Quick Changes to Make to Your CV to Give You an Edge Over the Crowd

Your CV is the heartbeat of your job search, and it will usually be reviewed and discussed in your absence. In a highly competitive and saturated market, it is more important than ever, that your CV is a written document that speaks well of you in your absence.

In about an hour or less, you can make changes to your CV that will guarantee that hiring managers at least spend longer looking at your CV and listening to what you have to ‘say.’

1.       Make it more readable

Have a quick glance at your CV to see if it generally looks pleasing to the eye.

Resist the temptation to cram many sentences onto the page; instead, remove unnecessary information and consider putting them in a cover letter instead.

2.       Check formatting in general

To make your CV presentable, ensure you format it properly. Use the same font, spacing, bullet styles, date formats, etc. throughout the document. Also, consider adding dividers to break up different segments of your CV.

3.       Remove the profile and objective statement

A profile in a CV is a short bio on the candidate, while an objective statement is just that; a statement explaining to the hiring manager what your objective is (i.e., the type of roles you are seeking).

It is becoming increasingly popular opinion that profiles and objective statements in a CV are redundant. Save that valuable space and delete these from your CV; the cover letter is a more appropriate medium for these.

4.       Run a spell and grammar check

Majority of employers note that CVs with typographical errors are one of the top mistakes that lead them summarily dismiss a candidate. You want to avoid that!

Your CV should contain no grammatical or spelling errors. None! It is (ideally) only two pages, so this is not that hard to achieve. Use Microsoft Word’s spell check tool to crosscheck, but also use more in-depth proofreading tools such as Grammarly. Even, read it out loud to check for proper ‘readability.’

5.       Convert it to PDF

We have already established that a well-formatted CV is very important. Saving and sending your CV in the PDF format would ensure that the formatting of your document is retained when opened on a different computer.

6.      Use an appropriate file name

Even though the content of your CV is the most important thing, the name you give the file could go a long way in creating a positive first impression, so use something formal and professional.

It is also beneficial to include your name in the file name to avoid your CV getting lost in the multitude. Try something like “Bolanle Adebiyi – CV” instead of a vague name like “Curriculum Vitae.”

7.       Make hyperlinks live

A hyperlink is a link from a document to another location, activated by clicking on a highlighted word or image (Wikipedia). In the context of your CV, a hyperlink would be your e-mail address or links to your online publications.

Make the recruiter’s job easier by making your hyperlinks live. This would enable the recruiter to view your website, read your online publications or send you an e-mail just by clicking a button straight from the CV.

8.       Delete all references to secondary school education

When applying for a graduate position in a law firm, there is no need to include your SSCE, WAEC or other prior results.

9.       Update your skills section

Check that your CV contains up to date skills. If you have picked up a new skill recently (and you should have), this is the place to include it.

Also, delete skills like Microsoft Word; in 2017, all employers expect you to have this.

10.       Remove distracting design

Keep your CV at the most minimalist level possible. Remove fancy fonts, colours or borders. Remember that in a professional world, less is more.

11.       Delete cliché adjectives

We know that you want the employer to see that you are hardworking, passionate, experienced, detail-oriented, and the like. However, talk is cheap; you should instead focus on showing them that you possess these qualities, through the experiences highlighted in your CV.

12.       Condense each section

Shorten the content under each of your bullets, and also the number of bullet points themselves; try not to have more than 5 – 6 bullet points for each position or heading

13.       Use numbers

In a CV, numbers speak louder than words. Make your achievements stand out more by tying them to numbers.

Were you the President of your Law Students’ Society? Mention how many law students were members of the Society while you were President. Were you the Treasurer of the Law Society? Mention how much you raised or managed.

14.       Recheck and update your personal information

It would be unfortunate if a hiring manager reviews your CV and decides to reach out to you, only to have his/her e-mail bounce back.

Confirm that you included your most recent phone number, if you have more than one phone number, be sure to include them all, and confirm that there are no errors in your e-mail address.

