I decided to become a lawyer as a kid because of the admiration I had for lawyers and their flashy suits, big cars and big houses, though the journey wasn’t easy especially through the university and Law School. I was determined to cross all hurdles to get to the Promised Land. Now I am a lawyer but unfortunately, dream and imagination are quite different from reality.
To fully appreciate the challenges encountered by young lawyers in this country, the reader must understand who a young lawyer is in this context. A young lawyer does not include a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who was recently called to the bar, or a person who after obtaining a first degree in another field of study and having established himself subsequently takes up law as a second degree. Though these categories of persons are young at the bar, they don’t qualify as young lawyers because the obstacles faced by someone who studied law as a first and only degree and currently between 1 – 5 years post call, is completely different.
The travails encountered by young lawyers in this noble profession of ours are numerous and overwhelming that one is forced to ask: “is this the dues we are meant to pay as new wigs?” Except for a privileged few young lawyers who get hired by big law firms or those with the right connections in the right places who have it easy, the rest find it difficult to keep up with issues like low client base, poor salary, inadequate welfare, lack of experience, low self esteem and the like. The funny thing is, despite being a lawyer with the right of audience in any court in Nigeria, the right to frank legal documents etc, clients still don’t believe young lawyers are capable of handling a brief. The popular adage is, “they don’t have the experience” and while it is true that certain requisite experiences are lacking in young lawyers, it does not vitiate the fact that a young lawyer can satisfactorily handle legal briefs like company registration, drafting agreements, perfecting titles, e.t.c since experience cannot be gotten in a vacuum.
Psychologically, a young lawyer is under pressure from his family, friends and the society at large; the family believes as a lawyer, one is capable of attending to his immediate and important needs, as such, they shy away from certain financial assistance needed by the young lawyer. Friends on the other hand, don’t have enough confidence in him to give a brief that would involve them parting way with sums of money; they only have confidence in him if he is willing to handle a brief pro bono. The society at large, views ‘barristers’ as a privileged class, thus putting a young lawyer constantly on his toes to live up to expectations and where he fails, he is viewed as incompetent.
It should be borne in mind that these challenges are not peculiar to our generation alone, they have been in existence since the inception of the legal profession. However what differentiates the successful lawyers of today is their ability to withstand the storm and tactfully strategise on ways to overcome the challenges as young lawyers. With such firsthand knowledge and experience these senior lawyers have proffered advice on how a young lawyer can survive the turf thus:
a. Patience; to succeed, a young lawyer must possess the patience of Job in the holy books; he must be able to endure the hardship of the profession and not let the frustration which is temporary take advantage of his ability to become a better equipped lawyer.
b. Learn the trade; a young lawyer is expected to improve his legal skills by practicing under the tutelage of a senior lawyer where he can learn the tricks of the profession. The legal profession is so vast and complex that one would need the guidance of a learned senior friend to navigate through, except such young lawyer intends to experiment with a client’s case, which is foolhardy.
c. Make a name; the legal profession is hinged on the reputation of a lawyer since advertisements are not allowed, most lawyers get their briefs from referrals made by clients to other clients. Where a young lawyer is fixated with making money and dispenses with the importance of carving a niche for himself in the profession, such lawyer would find it difficult to build a client base capable of sustaining him in the future.
d. Find your calling; most young lawyers are stuck in a pool of vast knowledge provided by the legal profession and yet, confused as to what they are truly meant to be doing in the profession. To be a successful legal practitioner, one must truly decide if he intends to be in active advocacy or become a solicitor or a company secretary or in salaried employment. Any young lawyer who is not enjoying what he does at the moment would definitely find the legal profession frustrating.
These tips, gotten from wide consultations, are to serve as a guide to help young lawyers survive the turf and do not in any way suggest a complete cure to the travails suffered by them. However, most successful lawyers applied these principles when they were young and are currently reaping the benefit of their hard work, commitment and patience. It is only natural that a principle that stands the test of time would produce the same result when applied judiciously.
Daniel Bulusson practice law in Kaduna.