The time has come to build the Nigerian Lawyer as a brand. The Nigerian Lawyer must be transformed into a knowledgeable, versatile, courageous and with deep insight into global best practice.
This brand must specialize and dominate the legal market in specialized areas. This brand must transmute from being a jack of all trade to an expert in certain areas in the legal market.
Presently, there are a myriad of challenges facing the Nigerian Lawyer and the legal profession; prominent among which are
unemployment and under-employment. There are so many lawyers (mostly the young lawyers) who are in the labour market chasing few opportunities. As a result, many lawyers (especially young lawyers) are either unemployed or underemployed and some of them can hardly make ends meet and question whether they are really in the right profession.
This challenge of unemployment and under employment must be confronted through innovative strategies that recognise the peculiar economic challenges of the federation, the quality of education available to the Nigerian lawyer and the global permutations that drive the demand for specialized legal
services. This strategy must be holistic devoid of the fire brigade measure that may in the long run distort the system and lead to unsavoury consequences.
There are many ways to deepen the legal market but for now it is important to state that the most viable of them all is to increase the capacity of the Nigerian Lawyer. Opportunities abound in our legal environment from which a lawyer can earn handsomely. Unfortunately, some lawyers cannot access such opportunities for lack of requisite skills and capacity. This presupposes that the good paying legal jobs and businesses may go to skillful advocates from other jurisdictions.
At the recently concluded Section of Business Law Conference held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State; Okey Wali, SAN, and past President of the Nigerian Bar Association stated that during his tenure as the NBA President, it was discovered that about two billion dollars’ worth of legal services in Nigeria were being outsourced to foreign lawyers. NBA then was about to engage the Government to reverse this situation; however, it was deterred by the fact that the average Nigerian lawyer appear to lack the required skill and capacity to qualitatively deliver the required legal services in those specialised area(s).
It is only when a man knows that there is an opportunity available to him that he starts making efforts to harness such an opportunity. It is therefore imperative to begin to broaden the horizon of the Nigerian lawyer. In doing this, we need to look inwards and train the Nigerian lawyer to take advantage of the enormous opportunities that abound in the legal market.
Lawyers have not utilised the opportunities in different sectors of the economy. For instance, the insurance market, mining, sports, telecommunication, entertainment, construction and infrastructure, intellectual property, aviation sectors, etc have been under exploited because of lack of the required skill and expertise needed to practice in these areas.
The opportunities are there but the ill equipped lawyer cannot see them; even when the opportunities are discovered, the lawyer who lacks the relevant capacity and expertise cannot deliver qualitative service in these practice areas. To broaden the legal market, we must of necessity specialize in these different practice areas. We must build the Nigerian lawyer if the problem of unemployment and under-employment are to be effectively tackled.
Build the Nigerian lawyer and you have built the legal profession and the Nation. There must be a systematic, methodological and committed scheme on the part of the Nigerian Bar Association towards building the Nigerian lawyer in a manner that equips him with the requisite skills and competence to become a major player in the global legal market. This means that the Nigerian Bar Association must constantly engage the various law faculties through the Council of Legal Education and the Nigerian Universities Commission to broaden their curriculum to accommodate new issues, businesses and challenges in the legal profession.
The NBA must design programs in these new and emerging areas of law and make it mandatory for lawyers to specialize and also encourage them to think out of the box.The low hanging fruit of this new dispensation is the dawn of prosperity for legal practitioners and the present challenges of austere earnings facing lawyers would have been overcome.
Chief Authur Obi Okafor is a prominent Nigerian lawyer