Nigeria: The Tools of the Profession

12 November 2019

"Next, I had to practice continually. As a pianist practices the piano, so the lawyer should practice the use of words, both in writing and by word of mouth" LORD DENNING

The law is likened to an elephant being defined by ten blind men, the one holding the trunk would define law as a trunk, while another holding the ear would defer to define law as the ear he touches, none of the parties are entirely wrong or right, it's a matter of position, placement and perspective, but then, "Whenever there is a choice, choose the meaning which accords with reason and justice".

Lord Denning in his book 'the discipline of law' makes one understand that in the daily practice of the law, the most important subject is the construction of documents and to succeed, a lawyer must cultivate command of language. Words are the tools of the profession because they are the vehicle of our thought as "obscurity in thought inexorably leads to obscurity in language".

In any parlance of the law a lawyer finds himself, two things are vital to legal development, 'practice' and 'command of language' be it in legal documents like pleadings, letters, agreements, instruments, memoranda, reports, legal opinions or any similar documents, or the way he/she carries oneself.

Practice of the law is what builds a lawyer's skill, knowledge and confidence, be it as an associate counsel in a law firm, the legal officer of an institution or under salaried employment of a government institution, as long as a lawyer pitches tent in any part of the legal world, he/she ought to ensure to constantly engage his skill to the development of that area of law, that is the best avenue to grow and the sure way to achieve this, is to constantly master the art.

"Seek to make your points clear at all cost, make them positive and definite. Not neutral or vacillating", a lawyers command of language ought to sound confident when expressing a legal opinion or when preparing a written address in support of an application or a brief of argument, you may be wrong about the position of the law but don't be in doubt of the message conveyed.

The concept of frontloading introduced into the legal system where a lawyer has to file all his processes and necessary documents beforehand has turned modern advocacy into written form, nowadays, oral argument or address in court is restricted to the processes before the court, meaning that most of what a lawyer wants to advocate would be in paper form.

A legal professional in drafting legal documents of whatever sort must be careful to avoid obscurity in content or ambiguity in the true intent of the message, constantly in practice, one will find ordinary people giving different meanings to the same word or a word may mean one thing to one person and another thing to another, this is why a lawyer must be clear, precise and definite in the construction of document.

The use of language is crucial to any legal system, the courts use words to state their reasons for their judgment and also for interpretation of statutes in justice dispensation, the supreme court has held in Dr.Olubokola Abubakar Saraki V Federal Republic of Nigeria {Appeal No.Sc.852/2015} that "it is also trite that when interpreting the provisions of the statute the court must not ascribe meanings to clear, plain and unambiguous provisions in order to make such provisions conform to the courts view of their meaning or what they ought to be"

This goes to show the importance of words to the legal practitioner, apart from writing, when a legal professional is addressing the court either to move a motion or adopt a written address, your command of language should also be precise, don't slur your words, or sound nervous or shaky, no matter how short the minutes one has to make a point, try to be audible enough to ensure everyone in the court room can hear and relate with the message conveyed.

Wherever a lawyer find himself, the tools of the profession remain the same 'practice your skill of strength', and 'command of language' it's a uniform recipe for legal development.

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