A Guide To NYSC Applications at Nigerian Law Firms

This article contains links to other articles which may be useful to you.

  1. When to apply

You’ve finally finished Bar Finals and now have more spare time; should you begin your NYSC applications?

The short answer is yes.

Resting and unwinding from the stress of exams is good and in fact, highly recommended, but don’t be too comfortable for too long. We’ve seen too many cases of students missing spots at their preferred law office because they did not apply on time or relied too heavily on that uncle’s connection.  It is just not worth it.

Plan your holiday and travel to give you enough time to hunt for a job, either before or after you travel. If you do not have any travel plans, we advise that you undertake internships while you await your Bar Final results. There are many benefits of undertaking legal internship, including the possibility of landing a permanent role.

We find that most firms do not require you to have been called to the Bar or even to have obtained your Bar Finals results to enable them consider your application for an NYSC role. Firms use your university results, your CV and their written test to consider the application for NYSC roles. If an offer is made, this may be made conditional upon your Bar Finals results.

  1. Where to apply

You are bombarded with various Areas of Law and there are hundreds of thousands of law of law offices in Nigeria. How do you decide where to begin your legal career?

Your application to a law office should be preceded by thorough research.

 

  1. What to expect?

Regardless of where you are applying for an NYSC role, we find that the application process would involve at least one of the following.

CV and Application Letter

You will almost always be required to send a copy of your CV and an application letter to the Manager or Human Resource officer.

It is extremely important to have a CV that stands out and highlights relevant competencies, together with a well-written and tailored covering letter, as these are the first things the law office sees, and would determine if you are invited to the next stage.

Written Test

An increasing number of Nigerian law offices are requiring that candidates undergo written tests as part of the NYSC application process.

There would usually be an aptitude test alongside a law test. This allows the firms test the candidate’s aptitude as well as knowledge of the law. Because a lot of firms begin the NYSC recruitment process before Bar Final results are released, the written test helps the law offices obtain a fair assessment of your theoretical understanding of law.

Interview

This application step is obtainable at all law offices.  You will be required to have a face-to-face discussion, no matter how informal, with at least one representative of the law office.

NYSC interviews could be with a member of the human resources department of the law office, a senior or managing associate and/or a partner. The interview could also be a panel interview.

It is important to be adequately prepared for your interview and to perform well at the interview.

 

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

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Sample Interview Questions at Nigerian Law Firms and How to Answer Them

This article has intentionally neglected to provide stock answers to some of the questions you are likely to be asked at your interview. We instead provide guidance on how you can apply yourself and formulate your own answers to these questions.

In writing this article, we spoke to junior lawyers from different types of law offices across Nigeria to get a sense of the type of questions they were asked at their NYSC interview. See our top 7 below.

  1. Tell me about yourself

The first thing to note is that when an interviewer is asking this question, he is looking for information relevant to the role you are applying for. So, please spare him the “I was born to the family of Chief and Deaconess Egoanyanwu” chronicles.

Give a short summary of your CV and cover letter; summarize your education history, your career goals, work experience, etc. Your objective here is to tell them about yourself in a way that shows you are qualified for the job.

Also be mindful not to babble endlessly. Provide sufficient information, but be succinct.

  1. Why do you want to work with us?

If you have already prepared a cover letter as advised on Legally Engaged, you already have your answer to this question.

Focus on qualities that distinguish the firm from its competitors. If you have had personal encounters with the firm or its employees, now is a good time to mention these.

  1. Why should we hire you?

Again, you are selling yourself and showing the firm how your past experiences can add value to them.

  1. Where do you see yourself in X years?

Like “tell me about yourself”, this is another question that causes aspiring lawyers to fumble.

What the firm is looking for here is (a) an understanding of how a law firm works and the progression opportunities (b) how your ambition fits with the firm’s (c) how you define success (d) commitment to the law profession and the firm; very few firms want to hire someone who they know for a fact will be out in a year or two.

  1. Hypothetical questions

These are designed to test how you would react under certain circumstances. The interviewer understands that you may not have encountered some of those scenarios before, so is not looking for a perfect answer. He is simply trying to test your common sense, integrity or ability to think on your feet.

