My Learned Friend

My Learned Friend

Etiquette, Code and Perfection for the Legal Profession

A Book by Omolabake Adetunbi and Alex Muoka

Preface

Mrs. Omolabake Adetunmbi and her famous brand – Legal City – are the foremost legal outfitters in Nigeria, and have kitted many judicial officers, Senior Advocates and Benchers, and practicing advocates in Nigeria. Her passion for proper legal dress and etiquette is understandable because, in addition to being a legal outfitter, she is a senior lawyer.

Over the years, I developed a professional relationship with her – and have bought at least two sets of replacement wigs and gowns, and sundry collars, bibs, studs etc, for my use. Her insistence on correct dress-sense and fit had always impressed me – to the point that she would decline a sale if the outfit did not quite fit the customer.

My own concern with falling standards of legal draftsmanship, language and etiquette, compelled me to venture into bar leadership – seeking to make a small contribution to the betterment of our beloved profession. I considered that the decay in our profession was partly attributable to the loss of core values which are the bedrock of the ‘learned profession’ – values of integrity, professionalism, gentlemanly dress and comportment, erudition, sportsmanship, respect, etc. I was certain that if we could begin to re-inculcate these values, our profession could regain its proper pre-eminence in society.

Of course, dealing with the dressing, language and comportment of lawyers in and out of court is a herculean task. Judges are daily assailed by very shabbily dressed counsel who insist on fouling up the hallowed court chambers with dirty shirts and collars, tattered robes and disheveled wigs. All shades of colors (including green and brown) now pass as black suits, and I have several times seen robed senior lawyers wear sandals into court!

The quality of written and oral presentation has degenerated and one sometimes struggles to make sense of a counsel’s submissions. Some lawyers do not know (or have forgotten) how to announce their appearance to the Court, and some others assume that social shorthand expressions are cool and adaptive to the court environment.

In my current office as Chairman of the Lagos Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (‘the Premier Branch’), I do get complaints from judges, senior lawyers, and even laymen – about the dressing, comportment and etiquette of lawyers. I concede that lawyers are but a microcosm of the larger society and it would be wishful thinking to expect that the bar should be completely immune from the general decay and fallen standards everywhere else. However, we cannot continue to call ourselves ‘the learned profession’ if our appearance, language and general comportment is not reflective of our ‘having learning’. And I, for one, would be hard put referring to a colleague who is shabbily dressed, ill-mannered and uncouth in his language as ‘my learned friend’!

It was, therefore, easy to start a conversation with Mrs. Omolabake Adetunmbi about corrective measures. Her brilliant idea for this coffee-table book on dress sense and etiquette coincided beautifully with my concern about language and comportment. Our objective was to put together in lucid prose and expressive pictorial format, a small handy compendium on dress ethics, language and etiquette for the lawyer.

It is no coincidence that Chief M.A. Ajomale Life Bencher agreed to write the Foreword to this book. As a former Chairman of the Body of Benchers (the body responsible for the call-to-bar of fit and proper applicants), Chief Ajomale has an abiding interest in the quality of members of the legal profession. At the Premier Branch where he is an active member, he has expressed disappointment with the sad state of legal etiquette and language. He has also reiterated his readiness to join in the arduous task of re-orienting and re-educating lawyers and winning back the lost glory of the profession.

The message of the book is presented over four separate parts, each of which explores an important aspect of the central theme. Part One discusses the ‘Language of the Bar’ and explores courtesy to and proper modes of addressing various courts, announcing appearance, introducing counsel, addressing others, banter in court and writing letters. Part Two deals with the important subject of ‘Dress Code at the Bar’ and examines dress ethics for different occasions (law students, law dinners, court dress, etc), general dress ethics, and a pictorial representation of court dress. It makes the point – ‘dress the way you want to be addressed’.

Part Three of the book is a presentation on ‘Etiquette for the Legal Profession’ covering three areas: preparing for court appearances, court ethics and trial ethics. Finally, Part Four is an interesting discourse on the important but easily neglected ‘After Hours’ aspect: after court dress ethics and dress-down rules. It answers such questions as: Should a lawyer be seen on a motorbike with his bib flying in the wind? Should a law firm adopt a Friday dress-down rule for its lawyers? The book ends with interesting true-life anecdotes of actual lawyer dress and etiquette gaffes!

We wanted a small handy-book that would be easy reading and yet immediately impactful – with a message that would appeal to law students, young practitioners, and senior lawyers. Something that colleagues can carry and read anywhere, and everywhere. A quick-study that would serve as important learner for those who do not know, and remembrancer for those who have forgotten. If at the end of this, one fallen colleague has been turned into a ‘learned friend’, then some good has come out of this adventure. You will be the judge of whether we have succeeded.

It remains to add that, for us, the objective ought to be to move to a higher level. ‘Learned friend’ is all well and good, but how about ‘Mea Pereruditus Amicus’. We know quite a few examples of Nigerian lawyers who are worthy examples of that Latin description. Our prayer is to be able to refer to a lot more colleagues as ‘my very learned friend’.

Finally, allow me to say that although the task of writing this preface fell to me, this book is a collaborative effort for which much of the praise must go to Mrs. Omolabake Adetunmbi. The singular passion and energy with which she pursued this project is worthy of commendation. I must end by stating for the record that we both share (of course) responsibility for any errors in the book.

Alexander Nduka Muoka
Lagos, Nigeria
August, 2014

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