LEGAL IDEAS FORUM

Enhancing the Employability of an Aspirant to the Nigerian Bar .


 

An Address presented on the 29th November, 2018 to the Legal Ideas Forum International (LIFIN).
I want to thank the Executive of Legal Ideas Forum International (LIFIN) for availing me the opportunity to address this august body. Of a truth, I’m humbled by your invitation and fired up for the challenge.
First, the question that confronts an aspirant to the bar is; what the’ term’ employability means?
Employability is simply the state or the quality of being employable. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines ‘employable’ as having skills or qualities that are necessary to get a job. In other words, employability is a measure of how easily New Wigs can gain employment where they possess requisite skills, qualities and achieve success in the Nigerian Bar.
 Before I deal with the issue of how to improve an aspirant to the bar’s chances of being employed, I want to highlight the opportunities or options, which are available to new wigs upon call to the Nigerian Bar.
1. Dispute Resolution:  This refers to the avenues to which dispute can be settled. Dispute can be settled in one of these two ways;
(a) Litigation and
(b) Alternative to dispute Resolution.

Litigation: It is the foremost means of resolving dispute.  Although litigation broadly involves civil and criminal litigation, however when you talk about litigation as a method of dispute resolution what readily comes to mind is civil litigation. This is due to adversarial nature of civil litigation system as opposed to criminal litigation system which is rather inquisitorial.

 

 

 

 

Consequently, it will not be very apt to bring in criminal litigation under dispute resolution. Dispute resolution relates largely (if not only) to civil litigation .That is why criminal matters cannot be submitted to Arbitration or any other method of ADR.

For an aspirant to the bar upon call to bar; litigation will be an option for you upon call to the Nigerian bar because most employers engage in it. However, if a lawyer must thrive in litigation, he must possess good Advocacy skills (this skill can be improved upon on, on the job), imagination, comportment, Confidence, eye contact and must be willing to improve his/ her voice skills.
(b) Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR):  it refers to all the various processes of resolving disputes between parties other than the formal the court system. In this light, Arbitration, Negotiation, mediation, Conciliation and other forms of third party determination are classified as ADR options. One Interesting thing about these options is that through their medium amicable settlement can be reached and relationships preserved. In most of these areas to become a player in them requires one Paying and passing their Qualifying exams for different Categories. These certification exams are not restricted to lawyers but to all persons who have passion for arbitration and other ADR options and possess the requisite qualification(s). Hence, an aspirant to the bar to the bar can start getting certified in these areas to enhance one’s standing for employment.

(2). Corporate Practice: Certainly, this is another interesting area of practice an aspirant to the bar will be involved in.  An aspirant to the bar should have genuine interest and understanding of the business world to excel in this field. A significant portion of today’s law practice revolves around business and commerce between cities and regions, and across jurisdictions. A client hiring you for any service from Corporate Filing to Corporate Restructuring; will ascertain that you understand his market, competitors and how to apply the law to navigate through its stormy waters.

 

 

 

For those who will set their gaze on being employed in renowned law firms in this area, most employers will need that potential employees demonstrate knowledge of their company or Law Firm, their marketplace/competitors, practice areas and an understanding of the trends in their industry because they may become more involved in decisions which directly affect them or their clients.  Employers and clients do not want Legal advice; they want up-to-date and in-depth analysis of their business. They need assurances that their lawyer(s) actually ‘understands’ their business. It is noteworthy to state that a lawyer can be employed as a company secretary in this area.

(3). Real Estate and Conveyacing Practice: It is a rare privilege to represent and counsel client’s in this field of practice. However, an aspirant to the bar must work to be knowledgeable in this field by attending seminars and reading up on the subject. Closely related to the above, is that one must learn the art of understanding the client’s instructions during interview because such can make a lot of difference during drafting of clients agreements and other document(s).
(4). Judicial Appointment: Perhaps, the bench appears to be the most tasking of all jobs. A person who intends to join the bench must also be insightful, must appreciate complex issues of law and demonstrate keen consideration of issues and arguments.  Redoubtable research ability is also of paramount Importance. Joining the bench should not be seen as a means of wealth accumulation. Being a judge should be a passion, motivated by the noble intention of duty to contribute to the development of the law and advancement of justice. Note that this option is not available to the new wig but to those who have met the constitutional requirement of practice experience.
(5). Political Appointment: An aspirant to the bar can employed by President or Governor(s) to lead  any Ministry so far as such a person is competent and have possess the required practice experience. For example; one can be appointed an Attorney General of the general of the Federation or The Attorney General of the State, Commissioner(s), and Special Adviser(s) etc. Again it needs to be pointed out that For the AGF & AGS, are options is not readily available to a new wigs because of the constitutional requirement  and I think the requirement to be justified in view of the fact that one has to be experienced  in law before being appointed into these positions..
Other areas worthy of mention are: Entertainment Law, Intellectual Property law practice, Space Law, Etc. These are a few of many opportunities which an aspirant to the bar to can take advantage of and Thrive in.
The Nigerian legal market is a highly competitive one and most times, unattractive to an aspirant to bar; either because of the Long hours of work put in and uninspiring pay from most employers. However, the Nigerian legal Market is a Juicy one, if one grows the requisite skill to practice and excel at it. For an aspirant to the bar to have an unfair advantage in this industry one must strive to be “well- rounded”.
A good friend of mine; once shared a story of how during an interview, he was commended on his impressive resume and was asked the below final question:
Briefly tell us what you do like to do during your free time?”
 