Examples may include “what would you do if…”

  1. your direct supervisor and his own boss both gave you different tasks with a similar tight deadline – whose task do you prioritize
  2. your supervisor or a client gives you a deadline which you believe to be virtually impossible to meet
  • you are alone in the office and you get a phone call from a client asking for immediate advice on a topic you are not very familiar with

How to respond – before you respond, the first thing to think about is how your proposed solution may impact your firm and its reputation, your co-workers or the client. Diplomacy is crucial, and your integrity and the reputation of your firm should always be priority.

Be honest and polite and do not be afraid to defend your answers. Interviewers would also be testing your ability to stand by your decision or defer to a better suggestion. Be confident!

  1. Competency questions

These are designed to test your soft skills e.g. leadership, teamwork, etc.

A popular example is “give me an example of when you have worked as part of a team to solve a difficult problem”.

How to respond – this largely depends on the question you have been asked, but preparation is vital here. Before your interview and in preparing your CV, you should enumerate the skills required to be a lawyer and how you have been able to demonstrate this at work or at school.

  1. Technical questions

These are designed to test your knowledge of the area(s) of law the firm specialises.

Examples may include “how is a merger typically structured”, “what is your understanding of the role of the CBN in the financial sector”, “what is the limitation period for an action for breach of contract”.

How to respond – prepare in advance. If you have an idea what the organisation does, you might be able to anticipate some of the questions you are likely to be asked. Keep your knowledge of your law school curriculum fresh and read articles on the area of law you are interested in.

 

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.

 

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Preparing For Your Law Interview

We cannot overemphasis the need to prepare for your interview. One of the most common reasons for failure at an interview is inadequate preparation. An interview is an opportunity for you to find out if the firm is for you, as much as it is an opportunity for them to find out if you are a good fit for the job.

 

Research

To stand out, your interview responses needs to be tailored to the specific firm. For your responses to be tailored, you will need to understand the firm and its peculiarities.

Read the firm’s website, read articles on them in the news, follow them on social media, attend seminars taken by their partners, reach out to one of their Associates on LinkedIn, whatever it takes to get adequate insight into the firm and its culture and values.

Ideally, you should have done this even before you sent in your application, but it is useful to refresh your memory and stay up to date.

 

Review your application

You were invited to an interview because your application interested them, so be sure to remind yourself of all the things listed in your application (CV and/or cover letter). The things listed in your application will already give you an indication of the types of questions you would be asked in your interview.

Be ready to speak about the experiences, skills, hobbies and extracurricular activities you have listed, especially if they are unusual.

 

Questions

Prepare responses for popular interview questions. Be careful though; you should sound prepared but you do not want to sound unnatural or rehearsed.

 

In the same vein, prepare questions that you want to ask the firm. Try to avoid questions about salary, benefits and holiday. Good questions would be those regarding the team you would be working in, structure of the firm, etc. Steer clear of questions that you might be expected to already have the answer to – this makes you look unserious and unprepared.

 

Theoretical law

Technical legal questions are a part of law interviews but a lot of Nigerian law firms (unfortunately in our view) place a very high premium on them. You may be asked questions on how to draft or file motions, provisions of CAMA, etc. Whilst it is hard to prepare for this as you may be asked anything, keeping up to date with your law school curriculum (Litigation and Corporate Law especially) is a good place to start.

 

Commercial awareness

Some law firms on the other hand, would expect you to be fairly abreast with current affairs in Nigeria and around the world. Browse newspaper articles on legal and commercial issues in the days leading up to your interview and be prepared to discuss these, or at least demonstrate an awareness of the issues. It would be an added advantage if the current issues involve the law office you are interviewing with. You should also read one of our articles on commercial awareness here.

 

Practice practice practice

It would be extremely helpful to do a mock interview with a friend or a mentor to put you through your paces. It is better if possible, to practice with a mentor or more senior lawyer friend. Get honest feedback on your clarity, volume, tone and body language and take that feedback on board at your interview.

 

Interviewing is an art and you get better after a few times so where possible, schedule interviews for firms you are most interested in after firms you are less interested in.

