Editor’s note: the writer of this article, a young lawyer, called to the Nigerian Bar in 2016 shares his experience at the Bar and lessons learned so far for the benefit of the recently called lawyers. Enjoy!
The beauty of playing in the field is that you live out what you previously observed as an onlooker. To live out the legal profession to its fullest, confess your ignorance, sit at someone’s feet and learn the rudiments of the practice.
The school environment affords the student internal and textbook knowledge of the law and although practical experiences like internships and externships have been injected into the system, there is still a huge vacuum to be filled which only reality can teach. Out here on the field, you’ll learn that the life of a lawyer is beyond memorizing reported cases, role-playing in moot court sessions and putting pen to paper. Neither is it a one-stop trip or a white and black ordeal.
Law is beautiful! Not in the general context of the word but more with the twist, frustration, pain, intrigue, and responsibility it brings. Here are three lessons I have learned during my time experiencing the Nigerian Bar.
Lesson I KNOWLEDGE IS GOOD, EXPERIENCE IS BETTER
Recently, I picked interest in this particular brief an older lawyer was handling and I quickly found the entire activity thrilling. We would sit together and discuss his next line of action and I took the opportunity to study in line with the case so that I could contribute meaningfully.
One striking thing about this particular case was the obvious delay tactics adopted by Counsel for the other party- it was obvious and persistent, and I always took the pleasure to prepare a response to halt their antics.
Counsel had filed a motion to amend a process and attached the proposed amendment to his application. I found from the records that the proposed amendment was exactly the same with the existing process. In youthful fury and greenhorn euphoria, I penned down a loaded reply on points of law, rehearsed it till it sounded beautiful for any court to hear.
I showed it to this older Lawyer and after perusing, he smiled and commended the work and said:
Your argument is right, correct and in line with the law and the records of the case. However in raising this argument, we will open the floor for them to reply and in doing so, we will give the court the task of preparing a ruling which may need an adjournment. This is exactly what they want to further delay this case. I think we should allow the application as I consider it harmless. It will help the proceedings continue and quicken the determination of this suit which is our goal from the onset.
Lesson? Sometimes knowledge steers you to fight, but wisdom directs you to resolve issues.
We applied this approach and got more than what a bench ruling would have given if we had argued. We got judgment!
Lesson II YOU EARN YOUR APPLAUSE IN COURT, YOU GET IT OUTSIDE
The previous workday ended later than usual, I had just concluded research on a new brief and was ready for a swell evening. As I was preparing to unwind, I was informed that I’d be the lead counsel in the Federal High Court the next day to argue an application.
I had mixed feelings- on one hand, I was grateful for the platform to learn and grow. And on the other hand, I wasn’t sure of the Court’s temperament neither was I fully conversant with the facts of the case. The day however came and the assignment was successful. I felt confident with the debut, but the court has never been in the business of giving ovations and does not exist for entertainment.
I got a commendation later at the office, I had earned it in court but I got it out of court.
Lesson III SHARP PRACTICES GIVE TEMPORAL GAINS, GOOD PRACTICE ENSURES LONGEVITY
I was counsel to a plaintiff claiming recovery of his premises among other reliefs in the Magistrate Court and on this particular day, the business was for judgment. Counsel for the defendant had prepared an application in anticipation of defeat, an application he titled ‘Arrest of Judgment’.
His submission was conclusive- he intended to arrest the judgment of the court. The submission generated a loud roar of laughter from the room full of lawyers. The Magistrate wasn’t surprised, he had earlier in the proceedings pointed that he disliked counsel’s style of practice.
The big question on my mind was ‘has a judgment been delivered to merit an application for arrest? Is there such a thing as an arrest of judgment in our jurisprudence?” watching the magistrate’s reactions taught me that sharp practices water down a lawyer’s reputation and the opposite elevates it.
Lesson IV THERE ARE MAINLY THREE TYPES OF LAWYERS IN COURT
The Prepared Lawyer is dutiful and articulate. He prepares for his cases with a clear-cut focus on organizing his arguments and itemizing them in such a way that the court finds it easy to decide on. He is not necessarily the most intelligent person in the court room, He is driven either by the quest to create a path of diligent practice or phobia for embarrassment in court.
The flipside of the prepared lawyer is that where he encounters a point he did not contemplate in his preparations, he loses his composure and it appears like he didn’t prepare at all.
The prepared Lawyer will become the best kind of lawyer where he makes the preparation a regular habit rather than wait till cases come up.
The Spontaneous Lawyer mainly attained this form through experience. He has seen similar scenarios play out in court and he has either attempted or observed different approaches and as reproduces the script he played out on a previous occasion. This, he does with improvements.
In examining his spontaneity, this lawyer’s major strengths are on points of law. He has worked the principles over time and he knows exactly ‘the pill that cures a particular ailment’.
He mostly intimidates his opponent with not just the legal authorities, but with precise application and dexterity.
When a spontaneous lawyer prepares, he is a beauty to watch and listen to.
As beautiful as the features of this lawyer is, his plummet comes where he meets a prepared lawyer who can match his spontaneity. The tendency to be overconfident is strongest in this category of lawyer.
The Drowning Lawyer is that lawyer who is occasionally in a tight box. He is always taken by surprise either due to unpreparedness or inexperience. This lawyer finds himself in a challenge he is not grounded in and he usually has the tendency to latch on to technicalities. This category of lawyer is mostly seen in lawyers holding briefs, new wigs ambushed with contentious motions and an overconfident lawyer who ignored preparation.
The resultant effect is that the lawyer starts grasping at the air like a drowning man and makes attempt to find support in common principles like: Negligence on the part of counsel should not be visited on the litigant.
Expectedly, he may survive with the litigator’s white flag: “My lord we will be asking for a short date to put our house in order”.
This category is usually a phase in a lawyer’s career except he makes a habit of laziness and shady practice. A Lawyer who starts off as a drowning lawyer can be transformed by committing to rapt study and consistent preparations. By so doing, he will eventually grow into a spontaneous and refined lawyer, consistent and diligent in all ramifications.
What kind of lawyer will you be?
In summary, legal education prepares you somewhat for a career in law, but there are many other lessons that can only be learned by practice.
Enjoy the ride!
Derek Chisom Nduka-Edede is a corporate, litigation, arbitration and real estate lawyer with experience advising on dispute resolutions, business management, interviewing and counselling, public speaking and seminar presentations. He is a law graduate of Abia State University and was called to the bar in 2016.
He is an alumnus of The Abia State University Law Clinic where he headed the freedom of information Act unit that conducted laudable community projects and also interviewing and counselling seminars and training.
He is currently an Associate with Akeremale Abayomi & Co.