There are different types of lawyers in Nigeria, and the practice of law is a very big field in Nigeria. The first point to start with is that when a lawyer gets qualified to practice law in Nigeria, there are no restrictions on what area of law he/she can practice in. So a lawyers in Nigeria can pick and choose whatever area he/she wants to operate in.
However, there has been a recent trend of lawyers in Nigeria deciding to specialize in certain areas of law. This is a very good thing because one of the many benefits of specialization is the fact that it leads to greater expertise.
Below are a few of the areas of laws which the different types of lawyers in Nigeria have begun to specialize in:
- Debt recovery
This is mainly with respect to banking debts. Banks engage the services of this type of lawyers to recover money owed by bad debtors. The lawyers normally get their fees as a contingency on the money that they are able to recover from the debtor.
- Corporate Lawyer
This type of lawyer deals with company incorporation and regulatory issues, and also primarily focuses on obtaining permits, licence, registrations etc from Government agencies and tax authorities, and ensuring that all the legally mandated requirements for operation of business of the client are met.
- Criminal Defence Lawyers
For the first couple of years when a Nigerian lawyer is called to the bar, he/she is likely to get loads of comments by friends and well wishers saying ‘now that you are a lawyer I can go and look for trouble in town, and if they arrest me I will call you’. These people obviously don’t know much about the different types of lawyers that exist. This over-simplification of the role of lawyers as only limited to criminal issues, is largely because that is the impression which the media gives. In reality only a minority of lawyers ever get to deal with criminal matters in court, it is a very interesting and draining specialty as the lawyer is essentially responsible for ensuring the freedom of the client. It is an area of law that is not for the faint-hearted.
- Transactional Lawyers
Lawyers in Nigeria who specialize in this are normally work for the big commercial law firms, they deal in things like Project finance, Public Private Partnerships, Mergers and Acquisitions, etc. They work mainly with other international law firms in these high value transactions. It is a very lucrative area for these types of lawyers, but also very difficult to break into as the nature of clients are massive conglomerates and international banks and investment banks.
Every Nigerian Lawyer is always open to this type of law, really because it is mainly straightforward, and lawyers are necessary for property transactions. Any transaction, which involves the transfer of an interest in land/property, needs a lawyer. Lawyers mainly charge for their fees as a percentage of the value of the transaction. A big land transaction is the proverbial ‘Golden Fleece‘ for these types of lawyers. Even though there are different types of lawyers, this is one underlying area which lawyers are interested in getting involved in.
A growing number of lawyers in Nigeria are beginning to specialize in Immigration law. The bread and butter of this is making applications to the Nigeria Immigration Service for work permits and visas for employees of multinational companies. It is really an administrative process, however, it can be painstaking and time consuming for lawyers not familiar with the inner workings of the Immigration service. A subsection of lawyers who practice immigration law also is dealing with Immigration issues of other countries, for example they deal with appeals and judicial reviews when clients visa applications are rejected.
A worrying high number of marriages in Nigeria are being dissolved, and this area of law is a pretty lucrative one. The divorce lawyers in Nigeria typically prepares all the necessary court papers detailing the grounds for divorce, makes the necessary court appearances, and represents the client’s interests in any divorce negotiations or settlement discussions.
Lawyers in Nigeria specializing in labour and employment law deal with things like non-payment of salaries, unfair dismissal, and harassment at the work place etc. The National Industrial Court has special jurisdiction for employment related matters, so lawyers focusing on this field are well versed in it’s practices.
- Public Interest
When people think about public interest law, one name above all springs to mind- Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN, he was the soul of public interest litigation for many years, and he made a name for himself lending his skills to public interest matters. Public Interest litigation encompasses those areas of law, which as the name implies, are in the interest of the general public. It is not a very lucrative area of law (and is also a potentially very dangerous area of law), and that is probably why increasingly not many people are deciding to specialize in it. It includes things like human rights, civil rights, and challenging government illegality.
- Dispute Resolution
This is the broad area for all things that involved disputes and potentially end up in court or in arbitration. Lawyers who wish to operate in this area and excel must be good orators, and very knowledgeable about the rules of court. This is the typical wig and gown lawyer, and the role involves primarily drafting court pleadings and processes, and making court appearances on behalf of clients.
Some other areas of law which the different types of lawyers in Nigeria are increasing specializing in include – Intellectual Property and Technology matters, Estate and Probate matters, and Media and Entertainment matters.