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Yimika Adesola: Welcome to the Nigerian Bar! 10 Tips for New Wigs to Succeed in the Legal Profession

Yimika Adesola

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Dear New Wig,

Congratulations on your call to the Nigerian Bar as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
I can imagine the potpourri of feelings you must be experiencing right now, having experienced them myself – happiness, gratitude, excitement, relief, and perhaps anxiety or fear of the unknown.

With the benefit of hindsight and from my interaction with colleagues in the different areas of our profession, I have a few pointers that may help you navigate this new path.

First things first, your degree classification will not matter in a few years
It’s possible that you did not make a First Class. In fact, if the breakdown of results released by the Council of Legal Education is anything to go by, the odds are that you did not make a First Class, or even a Second Class Upper.

I understand that this may seem like the end of the world now. You’re probably wondering if you would get a good job, or if you are even cut out for the profession.

Do not let that put a damper on your celebrations. All of this will not matter in a few years, or at least it doesn’t have to. If you follow the advice given in this piece and that of other successful lawyers who have gone before you, the difference between you and the “First Class lawyer” will become more and more blurry as time goes by.

Keep your Law School colleagues close
Hopefully, while at the Nigerian Law School you took some time out to invest in relationships with the students around you. Now that you don’t need them to share their notes or hand-outs, do not be tempted to toss them out and embrace your “new” life. Call them often, remember their birthdays, attend their weddings and just be there for them.

Your strongest support system will come from colleagues who are facing the same issues that you are. These are the people that you will turn to for advice, referrals, and general banter.

Find mentors
On your journey in the legal profession, one of the most important relationships you must cultivate and jealously guard is your relationship with your mentor(s).

Your mentor is someone who has already walked the path you are now treading warily. He or she will act as a sounding board, will provide insight from a more experienced standpoint, will help you learn how to develop and maintain professional relationships, and even give you access to a larger network of legal professionals.

The importance of a mentor cannot be over-emphasized. Apply for a place on a mentoring programme for lawyers, such as the Legally Engaged Mentorship Programme, or simply reach out to senior lawyers in your community.

Keep some class notes
In the first few months of your legal career, you may find that you need to periodically refer to things you were taught at Law School in order to get by. Sorry, it’s true!

This is especially so because most students simply commit law school materials to memory for a short while for purposes of the bar exam. (No judgement here; I know the feeling!)

So hold off on throwing out your Law School texts while shouting “I’m free”. Depending on your area of practice, it will be prudent to keep some texts as you may need to refer to them when you find yourself in a fix and your senior colleague is breathing down your neck.

Work hard
Here’s an obvious one – no one is going to just hand you your dreams on a platter of gold, especially not in a society where the older lawyers seem to think that the younger ones are “entitled millennials” and thus, must “learn to suffer it” just like they did.

Be ready to keep late nights, work weekends, redraft that motion ten times, sweat away at the High Courts for 6 hours without your case being heard, and so much more!

It’s hard work but it will be worth it if you play your cards right. So, not only work hard, but work smart. That is often the differentiating factor!

Establish your personal commandments
In the legal profession, many circumstances will come that will test your patience, willpower and even your integrity.

It helps if you have principles, preferably written down, that will be sacrosanct to you and which you have committed to abide by notwithstanding the challenges you face. This could be refusing to act based on emotions; treating everyone politely; focusing on your own journey and not the progress of others; refusing to procrastinate or give up, etc.

These principles or personal commandments are the steers that will keep you on the straight and narrow when your emotions are about to fail you.

Work for yourself always
Now, I am not asking you to set up your own law firm. In fact, I do not know of any lawyer that will advise a new wig to set up shop on his own immediately after his Call to Bar.

What I mean here is that you should always prioritise your personal and professional development. In whatever job or assignment you are faced with, constantly ask yourself if you are advancing your career goals.

Life will happen and you may find yourself in less than ideal circumstances, but as much as lies within your power, ensure that everything you are spending your time and sweat on, can bring you closer to your personal or professional goals. You should do this especially while working for someone else – do not lose yourself while making someone else’s dreams come true.

