SAN stands for Senior Lawyer of Nigeria. It is a rank given to a Nigerian lawyer as a mark of professional distinction in the practice of law. It is the peak that any practicing lawyer can reach in Nigeria. SANship adjudication began in 1975. But before then, Nigeria had adopted the British equivalent called Queen’s Counsel. Chief FRA Williams and Chief HO Davies were the first two Nigerians to be Queen’s Counsel in 1958. In 1964 the rank was abolished in Nigeria and was not replaced until 1975.
So, there was no classification system for Nigerian lawyers between 1964 and 1975. In fact, all lawyers were the same then. But on April 3, 1975, Chief FRA Williams and Dr. Nabo Graham-Douglas became the first two to be appointed. This marked the beginning of a new stage in the history of the legal profession in the country. Nigeria now has more than 60,000 lawyers, but so far only 349 of them have been appointed Chief Lawyers of Nigeria.
How to become a Senior Defender of Nigeria is governed by a set of guidelines. It is the guidelines that indicate who becomes a SAN. So what are these guidelines?
Guidelines to be designated for SAN
There is a committee established by law to ensure that the guidelines are strictly adhered to. The Committee on the Privileges of Legal Professionals is the committee in question. The SANship award is an annual event. It is the responsibility of any attorney interested in the rank to apply to the Committee. The guidelines that the Committee will consider to determine who deserves or does not deserve the award are the following:
1. The applicant must be a Nigerian citizen.
2. You must have been practicing in Nigeria for 10 years before you can apply.
3. Must be in full legal practice.
4. Must have distinguished himself as a lawyer.
5. Must be a man of good character.
6. You must have made a significant contribution to the development of the legal profession in Nigeria.
7. At the time of getting the application form, you have to pay a non-refundable sum of N200,000. This amount may be revised at any time by the Committee.
8. He shall submit to the Committee a list of at least 10 superior court judges before whom he has appeared in important controversial cases. The Committee can select any 3 of them to give a detailed confidential reference of the applicant.
9. You must also submit a list of co-counsel with whom you have handled cases. Three of them may be selected by the Committee to provide a confidential reference to the applicant.
10. You must present the data of the contested cases that you processed personally, in this order:
- 8 High Court rulings,
- 6 judgments of the Court of Appeal,
- 3 sentences of the Supreme Court.
11. You must have been paying your practice fees on a consistent basis and membership due to your local branch of the Nigerian Bar Association in the last 10 years prior to application.
12. You must submit proof of payment of income tax for the 3 years prior to the request.
13. The Committee has a duty to conduct a physical inspection of the applicant’s cameras to assess the following:
- the size and quality of the library,
- space and other facilities available,
- number and quality of support staff,
- maintenance of proper accounting books,
- number of junior lawyers that must not be less than 5.
When an applicant is a scholar, they must provide the Committee with 20 copies of their published work in addition to some of the relevant considerations above.
The Nigerian Senior Advocate award is primarily for advocates. The award’s extension to non-court legal professionals, such as academics, is the only exception.
Features and Benefits of being a SAN
Being a SAN brings the following benefits:
1. Order of Precedence: A senior Nigerian barrister sits in the inner bar occupying the front row of seats available to legal professionals in court. This also extends to a SAN’s right to mention her case before other attorneys regardless of her age of professional qualification.
2. Court Appearance – A SAN should always appear in court with a junior attorney. However, appearance with a junior attorney may be waived when the matter is criminal.
3. The appeal: the dress of a SAN is different from that of other lawyers. She wears a more stylish dress and is made of silk materials, which makes the look more elegant as well. SANs are also called “the silk” because of the clothing materials they use.
4. Professional Fees – A SAN also enjoys the privilege of charging higher fees than other attorneys might.
On top of all the benefits of being a SAN, the sense of psychological fulfillment that comes from reaching the top of one’s profession is incomparable. This explains why the contest for rank is always intense and bitter. Year after year, hundreds, if not thousands, of legal professionals apply, but only a handful are chosen.