Congratulations on passing the Nigerian Bar! It matters not what your degree is, or how many attempts it took; you made it! That’s what’s important. Congratulations!
When the wig & gown photos are done, all the champagne is popped, and you are out of cake, a new chapter of your life begins. Done with school, now it’s time to get to work, and work is another kettle of fish entirely.
As you begin your journey, this is my present to you. 10 of the many life lessons I’ve learned since my Call three years ago, that I hope will be helpful to you as you prepare to face the real world.
Dream New Dreams
You might find yourself in a weird place, post- Call to Bar. The most stressful year of your life so far is over, and lately, you’ve been having a lot of free time to yourself. After a while, you might realize that you aren’t really motivated by anything. For the last 19 years of your life or so, your tangible goals have been to ace that test, or score that GPA. Now, all that is done. You are left with nobody to score you, nobody to compete with, it’s just you. It’s a weird place to be, but don’t dwell on it. Now is the time to ask yourself what you really want. Do you really want to practice law? What are your passions? Is this what you want to do? What else? It’s okay if you don’t have the answers to these questions. Just, start thinking about it. You are starting your own journey now.
Put Yourself Out There
Put yourself out there. It’s easier said than done, but start now. If it takes you months to be ready to start sending your CV out, cool. That is only the easiest part. See, I applied to 30 law firms. Only 3 called me back to be tested, and finally, 1 acceptance that took 7 months to come through. This is not to scare you but, you can’t get a job if you don’t express interest. If you have any other ideas for how you can let the world know you are looking for work without actually saying so, let me know.
Change Your Mindset. You are Not Begging for Work.
At first, you might feel like you’re a rookie, a green horn, and you would be happy to work in any place that can have you. No. Though a newbie, you have a mind that functions. You have hands to do what is needed. You know the basics. You have something to contribute and you would be happy for the opportunity to do so.
Get Over Your Fear of Rejection. It’s not about you.
You might spend weeks sending out applications, and even more weeks waiting for calls that won’t come. Please don’t take it personal. This is easier said than done, and is probably one of the lessons you will have to learn from your own experience, but try to take my word for it. It’s a tough market. Jobs are scarce. An office may have 1 opening, and like 30 applications for that spot. When you are rejected, or you are not called back, this does not mean that you are not good enough. It’s really not about you.
Do Your Research, Talk to People
At some point, during my long wait, I became afraid of bumping into my classmates. Really afraid. I did not want anybody to say hi to me. I didn’t want to be invited to any events by mistake. I just wanted to quietly sit in my house till further notice. I did this for a while, but had to get over it. Research is important, and you need to talk to people. It doesn’t hurt to tell your acquaintances or your friends that you’re looking for work. If there’s an opening, they could think of you and let you know when to apply. Research also helps you know what to expect from the places you apply to. Different law firms have their different testing formats, so it would help to know each one. There are firms that test with GMAT or LSAT questions. Don’t worry about this if you’re a gifted genius; but, people actually study to take the GMAT or LSAT, so you might want to practice a bit on your own before you go.
Shine Your Eyes
Still on the research, try to find out: what’s the work culture? Are people happy there? Some law firms may ask you to sign an undertaking not to leave in less than 2 years, and if you do, you have to pay them 3 months salary. Is this a bad deal? Depends. This says to me that they have a hard time retaining staff- which probably means that the boss/ management is problematic. Speaking of bad bosses, do you know who is in charge? Do you want to work with your heart in your mouth all the time? What are your expectations? What kind of place would you like to practice in?
Many firms have designated email addresses for job applications. They probably read them, but you definitely want to go beyond. I sent in most of my applications online, because I wasn’t in Lagos when I applied. It was also just easier, more convenient. One of my colleagues emailed the Managing Partner who told him to come in right away to be tested. If he had gone the usual route, sent it to the general email and waited for it to go through the system, it may have taken him an extra 6 months! What’s the worst that could happen if you take a step further? As long as your email and CV are well written, I can’t think of anyone that would be mad at you for going the extra mile.
Let People Help You
When are we going to collectively put an end to this idea of self-made success? We need to kill it, kill it dead. When you really think about it, the only reason why you want to say you achieved something all by yourself is to be able to have all the credit. What’s more important? Getting the credit? (Who is keeping count, by the way) or achieving your goal?
If you are qualified for a job and you know somebody who can put in a word for you? LET THEM. This can be hard to do, but trust me you do not OWE that person your success. By helping you, they are a part of your story, but they can only get you in through the door. What will keep you at your work is your own effort, how well you do there.
Make The Most of It, While you Wait
IF you wait, of course. Not everyone’s journey is the same. You might get the job you want right away, but this lesson is for if you don’t. It’s not the end of the world. It sucks to be waiting with uncertainty while everyone else’s life looks right on schedule. Let yourself go through the feels, and pick yourself back up. Hold on to your sunshine.
If you have thought about starting a business, now is a good time to try your hand at that. Want to explore photography? Baking? Get on it! You’ll never have as much free time as you do now. If you really want to practice law, working at a smaller firm, or even interning/ being attached to them for free is a great idea. No knowledge gained is ever lost. You could even take a professional course or two. By the time you get called to interview for a position, your head won’t be empty. You’d have at least a few things to talk about.
Try to remember that there’s a very fine line between settling, and making the most of a less than ideal situation. As you make the most of things, don’t forget your vision. What you want for yourself. Sure, dreams change, but it’s important that they change because of YOU, not because someone else has made you feel like what you want is impossible to get (It’s NOT).
Don’t Waste Your Service Year!
Please don’t be one of those people who think NYSC is a waste of time. You get from it what you intend to, so be positive and proactive. If you did not get a 2’1 at law school or university, it is easier to get into a law firm with 2’1 requirement as a corper than it is after NYSC, so you probably want to work towards that now. You can work your way into such firms, for valuable work experience, prove yourself and they’d be more inclined to take you on after your service year is over. Even if they don’t, you’d still have that work experience.
I hope this has been a solid heads-up, and that you remember at least one thing. Your journey is yours.
Congratulations again, on joining the league of “Barrister-Lawyers”.
I wish you all the best!
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Hongqi Zhang (aka Michael Zhang)