Have faith in yourself
You made it this far because you have what it takes. Be patient with yourself and always remember that you will not become a Senior Advocate in one day. That brilliant lawyer you look up to was once confused and afraid just like you.

My good friend and colleague Goodness Onwuachu put it aptly when she said “get the right definition for yourself and remember that a bad day in Court does not define you; harsh words or unfair treatment from a boss or senior colleague do not define you”.

Situations will come that will cause you to doubt yourself or feel that the legal profession is a waste of your time. When that happens, do not be emotional; be objective and try to get to the root of the problem.

Prepare for mistakes and even failure
Cliché as it may sound, this letter will not be complete without this piece of advice.

Again, my friend Goodness puts it fittingly, “reduce incidences of mistakes on your part to the barest minimum but remember that mistakes are not peculiar to you. If you make one today, you have learnt a lesson for tomorrow”.

Do not neglect those coming behind
The Nigerian Law School experience is an interesting one, to say the least. We were all advised to just “face the work”, and not try to fight the system or ask too many questions.

So, it is tempting to leave the system and never look back, but know that there are students whose experience could be so much better if they had your assistance.

Volunteer to mentor, teach, or otherwise assist younger ones as much as you can. We have the power to make the legal profession what we want it to be.

Once again, welcome to the Nigerian Bar. It’s interesting out here!

Best of luck,

Photo Credit: John Williams | Dreamstime

Yimika Adesola is a corporate lawyer with a diploma in Human Resource Management. She runs a career center, Legally Engaged (available at www.legallyengaged.com.ng), via which she offers direction to students and young professionals by providing them with the information they need to launch successful careers and make better career decisions. Website: www.legallyengaged.com.ngLinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/yimikaadesola

9 Comments

  1. Loki

    December 18, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    Something I like to tell new wigs- ignore all the negative ideas you will hear about how law is a dead profession where you don’t get paid enough and you need a first class and/or connections to get into a good law firm. Most major law firms have websites now. Send your WELL WRITTEN resumes to them. You do not necessarily have to know one Head Of Chambers within to get in. Although undoubtedly, that can give you an edge. Nevertheless, just send it.
    Also, you may struggle in the beginning but as time goes on, things level out. So try not to develop heartache over the news you will DEFINITELY hear about your classmates who are now in one ghen ghen place or the other. Things level out as you find your feet. Work hard and for the love of God, socialise. You’re a lawyer; it is the people you meet that will give you business. So go out and before anyone even has the chance to bring it up,introduce yourself as a lawyer to everyone you meet. Law is mostly confidence…even if you don’t know anything. So forget about how green you feel. Lawyers tend to help each other; so even if you get a brief you’re not too sure how to handle, make a few calls to your peers and your seniors and you will be fine. Also there are plenty of free online legal resources now. After you’ve done one or two, you can do a hundred.
    May the force be with you.

  2. Tony

    December 18, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Why are lawyers and judges still wearing useless colonial wigs decades after independence. Africa needs to reevaluate things.

    • Loki

      December 18, 2017 at 3:52 pm

      It’s complicated. The Nigerian jurisprudential system is a bit…anachronistic to say the least.

    • tunmi

      December 18, 2017 at 8:14 pm

      as silly as it sounds, it is because of that wig that I refuse to study law. I would love to though (study law in Nigeria), but I absolutely detest that wig forced on my head.

  3. Deb

    December 18, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    Intelligence and Mentorship. Even if you have a 1st class and you are not intelligent you wont make a fine lawyer. You must be a solution provider.

    • b

      December 19, 2017 at 10:11 am

      Thanks i am not a new wig but something struck about being a solution provider and being intelligent. .

  4. ozyy

    December 19, 2017 at 9:08 am

    Thank you so much

  5. Han

    December 19, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    Beautiful Write up. Just timely!

  6. BijouxthisBijouxthat

    January 1, 2018 at 8:01 am

    Loved it!!! Very insightful and the subsequent comments by Loki.. Thanks

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