Excelling as a Young Lawyer by Douglas Ogbankwa, Esq.

You can not be bigger than the System that made you.

This Statement above, attributable to my humble self, aptly captures the essence of this article.

Law as a profession is highly regimental in nature. The time honoured traditions of the Bar has been those of decorum, mutual respect, deference to Seniors, measured demeanour while in public and a spartan lifestyle.

The establishment of the Young Lawyers’ Forum in the Nigerian Bar Association brought young lawyers to the mainstream of bar politics and law practice. Some young lawyers saw it as an opportunity to learn and understand the seemingly complex labyrinth that bar activities and law practice represent. Those set of young lawyers are excelling in their practice and even same bar activities.

There are however a few who have lost their bearing, abandoning their legal practice and taking bar activities as a full time job, thereby majoring in minor and minoring in major.

Some are so rude to seniors in a way and manner that will make the sailor boy blush.
Some seniors hardly talk but they lie in wait for them. You can not be greater in legal practice than how your Seniors perceive you! This statement is deep and steep. Read it again and again. Practice is a complex milieu. There are more to it than meet the eyes. Show respect to your seniors and if they felt insulted by you, apologise immediately.

Bar activities are not the Students’ Union Government of Universities. They do not play by the same rules. There are persons you see and persons you do not see, just as there are things you see and things you do not see.

As a young lawyer, address a Judge, Magistrate or President of Customary Court with respect and honour, but do not be cowed when same leaves his majestic place and condescend to the arena of conflict and become blinded by the dust of conflict. Do not engage in a shouting match. You know what to do .

Watch and learn. Understand your environment. It is not how you think it is, that it is. Read your Law Reports, read your files and be above board as Caesar’s Wife.

Do not collect money from clients and refuse to do their job. If you have your client’s money and he instructs you to disburse same, always have an evidence of instruction. A text message or an email will even suffice. Do not pay client’s money into your personal account but, into a Solicitor’s Account,but for what ever reason ensure you do exactly the job you are paid for and be the best at it. Keep contacts, you will be shocked how it will help you.

Develop yourself. If you are not computer literate by this time you should have a rethink if you want to practice law. Make good use of electronic law reports and learn how to use Skype and Zoom, that is the new frontiers due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Soon from the official communications from authorities, remote hearings through Skype, Zoom and other online meeting platforms is the way to go for hearings.

Take your clients’ calls as much as it is possible and if you missed same, return your calls. Do not castigated your profession in the public domain and if you did for whatever reasons do not generalise.

Be humble to establish relationships with the bosses of the registries and security agencies. It makes your work incredibly easy for you and your clients.

Always go early to court. Make sure you get to Court before 9 am, at all times. Read your file a night before the court hearing. Have all your authorities ready and always look at the argument from the other side and angle and do prepare a rebuttal argument to give exceptions on the argument on the other side or distinguish same.

Do not put money first. Do your work and money will come naturally. When you do your work with skill and diligence for your principal, you are actually selling yourself. You do not have a second chance to make a first impression. The clients, registrars and other actors are watching. The biggest brief you could ever get as a young lawyer comes from recommendations and the clients are likely to be persons you are meeting for the first time, but they could give you the biggest money since your Call to Bar .

Master the use of google to search for authorities and other critical information like addresses of corporate bodies and full names of parties and add PDF at the end of every search. Research online as much as possible. There are a lot of credible resource on line. Do verify the authenticity of same.

Do not exit your law office with animosity, your boss at the law office in the real sense is actually your boss for life. Do not keep life animosity with your colleague because of a client. Clients come and go, but Colleagues will remain colleagues for ever. When you are in the same WhatsApp group with senior lawyers, that does not change seniority at the Bar. Do not comment in your NBA Branch WhatsApp Platform indiscriminately. MIND YOUR LANGUAGE.

Your Branch WhatsApp group is not your class WhatsApp group. It is actually the Branch Meeting holding day by day online, real time! The same way you will be careful of what you say in your Branch Meeting knowing there are senior Lawyers present, you should also be careful of what you post on your Branch WhatsApp group. THE SENIORS ARE WATCHING YOU. The fact that you do not comment does not mean that they are not observing.

Your reputation is key. Guard it with your life. That is what determines what happens when you are not there. Dress well and dress neat, ensure your whites are sparkling, ensure your shoes are well polished, maintain a good personal hygiene and keep to the colour code of the Profession of black and white. Wear jewellery sparingly and if you are a female, let your hair do be subdued.

Keep the phone contact details of registrars, bailiffs of court and senior police officers in a Platform you can carry along day after day. Infact , create your directory for court business and police business.

When in court do not move in and out of Court indiscriminately. Sit and learn from seniors law practice and procedure. Do not be a “with the kind permission of My Learned Senior …” lawyer. Wait for your turn in Court and learn and your time in Practice will come. There is always one day. The Day of Break Through.

Master the art of brief writing and the art of preparing written addresses. You do that by reading those of the Masters-Lawyers who have track records and by reading judgments, especially land mark judgments. Nothing is cast in stone, never say never. Argue some times with something new. You can create a new precedent

In trials, master your facts! Study the documents you intend to tender intensely, looking for loopholes and envisage the possible objections from your opponents and your possible response and arm yourself with case law and statutes on points of law .

Be a Master of cross examination. Do not ask questions on cross examination that will elicit the answer “yes ” or “no”. Suggest your answers directly to the witness through your questions on cross examinations and do not be an “I put it to you ” Lawyer.

Do not take money behind your boss, money will come when it will come. Seniors should however encourage their lawyers. Money is a factor to motivation.

“You might think money is not important, but I tell you, it ranks reasonably close to oxygen “.
-Zick Ziglar


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