Selecting A Law Office in the Early Stages of Your Career; Part 2 – Factors to Consider

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 Editor’s note: on Saturday 14th October 2017, Legally Engaged will be launching a new webinar series Career Conversations with Legally Engaged.

We will be speaking with Desmond Ogba, Partner at Templars, Odunola Onadipe, Lead Administrator at Detail Commercial Solicitors and Abimbola Omotosho, an HR Professional and former Head of HR at Aluko & Oyebode, on Facebook and Instagram Live.

The theme of this episode is NYSC & Entry Level Applications, and we will be taking questions from our readers beforehand. Please send all questions to info@legallyengaged.com.ng with the subject Career Conversations with Legally Engaged.

In the last part of this series, we noted that we would be discussing some of the factors we believe all new wigs should consider before taking up employment in a law office. We also discussed how these factors might be weighted by different individuals.

In this part, we will be discussing some of these factors namely,

1.        What type of law do you want to practice?

Some law students and young lawyers may feel that this is the most important factor to consider, but we would be reluctant to agree.

At the beginning of your career, you should keep an open mind as regards area of practice. It is difficult to know what a practice area is really like until you actually try it out. For starters, you could read our interviews with lawyers in various practice areas here.

We would advise young lawyers to work with law offices or organisations that would afford them the opportunity to work on matters and transactions cutting across various areas of legal practice. We strongly recommend starting out your career with a firm that offers a department rotation system and not one that assigns NYSC associates to one or two practice area(s).

This is because having diverse experience will make you a well-rounded lawyer no matter what area you practice in. Also, it is difficult to know for sure what you’re going to want to do 5 or 10 years from now, so it is important to have more options rather than fewer.

2.        Where do you want to work?

Your location can greatly affect the type of firms you can apply to and plays a key role in the quality of training and experience you receive during your NYSC year. Nigeria is home to a large number of law firms and organisations with activities in different practice areas. Regardless of your location, there is a potential legal job for you.

Law students and graduates are more attracted to jobs in a large metropolitan city like Lagos or Abuja mostly based on the prospects of a higher income. Whilst we note that you may have limited flexibility on your location during your NYSC year, you are free to select your location of your first post-NYSC job according to your preferences.

In order to manage disappointments from the NYSC location assignment process, or if you have a situation that would not allow you move to another state, we would also advise assessing the opportunities available in other states in order to ensure that you get utmost value from your NYSC experience. For example, if you are assigned to smaller cities or towns in Nigeria, you may want to consider public interest roles in the Ministry of Justice or the legal aid council or roles as an assistant to a judicial officer.

3.        Retention & promotion rates

Another important factor in selecting a law firm is the possibility of retention after your NYSC year. You would ordinarily want to (have the option to) continue your career at the law firm where you undertook the NYSC program.

One easy way to assess retention rates is to check the number of NYSC associates recruited by a firm in a given year and the number of associates who were offered permanent associate position after the NYSC year.

Another important factor to consider is the short and long-term prospects for promotion and potential salary increases. Is promotion merit-based or discretionary?

If the firm is a partnership, it is also important to understand the partnership process and structure in order to assess the possibility of being a partner in the future, if this is your ambition.

4.        Reputation

You would find that when you introduce yourself to people, one of the first things you say after your name is what you do and where you work or school. This means people will identify you with your law office and vice versa.

Some students start their law firm research by gauging the relative “prestige” of law firms and then aiming to work at the most “prestigious” firm they can find. The problem with that approach is that as with beauty, prestige is in the eye of the beholder. Simply because a firm ranks #1 on Chambers & Partners, IFLR 1000 and Legal 500 list does not necessarily make it a better place for YOU to work.

You also need to remember that majority of the firms on these lists largely practice only commercial law or dispute resolution in so far as it comes up in commercial matters. We have established that you do not need to limit yourself to such practice areas in your early years. Also, note that bigger isn’t always better; smaller firms or legal departments may offer more flexible working hours, closer client contact and greater hands-on experience.

Consider the overall reputation of the firms you would like to work with. Are they known to be unnecessarily troublesome on a matter? Do they treat their employees poorly (this one is extremely key and would be discussed in greater detail in the next part of this series)? Is the lead partner or key manager a well-known womanizer? Does the firm have a reputation for cutting corners and other sharp practices?

The environment and practices you are exposed to at the start of your career would most likely form your outlook and behaviour. For instance, many lawyers who were treated harshly or unfairly in their early years end up treating others harshly and unfairly when they assume a position of responsibility.

In the same vein, a firm’s reputation could have a good impact on your career. There are some firms that are recognised as leading experts at what they do. Working with firms like these would open doors for you in almost every part of Nigeria and maybe even internationally.

5.        Remuneration

A lot of young lawyers are advised not to “chase money” in the early stages of their careers. We understand, and to an extent agree with the spirit behind the admonition; gaining good experience in a practice area during your early years is invaluable.

However, we need to also inform you that employers who say things like this may also be looking to take advantage of new wigs.

Benefits and perks should play a part in your decision-making process when considering where to apply, but they should by no means be the most important factor.

6.        Career prospects and transition opportunities

One other important factor in selecting a law firm is the opportunities that position will afford you if you decide to move on to another role. Perhaps you want to transition to a different type of law firm, a public sector position, or legal academia after a few years.

It is wrong to assume that after a role with a large, well-known law firm, smaller law firms and organizations would be eager to hire you. What will be most important to any organization is the type and quality of work you’ve been involved in. If you know you eventually want to work in a specific area, take advantage of every opportunity your future firm offers to learn about that field – take up “pro bono” projects, attend conferences, participate in training relating to the subject.

If you are interested in going into academia, you should note that there are many factors that will be more important to your candidacy than the type of law firm where you work after completing law school. These factors include publications, additional advanced degrees, and recommendations.

 

In the next part of this series, we will be discussing what we consider to be the two most important factors for new wigs to consider when selecting a law office in the early stages of their career.

 

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, and compliance.

She 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.

Gabriella Ndu is a corporate, energy and projects lawyer with experience advising on traditional and renewable energy projects, facility management services, cross-border mergers and acquisitions, project finance and corporate transactions across Africa, Middle East, GCC, and South Asia. She is a law graduate of the University of Nigeria and was called to the bar in 2014. 

She is currently a candidate of the Career Development Program at Middle East, South Asia & Turkey office of ENGIE, a CAC40 company with her first role in the legal team.

 

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