 

Housekeeping

  1. Familiarize yourself with the location of the interview and find out how much time it would take you to get there. Do a practice-run if necessary.
  2. Put out all the things you need for your interview a night before. That includes clothes, jotter and pen, certificates and transcripts, etc.
  3. Get good night’s sleep the evening before.

 

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.

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Lessons Learnt in my Year of Practice at the Nigerian Bar

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.

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Selecting a Law Office in the Early Stages of Your Career; Part 4/4 – Questions to Ask

In this series, we have been discussing the factors that students and young lawyers should consider when applying to law firms and offices in Nigeria. We have mentioned training and development, work environment, promotion and retention rates, among many others.

It is all well and good to know the factors that you should consider when applying for jobs at Nigerian law offices, but with a dearth of publicly available information, the real challenge is how to find the information that will help you to make your decision.

In this final part of the series, we discuss how young lawyers can get information on various law offices in Nigeria, and the type of questions they should be asking to make the right decision.

Lawyers & Alumni

The best way to get inside information on law firms is to speak to lawyers who have previously worked or are presently working in your law firm(s) of interest. It’s simple really; if you want to know how something is done- ask the people who are doing it or have done it.

Be careful who you reach out to though! It is not enough to ask questions from the panel at the end of your interview and make a decision based on the answers you are given. Your interview would most likely be conducted by professionals at management level in the firm, and the answers you will get from mid to senior management would probably be sugarcoated.

It is more beneficial to speak to NYSC associates and younger lawyers (1-3 years post call), as they are likely to be more approachable and to offer no holds barred advice.

The Firm’s Social Media Accounts

A law firm’s LinkedIn and Twitter account can give you a glimpse into what practice in that firm would be like.

These are especially useful to help you gauge the reputation of the firm, the work environment and the type of training and transactions you would be exposed.

Law firms that are active on social media often post the activities of their lawyers at court, seminars, conferences and even social gatherings. They also post about the matters they have worked on or awards they have won.

If a firm does not have a visible social media presence, it is probably a small or mid-size law firm that does not care too much about its online presence.

Legally Engaged

Take advantage of AskLE, and send us an email at askle@legallyengaged.com.ng and we would do our best to put you in touch with someone who can help. This can be on a no-names basis if you prefer.

If you are on the Legally Engaged Mentorship Programme, you should also speak to your mentor. Even if your mentor does not work in the firm you are considering, he/she is likely to have a network of lawyers from which you can get the information you need.

 Types of questions to ask

When speaking to lawyers and alumni of a law firm, it is essential to ask the right questions to enable you to get the information you need to make the right choice.

The questions that follow are intended to serve as a guide to steer the conversation between you and the person who has graciously agreed to answer your questions. So try not to make the session feel like an interview session but more like a two-way conversation.

Also, be very polite and avoid asking closed questions so you would be able to get all the information you may need. Any questions on “sensitive” topics such as salary and benefits should be asked cautiously and initiated at the later stage of the conversation.

Questions relating to Work Environment

How would you describe the culture at your firm?

What type of person do you think would fit in perfectly at your firm?

What do you wish you knew before you accepted the offer to work here? Would it have changed your decision? Why?

What is the worst/most inappropriate thing your boss ever said to you or any of your colleagues? How often do you hear such comments?

How would you describe your relationship with your senior colleagues?

How often do you relate with your colleagues outside the office?

Questions on Promotion Prospects

How many levels of Associate are there in the firm?

What is the pay difference between each level? On the average, how long does an Associate spend on a particular level?

What fraction of the firm’s current partners or managers began their careers at the firm?

How often do people resign from their jobs at the firm? Where do such employees then go on to work?

Training and development Prospects

What are the typical tasks assigned to a junior?

At what point can I expect to gain independence to handle small matters on my own? What do I need to do to earn such independence?

Would you say that your boss is a micromanager or more laissez-faire?

Were you given proper induction (formal or otherwise) at the start of your employment at the firm?

How free am I to ask questions of or seek guidance from my seniors?

Are juniors assigned to specific departments in the firm or do they work for any and all departments?

Does your firm nominate juniors to participate in conferences and external training?

Are junior associates given opportunities to co-author articles and other publications with senior colleagues on behalf of the firm?

Other General Questions

What do you like best about the firm?

What do you like least?

Why did you choose this firm/ over the others?

