[EXPLAINER] How to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)

THE dream of many legal practitioners in Nigeria is to attain the title of Senior Advocate Of Nigeria (SAN), the country’s highest legal rank.

This report highlights the process of becoming a SAN in Nigeria.

A lawyer, Abiola Kolawole, explained to The ICIR in a chat that the requirements to become a SAN are strictly for lawyers who have distinguished themselves in the legal profession.


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He said that upon a lawyer meeting the standard of these requirements, they will be conferred the rank of SAN.

According to Abiola, the SAN title is awarded following the Guidelines for the Conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria 2013 pursuant to Section 5(7) of the Legal Practitioners Act 2004.

The title is managed by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC), which is chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and is made up of the Attorney-General of the Federation, the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, and some SANs, among other people.

Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Kayode Ariwoola SAN
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Kayode Ariwoola

According to a senior lawyer who has spent 35 years at the bar, Mainasara Kogo Umar, said to be a SAN, you will have to apply.

“Then, people will have to vouch and talk about your good qualities as a senior lawyer. Your temperament, professionalism, excellence, and all the positive things about you.

“The shortlist will be displayed; anybody who has objection to any of them being conferred with the rank of the senior advocate can then object and write a petition against the applicant, so at the end, they will scrutinise.

He added that the rank of senior advocate is a rank of honour if one is given. 

He listed some of the privilege of being a SAN as:

  • Wearing a silk type of gown rather than the cotton type.
  • ‘SAN’ will be added to your name.
  • A SAN will be called a ‘learned silk’.
  • SANs are accorded the front seats. 
  • Order of first call in court proceedings, among others. 

According to both lawyers, only a lawyer who has been called to the Bar (Passed through law school) and stayed there for ten years or more can be an SAN.

Difference between the Bar and the Bench

Explaining the difference between the Bar and the Bench, Umar said The Bench means the Judiciary side, the side of the court’s leadership.

“If you choose to be a judge, you are on the Bench whether as a magistrate, or high court judge or appeal court or as a justice of the Supreme court. You have to be in the Bar before you can be at the Bench,” he stated.

According to him, the Bar means private or public legal practice as a barrister or solicitor, whether under the government or whatever. 

“Bar means you have been called to practise. You can go and defend anybody, you can write any instrument, prepare any document, give legal advice. Once you are a lawyer, you are a member of the Bar but for the Bench, it means you have to apply that you want to be a judge. The Bar are the ones that argue cases but the Bench exclusively are judges.”

Other requirements to become a SAN

  • Candidates must be lawyers who are actively practising law in Nigeria. 
  • They must also have been in active legal practice for at least ten years prior to the application date. The Guidelines stipulate that the Committee may confer with the Chief Judge of the state in which the candidate maintains his primary legal office as well as the Local Branch of the NBA in the exact location to ascertain the candidate’s current status of practice.
  • Character and outstanding integrity are also prerequisites.
  • A candidate must pay a non-refundable registration fee.
  • A candidate for the SAN position must provide documentation of their income tax payments for at least three years before the application date.
  • As part of his community service requirement, he has to provide proof of pro bono cases he has completed for financially disadvantaged clients.
  • A lawyer must provide a list of ten superior court judges he has appeared before and successfully argued high-profile matters before; then, LPPC will choose three judges randomly from the list to testify regarding the applicant.
  • Academics must demonstrate that respectable publishers publish their works, whose reputation will be checked and validated by the LPPC academic subcommittee.
  • An applicant must submit the following details about contested cases: eight rulings from the High Court, Six cases from the Court of Appeal, and three from the Supreme Court. Suppose he handled cases from the High Court to the Supreme Court. In that case, he must present three rulings from the Supreme Court to be eligible. However, if he made appearances at the Supreme Court, he must show six rulings from the Supreme Court.
  • Academic lawyers must send LPPC at least 20 copies of their best-published legal publications.
  • The applicant’s firm must be inspected by the LPPC, which will assess the business’s space and facilities, personnel strength and competency, and the quantity and calibre of the applicant’s library.
  • A candidate for a SAN must provide proof that for at least ten years before the year he seeks the award of SAN, he has paid his local branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) dues and the practice fee.

Please note that the requirement is not limited to the above-listed points and might be updated occasionally.






     

     

    According to a lawyer, Lucky Ekarume, the requirements for becoming a SAN in Nigeria are designed to uphold the honour and integrity of holding the highest rank in Nigerian legal practice. 

    He added that the guidelines’ requirements guarantee that only law practitioners who have excelled in their legal practice will be granted the status.

    In October 2023, the LPPC elevated 58 lawyers to SAN.

    Among the elevated lawyers were Emmanuel Enoidem, a former legal adviser of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and women’s rights activist Funmi Falana, human rights lawyer Olukayode Ajulo, Abiola Isiaq Oyebanji, Bomo Agbebi, Kehinde Aina, and Folasade Alli among others.

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