are not in dispute however, there are documents needing interpretation. It could be a Law, sections or provisions of the Constitution. These may be brought to court using this instrument.
TIPS FOR PRACTICE
He instructed that before commencing an action,
-one must look out for the law creating the offence or the wrong
-one must find the court will the proper jurisdiction to hear, entertain or determine the matter. And this can be assessed depending on the extent of the offence, the cost to be awarded and the relevant provisions of the law.
He pointed out that Election matters are Sui Generis and can be very tedious as it has limitation of time and the requisite documents required in proving it are sometimes difficult to access either from the electoral body or institutions with possession of it.
He concluded by stating categorically that ‘every case must not go to court’ At certain times and in some circumstances, it is necessary as a counsel that you advise your clients to seek Negotiation, mediation, conciliation or arbitration rather than institute a legal action in court. Say for instance where there is a debt of 10 million, if calling the both parties and mapping out an installment payment strategy will solve the matter, then Why go to court?
There are many opportunities out there he said. One may choose to be a corporate lawyer. And could be involved in tax management, stock exchange, estate management. One could be an arbitrator, a Judge or public servant in various ministries, departments and agencies. Which ever is the case, you must be determined to make your mark in the legal profession and never forget that you need God in everything you do.
The 4 hours long meeting was concluded with questions and answers from students and lifinites on issues of Law that they need clarifications on. refreshments to go with and picture splashes to save the memories of the day capped the whole event. As the Lifin train continues to move.
With the lessons learnt, we were encouraged to be our very best and never to be discouraged as there is indeed, a golden line beyond the clouds.
OFFICE OF DIRECTOR FOR VISITATION
PUBLIC RELATIONS OFFICER
in conjuction with
OFFICE OF DIRECTOR MEDIA, COMMUNICATION AND PUBLICITY
approved for publication by PRESIDENT, LIFIN
For knowledge and Justice