Called To Bar – And So?
As a young lawyer and the head of the young lawyers committee of the Lagos Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association I have a passion for new wigs. Anyone who passed through the Nigerian Law School can appreciate the joy of being admitted to the bar. The call day for many is fulfilling and exciting. The feeling of signing the Supreme Court Register is one of genuine satisfaction. Your friends call you “the law” and your aunties call you “barrister”! The entire family is happy they have a lawyer who can defend them in the land feud. All your Aunties are gaily dressed in “aso ebi”. They have chosen cobalt blue because it is your favourite. Your Mum? She has cooked several pots of jollof rice and chicken. Her gele is tied in all directions as she basks in the excitement of being called “Mummy the Law”. The euphoria of the call to bar ceremony masks the reality of the life ahead. Boy, the hustle is real!
The life of a baby wig is interesting and challenging. Many have horrible experiences from their first solo appearance. Some have been embarrassingly admonished by judges; others have been intimidated by senior lawyers while others have simply been abandoned at sea. What do you expect when your senior hands over a file you know nothing about on the morning of the matter? What will you do? There is nothing you can do; a senior is always a senior. I was lucky my first solo appearance was to report settlement. Touché!
It can indeed be challenging but I’m grateful to have seniors who are worthy mentors. A shout out to all learned seniors! I will like to share some of the advice and tips they have given me;
- The first rule in the legal profession is;”respect your seniors”. I really do not know of any profession where seniority counts as much as in this one.
- Be fit and proper always. This was emphasized on in Law School. You can’t say you forgotten so quick? It is essential in this profession!
- The theory of billing is different from the practice. Those Aunties and Uncles who attended your call ceremony are mostly looking for free service. Yes, they’ll come with their landlord-tenant cases but the last thing on their minds is to pay. “Is it not my little Biola, I was there when she started Nursery school, she can’t bill me”. No ma’am this is intellectual property and Biola has bills to pick up.
- Thousands of other lawyers were called on the same day as you so do not let your new profession get into your head. You need to work hard and smart to make a difference. You may want to take a cue from the likes of late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and my boss, Dr Olisa Agbakoba who pioneered the human rights movement.
- Read wide and invest in basic law books. Build your library gradually.
- Get a copy of learning the Law. It might be an old book but it has useful tips.
- Identity your passion and run with it. This will ultimately serve as a basis for specialization. Look for a niche area.
- Set realistic targets. Would you like to be a SAN, Judge or Professor of Law? How are you working towards this goal? My friend, dreams are not made overnight.
- Be ready to work damn hard and earn little. After all you should pay your boss to learn. That lawyer whose law firm is somewhere near computer village in Ikeja may only pay you 15k a month. Surprised? Close your mouth, you’ve got to start from somewhere.
- Ask questions, no one knows it all. Have you ever wondered why seniors appear with juniors?
- Dress the way you want to be addressed. Whoever told you image did not count?
- Make friends with all the paralegal staff, they probably know more law than you.
- Never argue with a judge, he is Lord and Master of his court. Instead appeal.
- In cross examination, never ask a question you do not know the answer to.
A word is enough for the wise. I rest my case
This is a must-read for new wigs. It is an advanced Professional Ethics, brief but weighty.