Here’s what I used to do for a daily wage. In my former life, I was a fully practising barrister and solicitor and I didn’t mind heading down that route to start off of my career, especially after the sheer struggle of surviving the Nigerian Law School (…as in, 13 years later and I’m still thanking God for His Grace in that area…) Such a baptism of fire simply had to count towards something worthwhile so after getting called to the Nigerian Bar, on that fateful 1st day in July, 2003, I moved into a reputable law firm, to learn more about the tricks intricacies of the profession.
Law practise in Nigeria has its own rewards for a young wig and you better believe that those rewards aren’t necessarily the financial kind. When I joined, many Managing Solicitors (i.e. owners of Law Chambers) would offer jobs that didn’t come with any salary and we were meant to be grateful for the invaluable experience … so young lawyers quickly learnt how to be self-sufficient by hunting for new clients and “briefs” and commissions of every sort. I was very lucky to work in a salaried job but it wasn’t a great deal of dosh and to be honest, if I was in it for the money, I would never have stayed. What kept me going, however, was this wonder in discovering exactly how the law can be made to work for you – depending on how one argues a case and marshals previous judgements, evidence, closing arguments, etc to help a client’s cause. I enjoyed carrying out legal research and trawling through tomes of case law to find the exact ruling which suited my client’s particular circumstance.
Legal drafting was like calling me home because I just LOVE words (you can’t imagine how much I love words… or maybe, you can…) and being able to draw up contracts, memorandums or any other kind of agreement from scratch was a task I gleefully embraced. And still continue to embrace. Standing up to address a court or opposing counsel was daunting at first, I cannot lie. However, you quickly come to find your voice in a room full of senior lawyers trying to “oppress” you with their moth-eaten robes and threadbare wigs, as they spout verbosities intended to bamboozle the court and undermine your own arguments. Yimu. Plus you’re always conscious of the keen gaze of your client sitting in the gallery, who hasn’t hidden his scepticism about this “junior counsel” that the firm sent to handle his case and whose glaring inexperience is now likely to prejudice his interest.
You grow the cojones needed to get the job done. Winning interim and final judgements from time to time will certainly raise your confidence and help said cojones to drop lower so that your voice is now able to match the loudness and garrulity of aforesaid senior counsel in legal debates.
And then one day, 3 years after embarking on it, I realized that there wasn’t too much sense in continuing along the path I was on, since I wasn’t aiming to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), a member of the bench or even lecture in a University’s law faculty. So back to the drawing board with me – what did I want to be? I knew that of all the tasks I carried out as a solicitor, legal drafting was my niche and there was something in me that perked up every time we had commercial dealings to manage for clients. It only made sense to pursue a career outside core law practise but still offering legal services to enhance business dealings and being a Port Harcourt “geh”, I knew that any kind of business dealings that I was looking to enhance just had to be the oil & gas kind. I did the necessary online research, found a University to obtain the required post graduate degree in, completed an LLM in Oil & Gas Law (I know. I KNOW. Very Nigerian and cliché of me, abi?), job-hunted and then God was good (again!) and I found a way into what I do now.
Today I work for an integrated service provider in the offshore oil & gas industry and my role involves providing legal advice and support to help the company acquire new business and manage its existing projects. I strongly believe that lawyers need to find more inroads into the commercial market because as much as I miss the highs of practise, I see so many ways that my skills and knowledge make a huge difference in how the company takes operational decisions. We were fed this regimented thinking in Law School about offering legal services from one point of view (i.e. the client who seeks representation in court) but the world needs lawyers in just about every other sphere that exists outside core practise.
My days are very varied – tomes of contracts to review one day, sorting out a dispute the next day, researching sanctions that might affect the importation of a vessel into a particular country the following day – but I’ve now come understand how the law works in the world of commerce and gotten so much more exposure to the bigger realities of doing business. And more importantly (for me, anyway) I’ve picked up a lot of technical knowledge about offshore operations which I find completely fascinating! Honestly, do you know how many different kinds of engineers can be found on one rig? And all the different important roles they carry out? Ahhh, Engineers, una dey do well oh… if no be for old age, I for try go study one small course make I join una…
I won’t do this forever but for here and now, I love my current job and the challenges it’s brought into my legal world. Too many people go into the profession and exit after a short, disillusioned stint but I wanted to recant my own experience for anyone who truly believes that law is their calling but isn’t so keen on spending the rest of their days in court. Build your foundation properly with some hands-on experience in the general field of practise at the beginning and then proceed to find your preferred footing in niche areas which can include intellectual property, finance, employment relations, building and construction, medical services, energy and the environment, public administration, international relations etc. The world keeps professing it hates lawyers but we’re not running out of opportunities to thrive yet due to how very significantly our job cuts across different segments of society. Although, those engineers, sha… they’re not doing badly at all… 🙂
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