”SAN” stands for Senior Advocate of Nigeria. It’s a rank given to a Nigerian lawyer as a mark of professional distinction in the practice of law. It’s the peak that any practicing lawyer can attain in Nigeria. The award of SANship started in 1975. But before then, Nigeria had adopted the British equivalent called the Queen’s Counsel. Chief F.R.A Williams and Chief H.O. Davies were the first two Nigerians to be Queen’s Counsel in 1958. In 1964, the rank was abolished in Nigeria and had no replacement until 1975.
So there was no ranking system for the Nigerian Lawyers between 1964-1975. As a matter of fact, all the lawyers were equal then. But on 3rd April, 1975, Chief F.R.A Williams and Dr. Nabo Graham-Douglas became the first two to be so appointed. This marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of legal profession in the country. Nigeria now has over 60,000 lawyers but only 349 of them have been made Senior Advocates of Nigeria so far.
How to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria is governed by a set of guidelines. It’s the guidelines that tell who becomes a SAN. So what are these guidelines?
Guidelines for Being Appointed a SAN
There is a committee set up by law to ensure that the guidelines are strictly observed. The Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee is the committee in question. The award of SANship is a yearly event. It is the responsibility of any interested lawyer in the rank to apply to the Committee. The guidelines which the Committee will consider in order to determine who deserves the award or not are these:
1. An applicant must be a Nigerian citizen.
2. He must have been practicing in Nigeria for 10years before he can apply.
3. He must be in full legal practice.
4. He must have distinguished himself as an advocate.
5. He must be a man of good character.
6. He must have made significant contribution to the development of the legal profession in Nigeria.
7. At the point of obtaining the application form, he must pay a non-refundable sum of N200,000. This amount may be reviewed at anytime by the Committee.
8. He must submit to the Committee a list of at least 10 judges of superior courts before whom he had appeared in contested cases of importance. The Committee may select any 3 of them to give a detailed confidential reference of the applicant.
9. He must also submit a list of co- legal practitioners with whom he has handled cases. Three of them may be selected by the Committee to give a confidential reference of the applicant.
10. He must submit the particulars of contested cases which he personally handled in this order:
- 8 judgements of the High Court,
- 6 judgements of the Court of Appeal,
- 3 judgements of the Supreme Court.
11. He must have been paying his practicing fees consistently and membership due to his local branch of the Nigeria Bar Association in the last 10years preceding the application.
12. He must submit evidence of income tax payment for 3 years preceding the application.
13. The Committee has a duty to carryout a physical inspection of the applicant’s chambers 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 books of accounts,
- number of junior lawyers which should not be less than 5.
Where an applicant is an academic, he has to provide the Committee with 20 copies of his published works in addition to some of the relevant considerations above.
The award of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria is primarily for the advocates. The extension of the award to non-court going legal practitioners like the academics is the only exception.
Functions and Benefits of Being a SAN
Being a SAN brings the followings benefits:
1. Order of Precedence- A Senior Advocate of Nigeria sits in the inner bar by occupying the front row of the seats available for legal practitioners in courts. This also extends to the right of a SAN to mention his cases ahead of other lawyers no matter their age of professional qualification.
2. Appearance in Court- A SAN must always appear in court with a junior lawyer. Appearing with a junior lawyer may, however, be waived where the matter is a criminal one.
3. The Appeal-The dress of a SAN is different from that of other lawyers. He wears gown sown more stylishly and made of silk materials which makes the appearance also more elegant. SANs are also called “the silk” because of the clothing materials they use.
4. Professional Fees- A SAN also enjoys a privilege to charge a fee higher than what other lawyers could charge.
Above all the benefits of being a SAN, the sense of psychological fulfillment which comes with attaining the peak of one’s profession is incomparable. This explains why the contest for the rank is always intense and keen. Year in year out, hundreds if not thousands of legal practitioners apply but only a handful is chosen.