Members of the legal profession in Nigeria have an enormous responsibility to discharge, not only to their clients but also to the court, the profession, their professional colleagues, and the society at large. However, for some time in the recent past, both the Bench and the Bar have had cause to complain about the conduct of some legal practitioners in Nigeria. It is therefore not surprising that quite often, the public judges the legal profession by the standard of its erring members, hence the need to continue to highlight the various duties and responsibilities of the lawyer and the need for members of the Bar to be fully alive to these duties and responsibilities in order to check the falling ethical standard in the profession, be examples to the society in which they find themselves and ultimately promote the honour and nobility of the profession. Discipline at the bar is very essential. This is because offences, to which the police attach no significance when committed by a medical doctor, may be attended with humiliation and embarrassment when committed by a lawyer. Similarly, a simple act of breach of the law by an accountant, which may not be considered as anything, may form banner headlines in newspapers and magazines if committed by a lawyer.
This only stresses the fact that society views lawyers as custodians of a high moral value and distinguished members of the society, whose conduct and activities should serve as a light to the rest of the society. To maintain this standard and meet the high expectation of the society on lawyer, the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners has been put in place to guide and regulate legal practice and the conduct of legal practitioners, especially with respect to their duties and responsibilities to their clients, the court, the profession and the society at large, and of course their rights and privileges. The Rules was made by the General Council of the Bar pursuant to the power conferred on it by section 12 (4) of the Legal Practitioners Act. This paper undertakes a general overview of professional legal ethics for legal practitioners in Nigeria as set out in the Rules of Professional Conduct as well as in the Legal Practitioners Act, Nigeria.
Specifically, the paper highlights the general professional responsibility of legal practitioners, the duties of a Legal practitioner to his client, the court of law, the society, the state and the legal profession, as well as the rights and liabilities of legal practitioners in Nigeria. The paper concludes that while a lawyer should be persistent in his pursuit of a cause diligently and erudite in the mastery of the cause he serves, he must realize that his duty is much more than pleading the cause of his client in court or rendering services to him; the lawyer must be a bearer of light; he should be a leader in character and in learning, especially in view of the high expectations of members of society.