How did you become interested in X practice area/subject matter?

 

In summary, get as much information as you can about your law firm(s) of interest and when you get the opportunity to have a conversation with anyone from the firm, listen more and let your questions express interest rather than desperation (mainly when you are speaking with a senior).

Always start the conversation with praise for the firm – maybe, mention their last win in a big case. Make the initial stage of the discussion about them and when the time is right, ask the questions that you have prepared.

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

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.

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

Thousands of aspiring lawyers have recently completed their time at the Nigerian Law School and are awaiting their results.

Some of these students are already applying for jobs at law offices across Nigeria. If you are not one of them, you should start applying now. We have it on good authority that some law firms, are already well into the recruitment process for lawyers on the NYSC scheme. So the earlier you put in your application, the better your chances of actually getting the law office that you want.

So how do you decide the firm that you ‘want’?

When searching for a law office in your early years of practice, it is tempting to jump on the first offer you get even when the particular law office might not be ideal or ideal for you. We understand that since you are looking for a job in a saturated profession, you cannot always call all the shots. However, we would encourage you to ask certain questions about the law firms you are considering working with.

If you don’t take time out to figure out what you want and ask the right questions, you may find that your career is quickly heading in the wrong direction. An alarming number of young lawyers find themselves in jobs where they are facing issues they would’ve had prior knowledge of (and possibly avoided) if they had just done some digging around.

Your place of work is probably where you would spend the greatest proportion of your time, so it is important that such a workplace is accommodating and conducive. And if it isn’t, and you have no other choice, you at least have prior knowledge of this and are able to prepare and adjust appropriately.

Furthermore, the first few years of your career are the foundation-building years. The law office you work with plays an extremely vital role in determining how strong your foundation will be.

In this series, we will be discussing the factors that should influence your decision to make an application to or accept an offer from a particular law office. We will also be discussing how you can access, uncover and dissect the information you need to make your decision

Please note that the advice provided in the series merely serves as a guide as to the kind of questions you should be asking and who you should be asking. It is important that you firstly personally determine your priorities. Personally. Do not accept an offer merely because it comes with a certain perceived prestige, your friends have a similar offer, or your parents, mentors or even Legally Engaged encouraged you to. Seeking advice is, of course, important, but always weigh advice received against your own goals and personal conviction.

Realise that the factors we would highlight in this series would be weighted differently by various individuals. Determine what is important to you. Is a peaceful environment more important than the reputation of a firm? Can more money make up for poor work-life balance? Is there a particular family situation that means you cannot take up an offer outside your main state of residence? You decide.

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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Maximising your Career Resources in the New Year

The beginning of every year comes with the opportunity to improve on the triumphs of the previous year, and to rectify any blunders recorded. The legal profession on all levels offers numerous platforms for its members to thrive. Growing your legal career is largely dependent on utilising the resources available to you and this piece aims at identifying a few of them as follows:

Have a Functional LinkedIn Account

The most important social media platform for a lawyer who intends to develop is LinkedIn. If you do not have a LinkedIn account, make 2018 your year to set up one.

Note, however, that it is not enough to have an account or a set up profile; you must go the extra mile of by being active on the platform. The profile that gets attention on LinkedIn is the active profile. Therefore to maximise your LinkedIn experience, you should engage in the following:

  1. Regular Profile updates: Here you review your profile, adding new achievements and progress. This will allow the LinkedIn community take note of your progress.
  2. Regular socialising and networking: Make it a habit to celebrate with your connections on birthdays and anniversaries; you may never know how far they’ll go in expressing their gratitude. Additionally, you’ll bring yourself closer to your connections, especially those who have advanced in the profession.
  3. Respond with comments on posts and articles read: Everyone appreciates a feedback on their work and giving it endears you to publishers on LinkedIn. The more articles you read and respond to, the more chances you have of connecting deeper with people. Every article you comment on attracts the author and his audience to your profile and that avails you the opportunity to have your activities noticed.
  4. Cultivate a regular publishing habit: Every profile is amplified by the level of experience listed on it and the quality of projects worked on. Now that your comments attract people to your page, feel free to post and share articles on your thoughts, the law, and life. The more posts you put out there, the better you will become at writing and the better you become at writing, the higher your viewers.