15.       Ask a friend to check it out

By now, you probably know your CV like the back of your palm and may no longer be able to spot any issues yourself. Get the perspective of a fresh pair of eyes; ask a friend or senior colleague to review your CV and give you their candid opinion.

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.

 

legallyengagedQuick Changes to Make to Your CV to Give You an Edge Over the Crowd
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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.

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

 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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Quick Tips to Organize Your Office Email Inbox

Editor’s note: So you have just landed a role as a lawyer in a law firm and they have thrown you in front of a computer and expect you to deliver on all assigned tasks.

The only email suite you are familiar with is Yahoo mail, maybe Google mail. We don’t blame you; you were not taught how to use Outlook at university or Law School, and it was not (adequately) covered during your orientation at your new law firm.

Fear not! Legally Engaged is here to help. In this article, Gabriella Ndu shares tips to help you stay on top of your work by organizing your emails more effectively.

If you have any questions on any of the tips or issued raised, remember that there is a wealth of information available for free on the internet. As they say, Google is your friend.

 

Emails are essential to work life but a lawyer, especially a transactional lawyer, may receive more emails than he/she can manage. If not managed properly, emails can break your concentration, cause you to make errors on important tasks, miss deadlines and/or interfere with your work-life balance.

Below are seven tips on how to organize your work email inbox in order to save time and work effectively

1.      Spring clean your inbox

During your spare time, look through emails that are currently in your inbox. Delete any emails that you do not read regularly or find valuable. Create rules for newsletter subscriptions using the tip no. 4 of this article.

2.      Create storage folders

 

Good organization is the key to a manageable mailbox. Organizing mail into folders and archives will make it easier to find the old messages and reduce the size of your mailbox. Creating storage folders for each client, file or project makes it easy to refer to messages relating to that client or file.

3.      Prioritise your emails and use “action folders”

When checking your inbox, reply to messages that can be dealt with quickly (in two minutes or less), then delete them if possible or move them to the appropriate storage folder.

For messages that require some thought, send a quick reply acknowledging that you’ve received the message and indicating that you will respond as soon as possible. Flag the email as a task in your calendar or put these e-mails in “action” folders, for example, “Urgent,” “Important” and “Not Important.” Just click on the message header and drag and drop the message into the folder.

In addition, you can set a reminder to in your calendar to respond to the email properly. Action folders can also be used for “follow up emails” to clients.

 4.      Create Rules or use filters to sort out incoming messages

 

Use the Rules feature of your e-mail program to automatically sort incoming messages into folders. Incoming e-mails can automatically be sorted by sender, subject, text and other filters. For example, if you subscribe to a newsletter or are on a list which always has “Legal News” in the subject line, e-mails can automatically be removed from your Inbox and placed in the appropriate folder.

This video tutorial will show you how to create Rules to automatically divert incoming messages to a folder of your choice using Outlook.

5.      Move “to-do” and event e-mails to your calendar

If an e-mail requires you to carry out a task like researching an issue or reviewing an agreement, drag and drop the e-mail to the “to-do” or task list on your Outlook. The e-mail will appear in the details window for the task.

If the e-mail schedules an appointment or event, drag and drop the e-mail to your electronic calendar. The subject line of the e-mail will show up as the description of the appointment (but you can change this if necessary), and the e-mail will show up in the appointment details.

6.      Use message templates

Create draft messages for routine emails. In Outlook, to save a draft of a message to use as a template (for example, an acknowledgement of a received e-mail), type the message in a new window, leaving the To (recipient) line blank. Then select File, Save As, and name the template in the subject line. To use the draft message, open the Drafts folder, and copy and paste the contents of the saved draft message into your new e-mail. Doing this will save you a lot of time and energy.

7.      Create group mailing lists

If you frequently communicate with the same group of lawyers on a project, you could create a distribution list for this group in Outlook. When you intend to send a message to everyone, you can click on the click on the name of the group list rather than each individual lawyer.

 

If you have any additional tips on how you have been able to manage emails, please share them in the comment section below.

 

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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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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