Professional Ethics of Law Firms in Cameroon

Introduction

A legal practitioner lives for the direction of his people and for the advancement of his own country. The general responsibility of Cameroon lawyers is to uphold and observe the rule of law, promotes and foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner. Managing Partners of law firms in Cameroon must ensure legal practitioners carry out their duties free from professional misconduct as severe sanctions awaits any defaulter.

Law Firms in Cameroon

It is unethically for young graduates to operate law firms in Cameroon without adequate professional training. Graduates are expected to undergo pupilage or attend a foreign law school to gain direct enrollment into the Cameroon Bar Association. Law No 90/059 of 19th December 1990 organizing practice at the Bar requires all lawyers in Cameroon who decide to set up law firms in Cameroon to notify the branch of the Cameroon Bar Association within the jurisdiction in which the law firm is situated. Lawyers in Cameroon must understand they owe numerous duties to their clients in the exercise of their professional duties.

Cameroon lawyers Duty to clients

  • Cameroon lawyers must be dedicated and devoted to the cause of his client. This means a lawyer must devote his attention, energy and expertise to the service of his client.

  • Lawyers in Cameroon have a duty to represent clients competently. A lawyer should not handle a matter without adequate preparation.

  • Cameroon lawyers should endeavor to represent clients within the bounds of the law. A lawyer should at all times refuse to participate conduct believed to be unlawful.

  • Cameroon lawyers have a duty to treat all oral or written communications made by a client to him very confidently and privileged.

  • Lawyers in Cameroon should not call at a client’s house or place of business for the purpose of giving advice except in special circumstances.

  • Cameroon Lawyers shall not share their fees of legal services except with another lawyer based upon the division of responsibility.

Clients Duty to Lawyers in Cameroon

A client has a duty to pay adequate remuneration to a lawyer for his services to the client. However in the course of charging fees, a lawyer shall not charge illegal or clearly excessive fees. Law firms in Cameroon have a duty to charge only recognized fees to wit: – consultation fee, appearance fees, percentage fees, fixe fees and contingency fees and hourly fees.

  1. Consultation/Briefing fee primarily consist of the interview and instructions of the client to the practitioner. After the briefing, the solicitor bills the client for consultation which is often separate from main fee charged for legal work. It is only after the payment that the instructions of the client will be carried. The advantage of this practice is that some clients never show up after the interview and briefing: having received satisfactory counsel, they leave to handle the problem without reverting back to the solicitor who has spent time and resources advising. Appearance fee varies between law firms in Cameroon depending on the qualification or the rank of the lawyer.

  2. Appearance fee is charged for each appearance in court to represent the client. This fee is determined by the distance of the firm to the court as well as the standing of the legal practitioner at the Bar. In Okonedo Egbaregbemi V Julius Berger (1995) 5NWLR the court held that payment to this fee to law firms in Cameroon is sacrosanct.

  3. Percentage fee is charged based on the value of the transaction. The higher the value, the more percentage charged and the lower the value the lower the percentage charged. Lawyers in Cameroon commonly charge percentage fee in property transactions.

  4. Fixe fee is charged for specific class of work such as writing letters, Wills, incorporation of business. Lawyers in Cameroon usually charge fixe fee for simple non-contentious works and it is usually placed at a flat rate.

  5. Hourly rate fee is charged on hourly rate for the number of hours Cameroon lawyers spent on the clients work. The time spent on the legal work must be kept and computed. However the time spent must not be inflated.

Cameroon lawyers

In charging a client, lawyers in Cameroon are under a duty to consider the under listed criteria:

  • The complexity of the matter or novelty of the questions raised

  • The skill, labour, specialized knowledge involved

  • The number of documents to prepare or perused

  • The time expended by the legal practitioner in doing the job

  • The place where and the circumstances in which the business or part of it is transacted

  • The amount of money or value of property involved.

It is best practice to arrive at an agree fees with the clients so in case of default of the client to pay after been served with the Bill of charges, a lawyer can approach the court to recover his professional fees. This is because in many occasions clients default in making payments for professional services rendered by lawyers in Cameroon. This is indeed disheartening to many Cameroon lawyers who might have trusted the client at his time of need and rendered services only for the client to default to pay fees.

Conclusion

It is commonly said that lawyers are the custodian of modern civilization and the foot soldiers of our constitution. The responsibility is an awesome one. It is the closest that man serves as the Almighty God, having powers over live, livelihoods and future. Considering that lawyers are minister in the temple of justice, they will of course be held to a much higher moral and ethical standard by the society. Law firms in Cameroon must not only be seen to be ethical but they must be ethical indeed.