Identify Online and Offline Mentors

Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited as saying “every man is a hero and an Oracle to somebody and to that person, whatever he says has an enhanced value”.. Identify mentors on the areas you intend to grow and connect with them in the most direct and precise sentences.

Also note that the relationship with your mentor is tipped in favour of the mentor i.e. you stand more to gain from your mentor than vice-versa, therefore finding and staying under a mentor requires humility and patience because you’ll definitely be tested.

While you build your rapport online, always remember that the best mentor is one who can monitor your growth and whose interest is to see you become better. Therefore also identify and connect with physical mentors who can afford to make out time to meet with you.

You can also follow top-tier firms on LinkedIn and read their regular publications as a supplement to your learning.

Subscribe to Law Blogs that Publicise Regular Seminars

It is trite that learning never ends, therefore, it is important for a lawyer to be aware of the regular seminars and training that are available in the course of the year. With the right information, you’ll be able to position yourself for the right knowledge, paid or free of charge.

Keep a Law Journal

A law journal is a book that keeps records of your experiences in the profession, lessons learned and information garnered. A religious commitment to a law journal makes the journal a rich material when you intend to write on an issue or proffer a solution. Additionally, it is from the contents of a detailed journal that you can monitor your progress more efficiently.

Subscribe to Online Law Reports Suppliers

The use of online law reports have long been approved by our legal system, therefore every lawyer should capitalise on that resource. These suppliers not only make recent cases available, but they also provide laws and statutes that come in handy during research.

Volunteer

There will always be opportunities for you to offer your expertise for free. Don’t ignore them. Our lives are best lived when we offer help to those who may not be able to repay us. Additionally, in volunteering, you learn, grow and enlarge your capacity.

Be Consistent

The key component of maximising your legal resources is consistency. Without it, you will not be able to get the best out of the platforms. You must make a commitment to keep at it until it breaks through.

Success is not seen in action but in productivity, but it is your consistent activity that produces the required results.

In conclusion, the points highlighted above do not exhaust the subject, however in applying them, you avail yourself a wider opportunity to meet and exceed your career goals for the year.

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.

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Navigating The First Few Weeks at Your Job in a Top-tier Law Firm

Congratulations! You have just scored a job with a top-tier law firm. Chances are that you beat so many other great candidates to land the job. Your educational qualifications and personality have won you an opportunity to join a formidable team of lawyers. You may have updated your LinkedIn profile and you have most likely received felicitations from your proud relations and friends.

Getting recruited to work in a top-tier law firm is half the battle. Like most blue-chip companies, the law firm is likely to place you on a six-month probation before confirming your employment. In this six-month period, you will be required to show that the firm’s decision to recruit you was right. Make no mistake, the probation is not perfunctory. It is extremely important and a new Associate whose performance fails to meet the firm’s standard will be let go at the end of the probation.

It is also noteworthy that some Partners and Senior Associates could make up their mind about you the first time they work with you, so you need to make your first impression count.

Here are some tips that will aid you in navigating your first days in a top-tier law firm to ensure that you thrive in your new job.

  1. Understand the office culture

Office culture means the values prevalent in an office. Some organizations indicate their culture in their office manual while others let their office culture evolve organically. Some law firms prize client satisfaction above all else; this will often mean that you may be required to work and deliver value to the client at all times, sometimes even when you are ill. Other firms value innovation, respect, expertise or teamwork.

Identifying and understanding your firm’s most important value is very important as it would determine whether you flourish at your job. Find out the most important characteristic a lawyer with the firm is required to possess and build it. This will help you grow in the firm and get promoted faster as law firms tend to recognize and promote employees who embody their culture and values. You can identify your firm’s values through its website or office manual. You can also observe the Partners and Senior Associates to determine the office culture.

  1. Be proactive

In your first days at your new job, you may not have a lot to do. It is tempting to thank your lucky stars and spend time browsing on social media. Do not take this approach. Instead, approach your Supervisory Associate/Partner and ask for work or ask general questions about the firm and your duties. Be cautious not take on too much at a time though because if you fail to meet deadlines you will create an impression that you are tardy or worse, unreliable.

