A scenario where a legal practitioner is called upon to hold or transfer money for a client, and in this particular situation, the client places an extraordinary amount of trust in the legal practitioner. Any misuse of the client’s money by the legal practitioner is a case of misappropriation of client funds and this act constitutes a serious breach of trust.

Also, acts that include stealing from the client, mingling the legal practitioners’ money with that of the client, and controlling client funds without authorization are all acts of gross professional misconduct. Therefore, the Rules of Professional Conduct frowns at legal practitioners who convert client’s money entrusted to them for specific purposes. It lacks any justification whatsoever, as the same amounts to professional misconduct.

In Nigeria, Part B of the RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT FOR LEGAL PRACTITIONERS, 2007 regulates dealing with the client’s property. Rule 23(1) & (2) states as follows:

  1. (1) A lawyer shall not do any act whereby for his personal benefit or gain he abuses or takes advantage of the confidence reposed in him by the client.
    (2) Where a lawyer collects money for his client or is in position to deliver the property on behalf of his client, he shall promptly report, and account for it and shall not mix such money or property with or use it as, his own.
    The imperative for counsel to particularly carry out clients’ instructions or manage clients’ property appropriately, cannot be exaggerated.

LEGALTIPS is anchored by Ms CIA Ofoegbunam, an Abuja-based lawyer who is passionate about legal practice.
LEGALTIPS offers quick hints on substantive law, as well as rules of practice and procedure, and serves as a handy reference guide to lawyers, especially in court.
Published on a weekly basis, the LEGALTIPS Series is CIA’s modest contribution to legal development in Nigeria.

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