Monday, July 25, 2016

'Seniority at the Bar'. By Adesina Ogunlana

Once you are a legal practitioner especially a practicing one, you are in constant remind of the seniority and juniority concepts in the profession. As is well known, the seniority or juniority of a lawyer depends on when he attains the great and rare honour of being called to the Bar. You may be as old as Methuselah and yet be a junior to a twenty-one year old.

The seniority system is essentially regulatory of conduct and established for orderliness. The senior gets preference of treatment and is always regarded as the leader and the better of the junior. Small wonder then that lawyers protect their relative seniority jealously. Of course the seniority concept is known and respected in and out the Bench. Only that, the seniority on the Bench is not determined by the year of call to the Bar, but by the year of elevation to the Bench.

Some judges, like Savage J. of the Ikorodu High Court activate the seniority system among counsel more than others. In Justice Savage’s court, the judge after taking one or two cases on the cause list as listed would announce that “counsel more than 20 years at the Bar are free to mention their cases.”

In my humble view, the court’s practice dignifies senior legal practitioners and teaches humility to the junior ones. Now a laugh. There was this day I was in Savage J’s court and the judge made his usual declaration. Promptly, counsel voices confidently rang out “23 years!” “26 years!” “28 years!” “21 years!,” etc.

Well, when the “din” died down, a fairly tall figure stood up and announced- “So and so Esquire, 38 years!”

There was silence. Shocked silence. Silence of Respect. Deep Respect. When 38 years finished his case, he walked out of court, with the refined swag of a crown prince. Yet seniority at the Bar is not always about attracting deference and getting benefits. Thus seniority is also a sacrifice, a burden, a responsibility. Responsibility to be a role model of discipline, comportment, integrity, knowledge and standard grooming and dressing. Responsibility to look out for the juniors, the younger ones at the Bar and to be a good example to them.

Unfortunately what one sees in many seniors these days is quite distressing. They dress poorly and in-appropriately, they flaunt dishonest practice and dishonest life styles and instead of protecting and encouraging the juniors, they rather neglect or even worse, exploit them.

Sorry, such seniors’ seniority is nothing but mediocrity at the Bar, consciously or unconsciously misleading those coming behind. The Bar and the Bench should search out such misfits… for sanction!

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