  1. Be a team player

We all have the phrase ‘team player’ in our CVs. Upon recruitment to work in a top-tier law firm, you will be repeatedly required to demonstrate that you are indeed a team player. First, top law firms are structured in teams led by Senior Associates or Partners and the team lead usually assign tasks to team members. You may be assigned simple tasks such as research, drafting simple correspondence or court processes. Accept your task and do it well. Do not attempt to get the ‘more glamorous’ tasks. You will also find that your seniors may take credit for some of your work. Just remember that in your early days, the goal should always be to make the TEAM look good, not yourself. If the team wins, you win.

Another aspect of being a team player is getting along with others. Top law firms in Nigeria often recruit several lawyers who represent a confluence of diversity. You will be expected to work with lawyers from different backgrounds, schools, ethnicities. Make an effort to get along with everyone. Nobody likes to work with a grouch or troublemaker. Stay away from office politics or discussions that may lead to conflict. Politics and religion are often breeding grounds for clashes. Avoid such arguments if you can. You will be surrounded by a lot of talent and excellence, it is therefore in your best interest to be friendly to everyone so that you can learn from them.

  1. Be teachable

Your recruitment by one of the best law firms already demonstrates that you possess remarkable talent and personality but you must realise that your knowledge is mostly theoretical. Unless you have obtained years of experience from a comparable law firm, you do not have much to offer by way of practical skills. Your drafting, research and problem-solving skills will require some time to evolve.

As a result, you may receive negative feedback on a couple of tasks you perform. Your seniors may even be blunt when giving you criticism via emails or in person.   Do not be defensive or insolent towards them. Remember that they had to spend time revising the work you took a lot of time to prepare. Instead, ask them to clarify what you can do better in the future. Taking this approach shows that you are open to learning and growing. Building the skill of being teachable will also aid you throughout your career because law practice is a continuous learning process.

  1. Find a practice niche and stick with it

Top law firms have a dazzling array of possible practice groups. You will find practice areas such as Transportation, Mergers & Acquisitions, Finance, Family Law, Communications, IP, Taxation, Capital Markets and other key areas of law. Like a child in a candy store, you may be tempted to get involved in as many practice areas as possible.

However, you need to be careful. Globalization is requiring the world to move towards specialization. There is a reason for the saying that “a jack of all trades is a master of none”. Pick not more than three or four practice areas that resonate with you and build skills in those areas of law. Top law firms value mastery and expertise.

In addition, a key disadvantage of participating in too many teams is that you may miss a lot of deadlines. Clients’ instructions are usually time-bound and if you have too many balls to juggle, you may drop one. Interestingly, the fact that you are juggling a lot of things is never an acceptable excuse for doing mediocre work.

  1. Build attention to detail

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make an effort to build your attention to small details. This is key because a typographical error can ruin a carefully crafted document. In the same way, failure to note a small detail could make an entire case crumble. Read documents at least three times before turning them in. You could also pass the document to a more senior colleague to vet before sending it to your supervisor.

You are part of a team and you must help your team do well. Preparing shoddy documents will make your colleagues avoid working with you and might lead the firm to let you go. The supervisors I work with always underscore the importance of doing good work so as not to pass the work to them.  This I believe, is the most important tip for thriving at your new job.

 

Christabel Kelechi Ndeokwelu is an Associate in the Dispute Resolution, Corporate/Commercial and Labour & Employment Practice Groups at a top-tier Nigerian law firm. Christabel has a knack for litigation and arbitration. As a skilled advocate, she represents clients in courts across Nigeria on disputes relating to diverse areas of law.
She also advises clients on regulatory compliance, aviation, labour and employment and other areas of law. Christabel is skilled at showing multinational companies and international organizations the ropes in Nigerian law. Follow Christabel on LinkedIn here.

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How to Increase Employability Even as a Student or New Lawyer

You are currently at the university or the Nigerian Law School, studying largely the same curriculum with thousands of students across Nigeria. Upon your call to the Nigerian Bar, you and thousands of new lawyers will be released into the job market to sink or swim.

You have probably heard stories of how those senior students you looked up to spent many months searching for a good job. However, you also know that there are many other students who spent barely a week on the job market before they landed fantastic jobs.

