Greed And Corruption In The Legal Profession -By Johnson O Esezoobo

Dear learned colleagues, permit me to share what I have found intriguing in the profession over the years; since 1991. I have tried unsuccessfully to discourage it in a couple of encounters I have had with some colleagues. And I keep losing income. 

The practice is in the area of Landlord and tenant relationship. A client wants a property to rent. The landlord’s Solicitor posts the terms including Agency fee,  legal fee and caution fee or refundable deposit. From experience, when this occurs, the tenant is either not able or willing to pay his own Solicitor who either ends up with nothing or having to collect pittance. And I keep asking what is the agency/contractual relationship between the owner/landlord’s Solicitor and the prospective tenant or sitting tenant to entitle him to the agency fee  and legal fee from the tenant thereby depriving the said tenant’s Solicitor of his own fee from his client? Some have told me It is neither here nor there, some, Well, how do I make my money if I don’t do that? and yet others, Well, it is the seller’s market etc. But I say it is wrong. 

Another aspect is what they call Caution fee or refundable fee which is never refunded. I sincerely believe that the  whole practice smacks of greed and promotes corruption. In my own practice, if a landlord engages me, I tell him he would pay my legal fees and request him to advise the prospective tenant to get his lawyer to represent him in the transaction and pay him or should I represent both parties, they will share the bill. 

As for agency fee, I do not see how I become an agent and even if I am one, it should be agent of the landlord and not of the tenant. But then, I observe that some colleagues colleagues collect agency fee from both the landlord and the tenant. This cannot be anything other than fraud.

In 2019, I took up the matter in Court for a determination of the right of a landlord’s Solicitor to collect these fees from the tenant for whom he is not doing anything or who has not been engaged by the tenant for any purpose in the transaction. In the case, my client who was made to pay agency fee of N1.2m as well as N1.2m legal fees and caution fee of N500,000.00 offered to pay me N200, 000.00 for the transaction. I found it uncomfortable and wrote for a refund of the respective sums as unearned fees.

The colleague reacted by serving a Notice to quit. I considered it blackmail and advised the client not to honour it and not to pay the landlord any rent until he (the  landlord) showed up and the issue sorted with the landlord or by the Court as I suspected that the landlord was not aware of what was going on.

When the landlord eventually came asking for his rent and was told what was going on, he was surprised. Upon our advice, he called a meeting of the parties but the colleague declined and said he would not attend. A the meeting, the landlord, a complete gentleman, agreed to refund both the caution fee and legal fee since we had earlier informed the colleague that we were ready to let go of the agency fee in the interest of a good and peaceful relationship. Accordingly, we withdrew the matter in Court.

Dear colleagues, I am raising the matter again now because I have two similar situations right now in my hand. We have referred one to the office of the Attorney General of Lagos State because the impropriety involves the payment of Land Use Charge for which the State is currently demanding payment from our client, threatening to seal up the property.

Ordinarily, I expect that lawyers should lead the way in doing the right thing. When we are driven solely by a consideration of fees regardless of whether what we are doing is right or wrong, then we are not able to guide the society on the path of the rule of law. I hope we will consider this concern and review our practice. 

If we will not look into the matter with a view to reviewing it, I may have to seek a court declaration on it in the interest of good legal practice. 

Barrister Johnson O Esezoobo, can Be Reach Via +234 803 320 0595