In this guide, I will discus on “8 Tips to Succeed as a Young Lawyer In Nigeria.” Read expert tips on how to succeed as a lawyer in Nigeria from graduation to professional life.
All over the world, the legal profession is widely regarded as one of the noblest professions in the history of mankind. Therefore, being a lawyer anywhere is prestigious.
What is much more prestigious however is being a successful young lawyer. In Nigeria, succeeding in the legal profession as a young lawyer may mean handling and winning big money cases and being at least, a senior partner in a reputable law firm or the principal partner of one’s own firm.
It could also mean having the coveted title of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria to one’s name at a relatively young age. Lawyers like Damian Dodo, Babatunde Raji Fashola, Ebun Sofunde, Mohammed Dele Belgore and our Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo became Senior Advocates of Nigeria before age 40.
Of course, attaining either or both of these heights would mean that such a lawyer must be wealthy and influential and since nothing succeeds like success, such a young lawyer is in a vantage position to achieve a long-term success in his career.
The question now is: How does one succeed as a young lawyer in Nigeria? This essay will adequately address and answer this question. Opinions of some eminent legal practitioners will be referenced and pieces of good advice will be given.
First off, we have to note that the starting point of every achievement is desire. There has to be a desire – a burning passion – to be a legal practitioner. Such desire must be evident in the way one responds to happenings around one.
It is an undisputed fact that some people studied law because their parents wanted them to; some others chose to study it because they feel it is an easy route to wealth and fame; others even had to switch courses for law at the university because they got thrilled by the white and black regalia of law students and their noticeable suaveness and smartness. These are just a few mentions among so many wrong reasons why people study law.
The sad news is: without true passion for law, one’s legal career is dead on arrival. It’s either such persons fail to qualify as lawyers or they fail in practice, even if they qualify.
A corporate lawyer, Olurotimi Idowu aptly said: “…as long as the passion is not there, you have no business in the legal profession. While some lawyers are comfortable working from a cozy office in a high conglomerate, others find fulfilment in slugging it out in the heat of court rooms. It’s all about passion.”
Consequently, anyone who desires to succeed in the legal profession by leaps and bounds must start working towards it right from school. Success does not happen by accident or luck; it is the product of a conscious and consistent effort.
Hence, it is advised that to make the journey to success faster and less arduous, a good law degree from a reputable university should be obtained. A good degree here means either a first class or a second class upper. Either of these will, in most cases, afford a young lawyer the opportunity to work in an established and reputable law firm in Nigeria since a second class upper degree is usually the minimum requirement for most job entries. Getting to work in a big and reputable firm will bring him close to the other essential factors to a quick success such as acquisition and development of skills, good mentorship, making a name and networking.
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Secondly, having secured employment in a reputable firm, a young lawyer should strive to develop himself in every way possible. It would be ill-advised to pursue wealth inordinately at this stage. A lawyer must garner requisite knowledge and skills that will give him an edge in practice.
These knowledge and skills are not developed overnight; they require diligence, sacrifice and consistency. Some of the skills that a budding lawyer would need are Advocacy, Legal Drafting, Critical thinking, Communication skills, Research skills etc.
A young lawyer must also realize that experience is golden in the legal profession. Most clients would prefer their brief be handled by lawyers who have proved themselves overtime to be competent, rather than newbie lawyers. Therefore, a young lawyer should avail himself of the opportunity of working with experienced lawyers in the firm and tapping from their wealth of knowledge.
Furthermore, a young lawyer should have a mentor. A lawyer working in a big law firm will have the advantage of rubbing minds with eminent lawyers possibly Senior Advocates of Nigeria. This is really important as a young lawyer is most likely to breakthrough in the legal profession early under the tutelage and mentorship of an experienced senior counsel.
For example, such mentorship will give a young lawyer the idea of which area of the law to focus on and specialize in. Augustine Alegeh (SAN), a former president of Nigerian Bar Association once hinted that budding lawyers can boost their practice by exploring emerging areas of law such as Electricity law, Sports law, Intellectual Property law, Cyber law and so on. Pursuing a career in these novel areas will give newbie lawyers a competitive advantage, instead of the saturated Commercial and Corporate law and litigation areas.
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Another point is networking. Young lawyers should not downplay the value of a good network. This is one of the keys to developing a meaningful interpersonal relationship with other learned colleagues. A lawyer may also form a cordial relationship with judges.
A reliable way of maintaining a robust network is by taking up membership of some vital professional bodies like the Nigerian Bar Association, International Bar Association, Commonwealth Lawyers Association and so on. The essence of networking in the legal profession cannot be over-emphasized because sometimes it is not just about what you know but about who you know and who knows you! In fact, to succeed in the legal profession at a young age, you have to be known to people.
An American thinker and humorist, Arnold Glasow was famously quoted as saying: “Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way and at the right time.”
This is where self-discipline comes to play. A budding lawyer must maintain an impeccable standard of ethics, integrity and honesty. Also he must always appear before the court neatly and smartly dressed with well prepared brief and sound arguments lest he gets on the bad side of judges.
In addition, budding lawyers should strive to make good names for themselves. They must avoid all forms of corruption. According to Mallam Yunus Ustaz Usman (SAN), “As a young lawyer, make a name first before seeking money because when you make the name, the money would come.”
Therefore, a young lawyer who has acquired the requisite knowledge and skills must understand that customer service is key. Handling a client’s case properly and with due care will portray such a lawyer in good light; and since in law, advertisement is prohibited, satisfied and happy customers are the best publicity. Most lawyers get their briefs from client to client referral. Hence, a wise young lawyer should focus on customer satisfaction instead of getting fixated on making money.
A Court of Appeal Judge, Justice Chinwe Iyizoba once stressed that hard work and self-development are the keys to succeeding as a young lawyer. She retorted that: “The fact is that in all professions, if you are good, you will be noticed and you will go places. However, you can’t get there without passing through pupilage and building yourself up by working hard to excel.”
Also, young lawyers should endeavour to learn on the job. This could happen in a situation where a client brings a case that is not within a lawyer’s forte. This is because as a learned counsel, you are regarded as a problem solver: hence, you are required to proffer solutions to the problem posed even though you have little or no knowledge about it.
This is where learning on the job comes in: such a lawyer must employ his research skills to study that particular issue and find solutions to it. It would be bad for business for a young lawyer to confess ignorance instantly. Such a confession/concession would give clients the impression that such a lawyer is ignorant and incompetent. And the word may go round.
For lawyers who intend to go into private practice by going solo or merging with a fellow young lawyer to start a law firm, it is suggested, no matter how much knowledge about the principles of law they may have, that they should work for and learn from senior lawyers first for a period of at least two years to gain experience and some vital skills. This is in line with the opinion of Honourable Justice Chinwe Iyizoba above. With an arsenal of legal knowledge, skills and experience, solo practice would be fruitful and successful.
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Finally, young lawyers must be very patient, tactful and must persevere in their quest for success. Sometimes they may have to take pro-bono cases and offer free legal advices in the first few years of private practice. Young lawyers must be able to endure the rigours of the legal profession. They must not lose their passion by getting disappointed and discouraged. Every budding lawyer should always remember that when passion, patience and skill work together, a masterpiece is inevitable; success is inevitable!
If you apply these tips with God’s Grace, you are rest assured that you will become a successful lawyer in Nigeria (if Law itself is your calling).