The students in the latter category most likely able to distinguish themselves from their peers in some of the ways listed below.

Get good grades 

Good grades still hold a lot of weight when it comes to securing a good job. In fact, good grades are probably the most important thing employers look for when initially screening candidates for a job. At the most basic level, they at least serve a method to filter through hundreds of candidate applying for a role.

This does not mean that you cannot land a good job if you do not have a First Class or Second Class Upper, but, all things being equal, the journey around the job market is smoother with better grades. Good grades more often than not open the doors for you and give you the opportunity to showcase what else you have to offer.

Also, apart from the benefits that good grades offer on the job market, they also open you up to opportunities to further your education at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world. This could, in turn, open up more/better employment opportunities.

Undertake internships

An internship serves various purposes even beyond being a good addition to your CV. Undertaking internships both in and out of the legal industry enable you to –

  • familiarize yourself with the work environment including legal jargon, office politics and so on.
  • adapt to the working life i.e. waking up early every day regardless of how you feel, and working for a certain amount of hours per day.
  • pick up soft skills such as communication and interpersonal skills.

All these, in turn, enable you to garner the skills you need to succeed both at job interviews and on the job itself. For instance, a candidate who has spent six weeks interning at a law firm has more material to discuss at an interview with that law firm or a similar one, than a candidate who has never undertaken an internship.

Work on your CV

At times, it’s not your level of experience that stalls your progress on the job market, but the way you present it. To ensure that you are putting your best foot forward, consider doing the following as regards your CV –

  • Tailor your CV to each job you are applying for. The CV that would be appropriate when you are applying to a law firm may not be appropriate when applying to a government parastatal or the compliance department of a multinational.
  • Identify the skills needed to be a successful lawyer, and then highlight how you have developed these skills in your previous endeavours. This includes paid roles, unpaid internships and even volunteer experiences. There’s no room for laziness here; you have to put in the work. Click here for more details on how to do this.
  • Follow all of the CV advice and guidance set out here.

Increase your commercial awareness

Wikijob defines commercial awareness as a candidate’s general knowledge of business, and specifically, their understanding of the industry which they are applying to join.

The economy of the country is slowly shifting such that the people who are able to add the most value in the workplace, are the people who understand their business and its customers. Employers value commercially aware candidates because they are able to think outside the legal box and provide practical solutions for their clients. They are also able to hold conversations with clients and potential clients about a whole range of issues that cannot be found in a law textbook.

You can develop your commercial awareness by reading material relating to the economy and various industries. Do not limit yourself to material that contains legal arguments or discuss the legality of an issue, but also become familiar with literature relating to business, technology, manufacturing, finance, etc.

Do not neglect soft skills

When employers and recruiters say “Nigerian graduates are not employable”, what they usually mean is that the average Nigerian graduate has attended school and studied the relevant material enough to pass the exams, but has refused to expose himself to circumstances that will develop the soft skills that improve his ability to actually succeed in the professional world.

Examples of these soft skills are communication skills, tact, attention to detail and team spirit.

How you develop these skills would largely depend on the skill in question. Read here to understand some of the skills needed to succeed as a lawyer and how you can develop them.

Take up additional courses

The internet is full of courses on a wide range of subjects – legal or otherwise, and a lot of them are available for free or at affordable rates.

Websites such as www.wipo.int are particularly helpful for students interested in Intellectual Property for instance, but again, it is useful to not restrict yourself to the law in the strict sense. You could take up a course in Cryptocurrency, Derivatives, Debt Securities, Employment, Immigration, etc.

Whilst employers realize that taking a two-month course will not make you an expert in the studied field, taking these courses shows a desire to further one’s knowledge beyond the confines of the restricted legal education curriculum. It also shows the candidate has exposed himself to legal and business issues that some of his colleagues may not be familiar with.

Network

Networking is slowly becoming an over-flogged topic in the business world, but the benefits remain immeasurable.

Networking here does not necessarily have to be physical. You can observe and be involved in the legal space around you even online. The reality is an increasing number of people both in Nigeria and abroad, secure jobs because of who they knew.

In conclusion, the time to start preparing for your career is now. If you wait until you are ready for employment to do so, you might make your job search longer than it needs to be.

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.

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