Unlike in criminal cases, where a legal practitioner is categorically not allowed to collect contingency fee for representation as a defence Counsel, the arrangement to charge for a contingent fee by a legal practitioner in respect of anything act done professionally for a sum is lawful in civil cases. However, such an arrangement must be with the consent and approval of the client after having advised the client of the effects of the arrangement, the arrangement appears fair, and it is in writing. Conversely, there are exceptional situations where there is no real contract; certain other circumstances for fees claimed on a quantum meruit basis or determined under a formula.
In Nigeria, Part F of the RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT FOR LEGAL PRACTITIONERS, 2007 regulates legal practitioners’ remuneration and fees. Rule 50 state as follows:
(1) A lawyer may enter into a contract with his client for a contingent fee in respect of a civil matter undertaken for a client whether contentious or non-contentious: Provided that –
(a) the contract is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case including the risk and uncertainty of the compensation;
(b) the contract is not –
(i) vitiated by fraud, mistake or undue influence; or
(ii) contrary to public policy; and
(c) if the employment involved litigation, it is reasonably obvious that there is a bonafide cause of action.
(2) A lawyer shall not enter into an arrangement to charge or collect, a contingent fee for representing a defendant in a criminal case.
(3) Except as provided in sub-rule (1) of this rule, a lawyer shall not purchase or otherwise acquire directly or indirectly an interest in the subject matter of the litigation which he or his firm is conducting; but he may acquire a lien granted by law to secure his fees and expenses.
(4) A lawyer shall not enter into a contingent fee arrangement without first having advised the client of the effect of the arrangement and afforded the client an opportunity to retain him under an arrangement whereby he would be compensated on the basis of a reasonable value of his services.
It is imperative that the arrangement is not made under circumstances of suspicion to benefit the legal practitioner at the expense of his client.
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