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.
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.
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