Paul Usoro is one of Nigeria’s leading lawyers, with industry-leading expertise in commercial and telecommunications law. In the sixth and final part of a series of articles, he tackles the issue of welfare for young practitioners in the legal profession, the structural problems fuelling it and set out a range of proposals the Nigerian Bar Association should consider in order to alter the status quo.
Related Issues (III): Lawyer-centric National Minimum Wage
At the start of this series, I had indicated that I’m “not inclined towards a flat and regulated lawyer-centric national minimum wage pronouncement as has been suggested by some” because such a regime “may not work and may not even be enforceable”. I came to that conclusion because, first, executive fiat does not always work in matters of the minimum wage as the Nigerian national minimum wage experience informs.
As I write, there’re employers of labour in Nigeria who do not abide by the statutory national minimum wage and who are not penalised howsoever therefor. Indeed, to weaken the pro-minimum wage argument, there is no proposal on the procedure for its enforcement and no penalty is prescribed for any default thereof. In the absence of enforcement procedures and prescribed penalties for default, the minimum wage proposition becomes a mere political talk.
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The implementation hurdle is understandable given the fact that employment of lawyers, like any other employment situation, falls within the master-servant contractual loo,p the foundational principle of which lies in the pacta sunt servanda maxim. In other words, the terms of any such contract depend on what the parties agree, and it is such an agreement that can be enforced by either party. Indeed, the argument for a lawyer-centric national minimum wage pronouncement is much weaker than the national minimum wage pronouncement seeing as the latter has statutory flavour. I’m not sure that the advocates of the lawyer-centric national minimum wage are advocating or wagering on a bill that would be passed into law by our National Assembly to that effect but assuming they are, I am very sceptical that our Legislature and the Executive branch of government would be willing to pass such a lawyer-centric legislation in the face of competing interests and demands.
Second, the call for a lawyer-centric national minimum wage presumes that most if not all lawyer-employers are in positions to pay such minimum wages and are simply unwilling to so pay and therefore need a nudge from such a prescribed minimum wage pronouncement. That presumption is not rooted in truth or fact. As we pointed out in this series, “it is axiomatic that one cannot give what he does not possess or have” which is another way of stating that the economic circumstances of some senior lawyers may not permit them to comply with any such lawyer-centric national minimum wage. That is why we have recommended in the preceding pieces, alleviation of the causative factors that erodes the lawyers’ earning capacity generally, believing as we do that, attacking the underlying causative factors of a problem aids and quickens the resolution of the problem itself. Framed differently and as it relates to the present discourse, without attacking the underlying causative factors that destroy the earning capacity of lawyers’ generally, it is unreasonable to expect compliance by all lawyers with a lawyer-centric national minimum wage pronouncement.
Thirdly, as a corollary to the preceding points, it must be noted that the earning capacity of a lawyer may be determined in some parts by the location of his practice. The lawyer who has his office in Kontagora in Niger State or in Oron in Akwa Ibom State or in Ile-Ife in Osun State is unlikely to be in the same earning bracket as his colleagues who practice in Port Harcourt, Lagos or Abuja. And yet, they all may have a need for junior colleagues in their respective practices. Undoubtedly, the lawyers in Kontagora, Oron and Ile-Ife cannot be expected to pay the same minimum wage as his colleagues in Port Harcourt, Lagos or Abuja; therein lies the impracticability in a lawyer-centric national minimum wage pronouncement that takes no account of the nature of various lawyers’ practice and the location of their practice.