In this article, I will show you how to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). It is the dream of most Nigerian lawyers to attain the peak of their profession.
This peak comes with the conferment of the prestigious rank of SAN which stands for Senior Advocate of Nigeria: a rank annually conferred on Nigerian lawyers who have distinguished themselves in the legal profession and have been practising actively for not less than ten years.
The rank is conferred by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, and comprising of the Attorney-General of the Federation, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, five SANs among other people) in line with Section 5(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act of 2004.
According to Section 5(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act, for a lawyer get the award, he must have achieved distinction in the legal profession in such a manner as the Committee may from time to time determine.
The award started in 1975, modelled after the Queen’s Counsel rank in England, with its conferment on Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams and Dr. Nabo Graham Douglas. As of 2016, there are more than 70 000 lawyers in Nigeria but only 450 of them are Senior Advocates of Nigeria (about 70 of them are dead).
This shows how coveted and prestigious the award is that the criteria for meriting it are too strict for a vast majority of lawyers to meet.
Of course, the perks that come with the rank are enormously appealing: much more pay than a junior lawyer, much more respect and reverence and the fact that a SAN gets to always present his case first before any court when the opposing counsel is a junior lawyer.
It is worthy of note that the award can also be conferred on academics in law who have distinguished themselves and have made meaningful contribution to jurisprudence through research, teaching and published works in any reputable Nigerian University, Research Institute, Nigerian Law School and other recognized institutions.
Requirements to Become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)
Having stated the foregoing, we should examine the criteria to merit the much esteemed award.
1. To become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, an applicant must be a citizen of Nigeria.
2. He must have a post-call standing of at least 10 years. If you are not a Lawyer yet, read: How to Become a Lawyer in Nigeria
3. Before you become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, you must be of good character and of impeccable integrity.
4. An applicant must register for the award with a non-refundable fee of #300 000 (Three hundred thousand naira).
5. He must submit to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee a list of ten judges of superior courts of record before whom he has appeared and argued important cases. The Committee will select any three of those judges to give testimonial statements about the applicant.
6. He must also submit a list of colleagues with whom he has handled cases. Three of whom will be selected to give testimonial statements about him.
7. An applicant must submit the particulars of contested cases in which he personally handled: 8 judgments of the High Court, 6 judgments of the Court of Appeal and 3 judgments of the Supreme Court. But where he appeared only before the Supreme Court, he will be required to submit 6 judgments of the Supreme Court.
8. An applicant must show evidence of payment of practising fee and membership dues to his local branch of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for at least 10 years preceding the year of applying for the award of SAN.
9. He must also show evidence of the payment of income tax for at least 3 years preceding his application.
10. The Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) has a duty to inspect the applicant’s firm to assess: the size and quality of his library, the number and competence of staff and the space and quality of other facilities in the firm.
11. An applicant must show evidence of having rendered pro bono cases to indigent clients as a form of community service.
12. For academics in law, at least 20 copies of outstanding published legal works must be presented to the Committee.
13. Academics must also show that their works are published by reputable publishers whose reputation shall be assessed and determined by the academic sub-committee of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC).
Indeed without hard work and discipline, it is difficult to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Every year, hundreds of ambitious lawyers apply but only a handful get the award.
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For instance in 2016, more than 400 applied but only 21 were successful. This has often caused mild protests among junior lawyers who insist that the award be abolished because it is against the principles of equality, fair trade and a level playing ground and therefore, oppressive.
Some lawyers have also decried the selection process has being excessively and unnecessarily strict in that even when the number of eligible applicants exceeds the number required, the Committee still picks its number.
For instance, if 100 lawyers are found to be eligible for the award but the Committee intends to pick only 20. What happens to the remaining 80 when 20 are picked?
How in fact does the Committee pick 20 eligible applicants from 100 eligible ones? This will do doubt create room for lobby and should be addressed by the appropriate authorities. It is suggested that the requirements be made sterner so that if 100 lawyers qualify, all of them should be awarded SAN regardless of the Committee’s intended number.
Admittedly, it is safe to assume that the Committee aims keenly at preserving the prestige of the rank and the profession at large by imposing stern restrictions and this is commendable.
Even after becoming a SAN, one can still be stripped of the title for any alleged misconduct pending the determination of any disciplinary action.
One of such cases is that of Chief Ajibola Aribisala SAN who was suspended in 2013 from using his title for 20 months for allegations of flagrant breach of professional ethics and professional misconduct.
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It is indeed very true of this hallowed profession that it is very hard to get to the top yet it is harder to stay at the top.
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