My friend enthusiastically told the interviewer that he enjoys leading Mock Trials, reading, writing and any other “Intellectually stimulating activity”. He also added that delights so much in inventing strategies to approach varying degree of exams and doing well in the said exams. Unfortunately, the interview abruptly ended for mine good friend and he didn’t get the Job despite having excellent grades and impressive Resume.
A critical mind would wonder why my friend did not get the get the job or why the interviewer asked the above question. The answer lay in the fact that my friend has shown by his answer not to be a “well- rounded” lawyer.  Being a great lawyer in today’s legal market, entails more than having excellent legal knowledge. Lawyers in and out of Nigeria are now required to socialize, within and outside their organization throughout their career. The ability to relate to people is now central to a lawyer’s employability.
Being “Well- rounded” means being:
Skilled, capable or knowledgeable in a lot of different things in life, or
Knowledgeable in different areas or subjects including different areas of Law.
Hence, the whole point of being a well-rounded is to broaden your knowledge in order to relate to more people and find new interests. The more people you relate with, the more you can make new friends or add more depth to existing relationships. Another way to develop a relationship with clients and colleagues is to be able to have meaningful discussions on subjects they are passionate about i.e movies, books, news, politics and trending shows etc.

Well-rounded lawyers are able to do the following:

1. Contribute to the development of their employer’s business by attracting clients, particularly for top-tier law firms. This increases your chances of getting high performance appraisal score;
2. Effortlessly gain the trust of clients and colleagues and grow meaningful professional relationships;
3. Get promotions and similar incentives ahead of their peers; and
4. Offer practical and comprehensive legal advice to clients.
How does an aspirant to the bar get a leg-up in this competitive industry?
Enhancing your employability can be done in the following ways:
1. Understand first that your self- development is your personal responsibility. You must Intentional about your progress in this market.
2. Define the kind of lawyer you want to be and work towards that.
3. Go outside your comfort zone. Always ask questions and be curious .If curious about a particular topic, feel free to reach out to an expert or colleague with a specific question.
4. Dress the path and look the path. Your carriage in most cases speaks more than certificate in the profession. Clients and employers judge you with what they see first.
5. Get a mentor(s) for yourself. Mentor(s) guide you towards positive growth and keep one from getting complacent at whatever stage they are in the profession.
6. Have a Curriculum Vita of what you have achieved so far as an aspirant to the bar, i.e. Leadership Position Held, Articles’ written and Published in Your Faculty Journals, Etc.
7. Apply and undergo internships, it is easier for a firm to employ their former intern who they can vouch for his attitude towards work. Now, let me be clear on this point because I graduated from this Faculty, and so know a thing or two about how the academic program is structured.  The experience one gather(s) during internship will be useful during you Law School and in the Practice Proper. Before the end of the session; apply and take up paid and unpaid internship programs. Please don’t waste this invaluable period at home.
8. If you can, get the good grade, it will expose you and launch you to places you can’t imagine. Many of the top tier Law firms in major cities in Nigeria requires; a 2:1(The school you graduated from) and 2:1(Nigerian Law School) or 1st Class (The school you graduated from) and 1st Class (Nigerian Law School) to be invited over for an interview, which if one scale through qualifies such person for the oral interview and then, employment. However, ones result can’t determine ones fate in life
9. Understand that good result can open the door of opportunities for you but to remain in there, is function of your character.
10. Learn basic concepts and different practices. You can also read articles on varied legal practice area or department or ask colleagues in a different team about their daily tasks.
11. Set up daily news alerts and reminders on your Smartphone’s and Mail box. You can also read newspapers at your employer or school’s library. Read newspaper from other parts of the world online. This information can form part of the questions you will be faced with at the oral interview(s) when seeking for job.
12. Attend social and Professional events. Events focusing on or affecting the legal profession, a particular culture or a shared interest are helpful.  Example: Age grade Meeting, NBA or NBA Section on Business Law events (This can happen when you are called to bar), Professional trainings. Attending events gives you an opportunity to make new connection and learn something new.
13. Find other talents you have and grow them. You don’t have to practice law to be known and be successful. Ebuka Obi Uchendu is lawyer but how many Nigerians know him for that? What of Falzdbadguy?
14. Above all is the God factor and Place of Grace. Apostle Paul remarked in 1 Cor: 15 v. 10; “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not without effect”. If you don’t have a relationship with God, I invite you to do so. He loves you and wants you to get to the peak of your career.
A careful look at topic announced by President of Legal Ideas Forum International, Mr. Njoku Chibueze On the whats App platform; show that I deleted the word ‘Entrepreneurial’ from the topic assigned to me. The rational for my decision is found in Rule 7 of the 2007 Rules of Professional Conduct, which explicitly prohibits a practicing lawyer from personally engaging in business. One would argue that this kills off the creativity in and blocks another stream of income for an aspirant to bar.
I appreciate the above view, and hold that given the absence of effective monitoring and compliance and in the face of the flagrant breach of this Rule, time has come for it to be significantly re-calibrated to achieve compliance or removed from the rule book altogether.
In Conclusion, I cannot guarantee that I have raised all point(s) for this Discourse; but what I can I assure is that an aspirant to bar who is committed to these principles enunciated above and diligent in doing them,  will experience success both at the Law school and In the Nigerian Legal Market.
I want to again thank Mr. Njoku, Chibueze the president of this noble forum  for extending invitation to me  address this group; I’ve Protested that I have two interview(s) scheduled for this week and several cases to close and so will be unavailable. Typical of Mr. Chibueze,  he persisted, I caved in to his demands.
To all Executives of LIFIN congratulations for the miracles you wrought with this group. To my audience, I hope you’ve picked up a thing or two from this address with which to confront your future purposefully.
 Thank you all for having me.
About the author
Umeokeke, Chikelue .Esq
Associate at Bunmi Adelabu & co
Human Rights, Intellectual Property, Arbitration and IT enthusiast
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For knowledge and Justice

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