Aug 2, 2019

Trade In Legal Services Current Realities And Future Possibilities

Due to the advent of globalization, the world has shrunk and is now a global village. For instance, the combination of cheap and safe air travel and the internet have made places which seemed so far away half a century ago to be accessible to trans-national businesses

The combination of cheap and safe air travel and the internet have made places which seemed so far away half a century ago to be accessible to trans-national businesses. The implication is that these conglomerates prefer to approach business from the stand of using legal services that they are accustomed to and readily available. This preference usually excludes the use of counsel practicing in the place where the business is to be conducted. 
The importation of legal services by the foreign business outfit into a country where its lawyers are not licensed to practice brings about its complications and conflicts in (1) the authority of nation-states to regulate multi-jurisdictional practice, (2) the law to be applied to regulate the conduct of such counsel in the event of a breach of the rules of ethics and (3) the consequences of unregulated multi-jurisdictional legal practice. [i]

In Nigeria, all lawyers are admitted to the bar as barristers and solicitors of the Supreme Court without any distinction as to their roles or functions. Furthermore, only lawyers qualified in Nigeria have the right to practice in Nigeria except upon application to the Attorney – General of the Federation. To be able to practice in Nigeria, all lawyers must have attended the Nigerian Law School. 

Lawyers within the Nigerian jurisdiction have been known to be jealous of their turf and have over the years seen to ensure that lawyers from foreign jurisdictions are not allowed to practice in Nigeria. Lawyers are however loosing the edge as many foreign firms are now in Nigeria and collaborating with local law firms.

The view was once widely held in Nigeria that globalization is a journey to utopia1, a lotus-eater kind of world far away from reality. However, this is not the view of the major players who control the economic resources of the world. The driving force of trade liberalisation is the World Trade Organisation, a creature of the 1994 Uruguay Round Trade negotiations. One of the achievements of the Uruguay negotiations is the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which came into force in January 1995. The GATS, a multi-lateral treaty based agreement was inspired by essentially the same objectives as its counterpart in merchandise trade, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) The only major distinction was that GATS dealt with services as opposed to trade and merchandise. Legal Services comes within the purview of GATS.

In this context, we must ask ourselves the following  

·        How is trade in legal services undertaken and regulated?

·        How has trade in legal services evolved globally since 1995 and does this have any relevance for scheduled commitments?  

In more of a local focus, we must also ask ourselves the following –

a.      What is the current state of play in Nigeria?

b.     What are the avenues for collaborations available?

c.      What are the challenges surrounding digital trade in legal services in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Bar Association will be treating this topic in one of the Breakout sessions of the NBA Annual General Conference. The session will be moderated by Mr. Austin Alegeh SAN and panelist will include Kofo Dosekun, Adedayo Apata and Mr. Gorge Etomi. It promises to impactful and we hope you would contribute therein. 

[i] The Nation . (2015). How To Practice In Multi - Jurisdictions . Available: Last accessed 2nd August, 2019.