The first thing you must understand whilst searching for internship opportunities is that Nigerian law firms do not offer structured internship programs.
In the UK, US and other foreign jurisdictions, internships are a big deal. The competition for them is extremely fierce, and the process is tough. There is a clearly laid out process to obtain an internship slot; you apply by a certain time, after fulfilling certain requirements, and a response from the law firm, positive or negative, is almost always assured.
The plain truth is that in Nigeria however, you will be hard pressed to find a Nigerian law firm that offers a recruitment process close to this for internship opportunities. In fact, we do not know of any such firm.
In Nigeria, students informally send in applications on a ‘rolling basis’ at different times of the year, and a very small minority of those students eventually get a slot on the programme, usually with no interview or follow up from the application.
Getting a slot on an internship program, especially with a top tier law firm, is still very much about who you know and how you can leverage your network. However, there are ways to work around the realities of the Nigerian legal sector, and to even use them to your advantage.
Our mission at Legally Engaged is to give pointblank careers information to aspiring lawyers, so we can boldly tell you that your chances of getting an internship at a law office you have absolutely no prior connection with are slim. Whether this should be the case is another discussion, but this is the current reality.
We have had a lot of students write to us to complain about this, and what they perceive to be “nepotism”, and what we have always advised is that insofar as you have found yourself in this profession and this situation, spend less time complaining and more time working around it. There are many students who do not have parents, aunties and uncles in the legal profession that still get good internship opportunities.
Networking in this regard is simply establishing contact and relationships with people in the Nigerian legal sector.
If you are not already networking and meeting legal professionals, you need to start now, but again, unlike jurisdictions abroad, the opportunities students have to network with lawyers in Nigeria are unfortunately extremely few. However, if you look hard enough, you are bound to find something. We have highlighted below some of the opportunities you can take advantage of.
LinkedIn is a great place to start; probably the best actually. We are startled to find law students with every social media account except LinkedIn.
Send invitations to lawyers working in the law offices you would like to intern in. Send them a polite and well-written message telling them about yourself, your career goals and your desire to intern with them. As you do this, bear in mind that some, if not most, will not respond to your messages. However, if you are persistent, you will get responses.
From their activity, you can also keep tabs on some of the professional events they are attending or coordinating, and attend these events as far as possible.
Whilst there aren’t many events in the Nigerian legal space that grant students the opportunities to network with lawyers, students can take advantage of the existing events.
Having a mentor can help tremendously in this regard as your mentor can give you some insight as regards events you can attend. For instance, once a year circa March – April, there is a Lawyers League. It is a football tournament that about 20 top tier law firms participate in. Every Sunday, employees of these law firms come out en masse in support of their colleagues who are playing in the tournament. This is a fantastic opportunity to meet practising lawyers in a relaxed environment, but an opportunity that you may never be aware of without an insider. In the legal community, keep your ear on the ground.
Also attend careers events organized by your university or alumni associations and actively seek out lawyers to speak to.
Legally Engaged Events
Legally Engaged will also be hosting events that will give students and young lawyers the opportunity to meet and interact with senior lawyers. Stay tuned to our various social media accounts to be the first to know.
Chances are that, no matter your background or pedigree, you have a vastly untapped network of lawyers and legal professionals around you. Get more involved in your religious, academic, social and even family gatherings, and you are bound to establish relationships, or at least find someone that knows someone that knows someone. There are no rewards for shyness; you have to get out there and be proactive!
Using the network
Now that you have established the relationship, you need to know how to leverage it.
As mentioned above, you can send messages to LinkedIn (and other) connections expressing your interest to intern in their organization. However, note that your presentation must be engaging if you do not want your message to be deleted without being read. Bear in mind the following.
- With LinkedIn, we would suggest establishing some sort of connection with the recipient you are sending a message to. Try as much as possible to make your message sound real and engaging, and not like something that was copied and pasted to 17 lawyers. So for instance, look for people who attended your university or even your church. You could also refer to recent activity on their profile e.g. your comments on an article they published. You are more likely to get a response when the recipient feels some sort of connection with you.
- Do not see your connection as an opportunity to be lazy. We recently received an email from a law student with a CV attached, and the heading “XYZ said I should send my CV”. The e-mail contained absolutely nothing else; no introduction and nothing about what he wanted us to do for him. The only reason the sender received a response from us is because as a career center, we chose to provide feedback to assist in future endeavours. With law firms however, you most likely will not get that luxury and your e-mail/ application will be deleted. Later in this series, we will be discussing dos and donts when sending out internship applications, but in the meantime, read our articles on writing a CV and cover letter.
- Don’t be an annoyance. Whilst we support the idea of students reaching out to lawyers, we need to let you know that sometimes there is a thin line between seeking out relationships and rubbing people off the wrong way. Be polite and be mindful of the response or body language of the recipient..
In conclusion, getting an internship at a Nigerian law firm is tough but there are many students who do not have parents, aunties and uncles in law that still get good internship opportunities.
Stay tuned for other parts of the series where we discuss persistence and follow up, strength of application, timing of application, and alternatives to law firm internships.
Yimika Adesola is the Founder of Legally Engaged and an Associate in the Corporate/Commercial law arm of a top-tier Nigerian law firm.
She advises blue-chip companies on various areas of law including mergers, acquisitions and capital raisings, restructurings, taxation, finance, employment, compliance, etc.
She also seeks to provide direction to students and young professionals by providing them with the information they need to launch successful careers, and make better career decisions.
Follow Yimika on LinkedIn here.