REFLECTIONS – STAMPS AND SEALS (1) PAUL USORO, SAN FCIArb

One of the hot topics for lawyers in this season of NBA elections is the lawyers’ stamps which are required to be mandatorily affixed to all legal documents. The issues that lawyers have with the stamps include whether there should be expiry dates therefor, the cost of the stamps, delivery time and whether they should be issued free and also the difference in color codes between the stamps that are used by law officers and other practitioners. Some practitioners advocate for stamps that do not have expiration dates as against the current practice whereby the stamps are valid for one year. Most who advocate for non-expiration of the stamps base their arguments on the fact that they traditionally have in stock a large quantity of unexpired stamps as at the expiration date of 31 March of each year which become wasted consequent upon the expiration.

Should the stamps have expiration dates? I answer in the positive believing as I do that the expiry dates help to prevent abuse and use of the stamps by persons who may not be eligible to use them. Some of our colleagues unfortunately get suspended or disbarred for different malpractices and if these have stamps without expiry dates, absolutely nothing stops them from using those stamps, albeit, illegally. Also, stamps without expiry dates could inadvertently or advertently fall into the hands of criminals, crooks, touts and fake lawyers and could be used by them for as long as the stock of unexpired stamps remain. Instances when the stamp may fall into the hands of such criminal and nefarious persons include where our colleagues’ offices have been burgled or following the death of our colleagues and the subsequent ransacking and/or willful use of his stamps by dubious persons and also possible misplacement of the stock of unexpired stamps by any of us and its use by non-eligible persons.

I believe it is sufficient compelling reason for the retention of the practice of annual renewal of the stamp the fact that it helps to ensure that the user of the stamp is still entitled to practice as a legal practitioner.
Our goal of making Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) compulsory for all practitioners recommends and justifies the retention of the practice of annual renewal of the stamps. In climes where CLE is mandatory, minimum number of CLE hours is set as a threshold for renewal of practice license. With stamps that have no expiry date, that ideal is unachievable and unimplementable. In other words, issuing a stamp that has no expiry date makes it possible for a practitioner to continue in illegal practice even though he has not met the minimum hours of continuing education and therefore ought to be de-certified and not permitted to practice. Agreed that we have not reached that ideal goal of setting point of minimum continuing education hours as a condition for renewal of practice license, but that’s a goal that the NBA subscribes to and it would be counter-productive for us to institutionalize a practice that wholly negates that goal.

What about the excess stock of unused stamps which remain with us as at the expiration dates thereof? I believe this is an administrative glitch that can be resolved by reducing the minimum number of stamps that may be ordered at a time and also ensuring that the stamps are delivered timeously, early enough to be used soon after the payment of practice fee by the legal practitioner. Incidentally, I have also heard from some of our very busy colleagues that they exhaust their stamps quite rapidly and they’re not satisfied with the replenishment processes. These are all administrative hiccups which I believe can be resolved by resetting and renegotiating the production and distribution terms of the stamps with our vendors in a manner that accommodates and satisfies the diverse yearnings of most if not all of us.

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