It has been an amazing three years and some months of lawyering, Nigerian style and what can I say? Actually I can say a lot. For one, it’s been an interesting and eye-opening three years full of lessons, wins, losses, achievements and disappointments. But hey, we move.
Interestingly enough, it’s funny how I feel this profession chose me because when I was younger, all I wanted to become in this world was a banker. LMAO. I just thought about how bankers in Nigeria had to go to work today (my sister would read this and kill me). Yup, I wanted to work in a bank because I thought bankers were the richest people on the planet and had all the money in the world (if only I knew right? Lol). Then I wanted to be a computer…whatever. Computer scientist, computer analyst…I did not know the right word at the time; all I knew and felt strongly in my heart was that I wanted to work with computers because I thought all I would do all day is play computer games and “catch fun” in life.
Then I started watching all those 90s law tv shows and I loved how the Judges looked so regal and serious with their black gowns and gavels. So I felt that if I became a lawyer, I could become a Judge as well and then hit the gavel on anyone’s head as I pleased. And the thought of hitting people on the head with a huge brown gavel pleased me immensely. Honestly, this is the reason I became a lawyer…oh and the fact that I talked “too much” and typically, people would be like “oh you talk alot, you should become lawyer”.
Fast forward to decades after I made that decision (at the time of deciding, nobody told me of the devil that is the Nigerian Law School ooo), and needless to say, it was nothing like I imagined growing up but it has been three years of just learning and getting better. So, I currently practice as a Barrister and Solicitor of Nigeria (this sounds really cool, actually) and that means I appear in court on a regular basis and do some non-court legal work as well.
I have learned quite a number of lessons working in a very high-standard-demanding top-tier law firm and from law in general. I have also learned some lessons from mixing with lawyers from different backgrounds with different ways of doing things. I share some of these lessons below:
There are always two sides to every story
Or should I say three…or even four; the parties’ sides, the truth and what the judge perceives to be the truth. Sometimes you hear a convincing “story” from someone and it seems too true so you immediately hop on it and ride with it to the death, meanwhile you may not even know this person, but you strongly believe“oh this has to be the truth…look how she’s crying or look how sad he is, he must be telling the truth” But I have learned and am still learning that there’s always another side to the same story and one should not get carried away with any sentimentalism no matter how “true” a story may seem. So the next time you are about to mentally bash someone after you’ve been told a story, remember that there’s most likely another side to the same story.
It is okay to not know
Generally, I’ve learned from practicing law that it’s not always about knowing all the laws to quote so as to sound smart to colleagues but also knowing where to find these laws. It is almost impossible to know all the time frames required by law for different issues or all the sections in all the laws (don’t worry, those people who come on TV to talk about legal issues did some research before hand. They’re not just quoting it from the top of their heads as they make it seem) which is perfectly fine.
Well, it’s definitely not okay to not know basic legal principles as a lawyer or not know the answers to questions at a meeting where you’re required to give a legal perspective on things. BUT…the lesson is while it is perfectly okay to not know everything, one must continuously strive to make an effort in personal development…so one does not look stupid when asked questions.
The loudest in the room is not always the smartest
Okay, this one I learned in court. My fellow Nigerian Barristers who have learned this can gather here for a photo. Please how many times have you been in court and someone is yelling at the top of their voice or flapping their gowns dramatically while occasionally glancing back at the gallery to show off their “legal prowess”? Meanwhile, the lawyer has no clue what he/she’s saying! Lawyers know this is generally termed “playing to the gallery” so that non-lawyers in court get the idea that the lawyer yelling is a top shot.
But this has been a real big lesson, learning that you can be smart and know things but don’t have to yell and shout all the time. How do they say it “Empty vessels make the loudest noise”.
Don’t take things personal
They were not kidding when they said “It’s a man’s world”. This lesson is another one I’ve learned from going to court. Being a woman in a male dominated profession (in fact, in law, the higher you go, the less female lawyers one sees) could be tough. And it is filled with so many misogynistic men who genuinely believe a woman would not understand certain things that pertain to law just because she’s a woman. Sigh.
You just learn not to take things personally before you go and die on top of another person’s wahala. Some older male lawyers legit say things like “Ehn you won’t understand, you’re a woman.” or “My dear you know you’re a young woman, you can’t know these things.” And these words have stung when they have been said to me and it can be annoying and frustrating but I guess I have learned that it tells alot about the men making these statements than me and so I have had to learn not to take them personal.B
Yup, another one I learned from attending court proceedings. Like, you just have to be patient. You have no choice. For someone like me who is mighty impatient, there’s nothing you can do when there are 29 cases on a cause list (where the cases to be handled by a judge are displayed…usually on a paper) and your case is the last one. If you like be impatient, you’ll just die there. Where do you want to go? You just learn to buckle in, keep yourself busy and learn to sit in one place for an extended period of time. And yes it can be exhausting and tiring, but I found that subconsciously learning patience is helping me in other areas of my life.
P.S, when I posted this photo on instagram, at least 15 people laughed at me and empathised at the same time. We know the struggle.
Give your best!
I am learning to give my best in everything I do which is a hard lesson to learn because some days I’m on fire for the law (if that’s a thing) and some days are just bleh like googling for the next public holiday. But in the law firm I work, you really don’t have a choice but to bring your A-game to the table everytime because we take quality of work seriously.
It’s been an amazing three years and I look forward to many more experiences and lessons in the years to come!