Selecting a Law Office in the Early Stages of Your Career; Part 3 – Work Environment & Training

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In the last part of this series, we discussed some of the factors that a new lawyer in Nigeria should consider when choosing a place of employment. We talked about factors such as remuneration, the area of law, preferred geographical location, the reputation of the law firm, and career prospects, among others.

In this part, we will be discussing two factors which we believe to the most important factors a young lawyer should take into account when choosing a place of employment.

1.        Training and development

Probably the most important factor to consider is the quality of the training you will receive during your time at a law firm or organisation. Your legal career is built on the foundation of the training you receive in the earlier years.

You can determine the training and development opportunities available at a firm by considering the following.

Quality of matters handled

The transactions that you get a chance to be involved in and the level of responsibility you are given will impact your CV or resume. To be able to gauge the quality of work you will be exposed to, you may need to gauge the reputation of your preferred firm in the legal industry; the law offices of a Senior Advocate will prima facie get higher quality briefs than a smaller, more obscure office. However, this by no means implies that only the lawyers in the bigger law offices have access to quality training and development.

Working with a large firm comes with advantages such as exposure to high profile clients and complex legal transactions, above average salary and rigorous training opportunities.  Smaller firms are however more likely to offer access to more varied areas of practice, allow you to interface with clients early in your career and obtain more “on the job” training and hands-on experience.  You may not work on transactions worth millions of naira in a small-sized firm, but you could be given responsibility to run business development ideas and carve a strong reputation for yourself quickly in the local community or in the courtroom.

Independence given to Associates

It is also important to seek out firms which allow junior lawyers to contribute in a meaningful way to the firm and its clients. Find out if junior lawyers are involved in a firm’s business decisions. Does a firm allow junior lawyers to work on different types of matters with a variety of senior colleagues? Do they attend business development meetings? Are they given the opportunities to lead smaller matters when they prove they are able to do so?

If the answer to the above questions is yes, it is a strong indication that the firm is serious about developing its junior lawyers into leaders within the firm and this should be a key consideration for young lawyers.

As alluded to above, the opportunities given to young lawyers to lead on smaller matters are particularly important. It is arguably better to work with a small law firm where you are given a lot of exposure to the ‘real’ work than to work with a big law firm where you are only responsible for administrative tasks. A good test for whether a task is administrative or not? If you did not need to study law to be able to carry out the task, it is probably administrative.

Formal and informal training

Training events and seminars also go a long way in contributing to the development of a young lawyer.

Look out for firms that offer formal or informal in-house training programs, external firm-paid seminars, continuing legal education, and formal or informal mentoring opportunities. The amount, type and quality of training that you will receive can vary from firm to firm. Learn about the training opportunities that are available in a firm.

2.        Work Environment

This is at least the second most important factor (after training) and the most important to some. It is a known fact (hopefully) that you would be spending most of your time at your law office, compared to anywhere else, maybe even including your home. It follows that you should be comfortable and relaxed and not constantly feel anxiety or dread when you walk into your office on a Monday morning.

First note, size doesn’t always matter

Based on our interaction with young lawyers, we note that there is an increasing number of young Nigerian lawyers who are unhappy with their “top-tier” jobs. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this article, however, we would hazard a guess and say that misguided expectations probably played a huge role in the dashing of the hopes of these young lawyers.

Working with a top-tier law firm or a smaller firm does not automatically mean a more successful career or a happier life, as many young lawyers have found.

Clients

The needs and wants of clients will shape the work you do at a firm. Does the firm represent individuals, international brand names or smaller, privately owned companies? The nature of a firm’s clients can give you an idea of the “work-life” balance at a firm or the type of transactions which you may get to work.

Work-life balance

Being employed with a law firm often means an unpredictable schedule. A law firm is not the same, week-to-week. In fairness to law firms, work-life balance may not be something that is entirely up to them to determine. Sometimes client demands simply mean that certain tasks will need to be completed even when it is inconvenient for the lawyer assigned to such tasks.

However, you should work with a law firm that is efficient and values your time. Are you kept waiting for your “oga” for hours, when instructions could have easily been given over the phone? Is it one of those workplaces where no one can go home until “oga” has left, regardless of whether you have worked efficiently and finished your tasks? These are the kind of issues we have found that work together to frustrate young lawyers. It is better to be well informed beforehand.

Relationship between colleagues

For better or worse, you will spend more time with your work colleagues than with many of your friends and family. It is important that you respect their judgment, enjoy their company and believe that you can learn and develop into a good lawyer working alongside them.

It is important to assess the relationship between colleagues at a firm. Is there an unhealthy sense of competition among the lawyers? How do the lawyers treat the support staff and junior lawyers? What opportunities does the firm provide for social interaction among colleagues and clients? Are there opportunities to join clubs or sports teams with colleagues from work?

A similarly important factor to consider is the way employees are treated by management and junior colleagues by senior colleagues. Do seniors yell, talk down at or insult juniors? If so, how does management handle this (disciplinary action or just lip service)? Are the abilities of a junior lawyer recognized by a senior lawyer? Does a senior lawyer give credit to a junior lawyer for a task where he/she provided substantial support?

Consider all of these factors in analyzing the relationship between colleagues and your fit within that environment.

Conclusion

Selecting a law firm that best fits your career goals and lifestyle can be very challenging but it’s important to make sure that you work in an environment where you’re going to get good experience and be well prepared for whatever comes next.

It is also worthy to note that you are unlikely to find a perfect work environment. However, there is more peace of mind when you make an informed decision and are not faced with too many surprises when you begin work.

In this next part of this series, we will be discussing the type of questions you should be asking to determine the above factors. We will also be discussing how you can come across the information you need to make a decision.

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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There are 1 comments

  1. These are excellent questions to ask but the problem I find is who to ask, how to get the answers? As a new lawyer, most of my friends are just starting out as well and in different states. That is to say, I do not know a lot of law firms where I stay, let alone who to get these answers from about the nature of the firms and the work there. And when you finally meet someone from a firm you’ve heard of, that information tends to be hoarded for whatever reason. What can I do to know more about the law firms? Contact them myself and say how much do you pay? Do you treat your junior lawyers right? lol. Please help.

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