Getting a lawyer can be easy, yet, one of the most difficult things for many, because of their preconceived belief that hiring a lawyer entails so much money. A lawyer or an attorney is a legal practitioner whose profession entails representing clients in civil or criminal cases in a court of law or to advise or act for clients in legal matters.
A lawyer is saddled with the responsibility of representing their clients in court, arbitration, administrative and legislative hearings, consultation for legal information and advice. A lawyer also represents his clients in negotiations, conducts searches, investigations, and helps to review documents.
A lawyer has a duty, to be honest, and represent his client within the bounds of the law. He also has the duty to guide the court and uphold the law as well as to respect his colleagues and conduct his case diligently.
Hiring a lawyer
To find lawyers to hire or retain is not so difficult. All that is needed is for the client to walk into a nearby law firm or ask a friend/relative to connect him/her with one.
In this era of technology, one could simply search online for the addresses of law firms around them. When you get to meet with the lawyer, the lawyer will listen to your complaint and proffer a possible solution to it.
Usually, lawyers charge their clients based on the nature of the complaint they want them to solve.
Mostly it’s service-based (nature of the services they are rendering). Most times that depends on how the lawyer perceives him/herself, the value they bring to the table, level of experience, exposure, and clientele base.
It is worthy noting that there are lawyers that provide pro bono legal services to their clients depending on the nature of the dispute they are supposed to solve. They do pro bono as a way of giving back to society and in some instances, it is being paid for by an organisation.
The government also provides lawyers via legal aid counsel for citizens who are earning below the national minimum wage to assist them with legal representation in courts or to assist them with legal advice.
Lawyers speak on charges
The bill charged by a lawyer or their law firm mostly depends on the nature of the matter and the scope of work that a person wants done. Be it civil or criminal by nature, whether it is contentious or non-contentious.
Contentious legal work relates to legal disputes that take place between two or more parties in such places as courts or tribunal hearings to resolve disputes. Contentious legal work has to do with legal matters between two or more parties where there tends to be a likelihood of arguments.
Non-contentious legal work relates to disputes occurring between one or more parties, during the sale or purchase of property, goods or services, for example, whereby the parties hope not to trouble the courts.
In non-contentious legal work, there is no likelihood of arguments. Example property related transactions such as sale, lease, wills etc.
In some instances where some of the heirs are contending, it leads to arguments which could also end up in court.
When hiring a lawyer, where the nature of the problem is contentious, the cost will be determined based on all the costs that might be incurred. Where it is Non-contentious then the scale of charges may apply when it comes to the bill. Non-contentious matters mostly have to do with drafting, searches & investigations that are property-related, some law firms charge you a certain per cent of the said property.
In summary, to hire a lawyer, one has to visit a law firm, pay a consultation fee, narrate the services you want the lawyer to render, agree on the professional fee charged and pay partly or fully (which you will be issued a receipt). Then, provide relevant information, verbal and documentary.
Pelumi Olajengbesi, a Managing Partner at the Law Corridor, Abuja, has this to say about hiring their services. “Before engaging our services, you have to pay consultation fees based on the nature and standard of the matter. The standard consultation fee at law corridor is One Million naira pending on the nature of matter, sometimes we estimate it alongside your general Billings.”
The next thing lawyers charge is the professional fee that is a standard. They take filing fees and out of pocket expenses. A professional fee is based on each matter, for example, if you are doing divorce, your professional fee is about N1 million or N1.5 million if you are doing criminal cases.
“For matters that have to do with the title, we charge 5 per cent of the value of the property. In our law firm, the least we charge anyone for any matter is N1 million naira, for letter writing, it’s 500k. If the letter is contentious, it’s N1 million,” he adds.
When asked what happens from the point a client walks into their firm, he said, “First, a Partner meets with the client to understand the nature of your matter, then we set up what is called the client’s interview section which goes alongside the consultancy session, where after your matter will be reviewed and you will be advised on what to do and what not to do, that is why you pay for the consultation fee.
“If we agree on what to do, then we charge you for our professional fee, then we ask if you want to be charged for out of pocket expenses separately or if we should include that in our professional fee if you say yes, it is usually 10 or 20 per cent of the professional fee depending on the nature of the matter.”
“The professional fee covers from the beginning of a matter to the end of it. For example, if it is litigation, it covers litigation from within the court of the first instance (which means if the matter goes on appeal, we charge you another fee differently). A professional fee is the engagement you have with us as lawyers. There are some people that retain us as their lawyers, at every point in time, when they have issues they call us and we only charge them for out of pocket expenses,” Olajengbesi said.
Another lawyer who does not want to be mentioned said he charges 20,000 as a consultation fee and his professional fee is dependent on the nature of the case.
While most clients retain their lawyers after the conclusion of their case. However, other clients hire the services of a lawyer even before being served by a court of law.
What the law says
Legal fees charged by lawyers are regulated by some laws which include: The Legal Practitioners Act, Legal Practitioners (Remuneration for Legal Documentation and Other Land Matters) Order 1991, Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners and Law of Contract.
The fees to be charged depends on the nature of the matter. Rule 52 (1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners provides that: “The professional fee charged by a lawyer for his services shall be reasonable and commensurate with the service rendered. Accordingly, the Lawyer shall not charge fees which are excessive or so low as to amount to understanding: Provided that a reduced fee or no fee at all may be charged on the ground of the special relationship or indigence of a client.”
Section 52 (2) provides for other parameters, such as:
The time and labour required, The amount involved in controversy and the benefits resulting to the client from the services. The contingency or the certainty of the compensation.
For non-contentious property transactions, Order 1 of the Legal Practitioners (Remuneration for Legal Documentation and Other Land Matters) Order provides:
The remuneration of a Legal Practitioner in respect of business connected with any sale, purchase, lease, mortgage and other matter of legal documentation and in respect of other business not otherwise regulated and not being business in any action or transaction in any court, shall be regulated as follows –
A. in respect of a sale, purchase or mortgage that is completed, the remuneration of the Legal Practitioner having the conduct of the business shall be as prescribed in Scale I set out in the Schedule to this Order;
B. In respect of a lease and agreement for lease, the remuneration shall be as prescribed in Scale-II set out in the Schedule to this Order.
C. in respect of all other legal documentation the remuneration shall be as prescribed in Scale III set out in the Schedule to this Order.
The three Scales (I, II and III) provide formulas for the computation of the respective fees. The scale shows a particular percentage that should be charged where it exceeds or does not exceed a certain amount.
When asked if the scales are applicable these days when charging clients, an Abuja based lawyer said they are applicable for as long as the Law remains in force.
“Though, they are not applied for the most part due to the limited financial resources of many clients. But it is risky in that if the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee gets to know of any deviation from the Scales, punishment may be meted out,” he added.