Bill of Charges

Daily Trust - - LAW - By Daniel Bu­lus­son Esq

“Per­son­ally I don’t en­cour­age lawyers to col­lect ap­pear­ance fees ev­ery time they make an ap­pear­ance in court; ev­ery ex­penses to be in­curred in the per­for­mance of your le­gal duty should be in­cluded in a bill of charges. In my opin­ion, col­lect­ing ap­pear­ance fee is de­mean­ing to the le­gal pro­fes­sion.”

Imag­ine a young lawyer who re­sides and car­ries on his prac­tice in Kaduna and in­tends to han­dle a lit­i­ga­tion brief for a client in Kano and they set­tle for five hun­dred thou­sand naira (N500,000) as pro­fes­sional fees to han­dle the mat­ter from com­mence­ment till the end of the suit. Ini­tially, this sum might look huge and sat­is­fy­ing to the young lawyer, but af­ter sev­eral trav­els and ad­journ­ments, one would dis­cover that the amount is ac­tu­ally not suf­fi­cient to ad­e­quately han­dle the brief, then the lawyer be­gins to work un­der un­due pres­sure be­cause of un­ex­pected ex­penses in­curred.

It is im­por­tant that at the start of ev­ery brief, no mat­ter how small, a young lawyer should present a bill of charges to the client, the bill should item­ize ev­ery fore­see­able ex­pense the lawyer would in­cur while han­dling the brief, from pro­fes­sional fee of the lawyer {which is money paid to the lawyer for his ser­vice noth­ing more}, fees that would be paid to third party or any or­gan­i­sa­tion on be­half of the client, work done on doc­u­ments, cor­re­spon­dence and postage {courier}, trans­porta­tion, ac­com­mo­da­tion if any, et al.

A clearly de­fined bill of charges at the start of ev­ery trans­ac­tion would go a long way to elim­i­nate any mis­con­cep­tion or misun­der­stand­ing as to the pro­fes­sional fees of a lawyer. Most clients don’t un­der­stand that pro­fes­sional fee is pay­ment to the lawyer for car­ry­ing out his re­spon­si­bil­ity and noth­ing more, yet clients ex­pect that lawyers should per­form their le­gal du­ties to com­ple­tion when pay­ment is not com­plete.

Heard of a se­nior lawyer who was at the premises of the court he was sup­posed to en­ter ap­pear­ance but did not come down from his ve­hi­cle un­til his pro­fes­sional fee was fully paid. The le­gal pro­fes­sion is a busi­ness not a char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion as such, pay­ment is re­quired for ev­ery le­gal ser­vice ren­dered. It is not per­sonal, it is just busi­ness. It is a nat­u­ral haz­ard of the pro­fes­sion for clients to be will­ing to pay for ser­vices when needed but re­nege on pay­ment when the job is done.

By virtue of the Le­gal Prac­ti­tion­ers Act, Cap 207, Laws of the Fed­er­a­tion of Nige­ria “… a le­gal prac­ti­tioner shall not be en­ti­tled to be­gin an ac­tion to re­cover his charges un­less, a bill for the charges con­tain­ing par­tic­u­lars of the prin­ci­pal items in­cluded in the bill and signed by him, or in the case of a firm, by one of the part­ners or in the name of the firm, has been served on the client per­son­ally or left for him at his last ad­dress…” mean­ing when a client is ow­ing, bill of charges is a con­di­tion prece­dent to re­cov­er­ing le­gal fees in court.

Pro­fes­sional fees need not be one mil­lion naira be­fore a bill of charges is needed to be pre­pared and served on a client, even for as lit­tle as N50,000 a bill of charges is needed. It is im­per­a­tive that the fees are clearly spelt out in the event of hitches along the way and it is only with a bill that ap­pro­pri­ate mea­sures can be taken to re­solve is­sues or any mis­con­cep­tion am­i­ca­bly.

In the words of a Nige­rian mu­si­cal artist “Na where u dey work, na there u dey chop” so why should it be any dif­fer­ent for a le­gal prac­ti­tioner. In my hum­ble opin­ion, the ser­vice of a le­gal prac­ti­tioner though in­tan­gi­ble is valu­able, hence it is ben­e­fi­cial to the prac­tice of a young wig on the long run if at this early stage, one learns the art of pre­par­ing bill of charges and serve same on clients.

Do send your com­ment{s}, ob­ser­va­tion{s} and rec­om­men­da­tion{s} to

daniel­bu­lus­ or like us on www.face­book. com/younglay­w­er­scol­umn

Gover­nor Abi­ola Aji­mobi (right), flanked by the Chief Judge of Oyo State, Hon. Jus­tice Munta Ladipo Abim­bola (left), and Hon. Jus­tice Mis­tu­rah Oladeinde (mid­dle), at the 2015/2016 Le­gal Year Ser­vice held at the Cen­tral Mosque, Oja’ba Ibadan

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