It is no secret that lots of young lawyers in Nigeria are dissatisfied, disillusioned, with lots of grievances against their Principals, Senior Members of the Bar, and the Nigerian Bar Association as a whole.
As is common with the younger generation, most young lawyers given the appropriate legal environment are willing and ready to put their all into the profession which they have scaled hurdles and studious processes to become a part of.
However, the surrounding circumstances for most young lawyers are not encouraging. These circumstances or issues are what I have termed the “Grievances of Most Young Lawyers”.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate who a young lawyer in the Nigerian context really is. Who is a Nigerian young Lawyer? There are varied perspectives as regards this term but most Bar Associations in the Commonwealth define “a young lawyer as a lawyer enrolled to practice, having post call experience of seven years or less or is under thirty-six years of age”. However, for the purpose of this piece, a young lawyer is one with a post call experience of five years or less.
My name is Aishat Salami and I am a Young Lawyer. Some of the common grievances which I believe would resonate with other young lawyers are discussed below.
To begin with, the mentor-mentee relationship in the legal profession is almost non-existent. A lot of new wigs are faced with the conundrum of whether to immediately go for Masters or first find a good law firm to work with in order to gain experience? Whether or not writing professional exams would be the better option? and other puzzling issues.
Generally, young lawyers being susceptible to mistakes and pitfalls require the guidance of senior lawyers as mentors. However, some young lawyers having harnessed adequate knowledge and skills have fears on setting out and establishing a law firm of their own. Unfortunately, most of the older generation rarely share their experiences and words of wisdom in encouraging the younger ones to forge ahead. It is therefore not surprising that most young lawyers have questions and are faced with dilemmas which could have been avoided with the guidance of mentors.
Of great concern is the issue of Remuneration/Pay of young lawyers in the legal profession. You can imagine the strenuous duration for becoming a lawyer in Nigeria where an average lawyer is expected to earn the LLB degree from the University, proceed to the Nigerian Law School and of course the compulsory Youth Service Corps, except he/she is exempted before setting out to be gainfully employed.
The legal profession produces approximately 7, 000 lawyers every year with only a select few getting into the top-tier law firms while the remaining young lawyers would get into other law firms and earn pitiable allowances. Despite the size of some law firms, little attention is paid to the remuneration and welfare of the young lawyer.
A survey of young lawyers in Ondo, Oyo, Ogun and Osun States shows that some young lawyers earn on the average a meagre sum of N10, 000 – N20, 000 per month; ridiculous right? Oh yes!!! Yet, the young lawyer is expected to sort his feeding, housing, transport, pay his NBA dues, and get the NBA seal and all other miscellaneous expenses from this paltry sum.
Now in comparison with other professions, the remuneration of young lawyers is quite pitiable and appalling. You see, all the accolade some young lawyers get is in the appellation ‘the Law’ with nothing else to show for it.
It is however more disheartening when Senior Lawyers on the strength of the N10, 000 being paid a young lawyer, belabour the fact that they are doing such young lawyer a favour, and that there are other young lawyers still seeking employment.
I agree that during these young and formative years of a young lawyer, he or she is seen to be undergoing some form of pupillage under the seniors at the Bar; these notwithstanding, what makes this all the more discouraging is the zero probability that such young lawyer’s salary would increase periodically or be subject to review.
There are young lawyers that are actually well remunerated. However, the space for personal development is lacking. Let’s play out a scenario where there are 15 lawyers in a law firm but only the seniors ever get to lead in court; even for non-contentious applications. The other 13 lawyers are merely the “appearing with me’s”. It reduces the morale and confidence of a young lawyer when he knows that no matter how hard he works on a case, he would never be given an opportunity to have a day in court.
The lack of a growth system which would enable a young lawyer rise from being an Associate to a Partner in most law firms is another issue that agitates most young lawyers in Nigeria. Just envision a young lawyer who puts his all in the law firm, works most likely 10hours or more on weekdays and puts in some hours on weekends yet there is no assurance that the hardworking young lawyer would move through the echelons of the law firm to one day become a Partner.
The Growth system also encompasses the young lawyer’s Personal Development. The law firms that encourage and contribute to the growth and development of the younger generation of lawyers are so few compared to those that do not.
Lack of appreciation is another issue that aggrieves most young lawyers in Nigeria. This issue is birthed from the attitude of most principals where they believe that all they give to the young lawyer in terms of remuneration, knowledge and experience is a favour.
The resultant effect of the lack of appreciation is seen in the level of productivity and efficiency of the young lawyer. Most young lawyers simply need an enabling and thriving legal environment that motivates and encourages them to be the best. Appreciation of work by the seniors would go a long way in encouraging optimal performance.
In highlighting the grievances of young lawyers, one also has to consider the role of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) as a body. The inability of young lawyers to cater for their professional needs raises a lot of questions like: What efforts or policies has the NBA put in place to cater for the needs of the younger generation of lawyers? What use does the NBA put the Bar practising fees and annual dues of her members to? What measures has the NBA put in ensuring the NBA Conferences are affordable so young lawyers can also derive optimal benefits?
I believe a good start for the NBA would be setting up a system for law firms to include the welfare and working conditions of young lawyers. According to the report submitted at the March, 2018 NEC Meeting held in Ilorin, Kwara State by the committee set up by the NBA President, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), it was recommended among others that a minimum sum of N50, 000 be paid as salary for young lawyers and that lawyers undergoing the compulsory NYSC scheme should not be paid any sum below N25, 000 by any employer, be it private or public during the service year.
We however hope that the NBA would push through with enforcing same and put in place enforceable policies to right the lapses highlighted above.
The issues highlighted above which constitute the grievances of young lawyers have a way of making us lose enthusiasm for the legal practice. As a result of all these wrongs, the legal profession loses a lot of bright and sharp minds, as many young lawyers have to take up certain jobs, move into the banking sector, and become overnight entrepreneurs just to make ends meet.
Fellow young lawyers, this write-up is not intended to get us soaked in the challenges we face but if we desire change, we have to stand up to drive the change we want. We should not only sit back and air our agitations but proffer viable solutions to the ones we can, be more pro-active and seize all the opportunities available to us.
A word of advice to every young lawyer: “we should not in the heat of the moment make erratic decisions as people who have plans do not make erratic decisions. They stick to their plans, and make their exit when it’s time, not when it hurts.”
I shall conclude this write-up by highlighting some of the lessons which I have learnt by listening to the words of wisdom and drinking from the fountain of knowledge of Mrs. Funmi Roberts (CIArb.):
- Your Geography should not determine the scope of your practice. Do not limit yourself. Broaden your horizon.
- Do not be litigation biased. There are lots of emerging areas of law that we can take advantage of. These areas when explored will put us on the same, if not a higher pedestal than the seniors who are also just getting intimated about that aspect of law.
- Develop the mind-set of a man of commerce. Law has evolved to a point where it should be operated as a business and as men of commerce we must know everything about our business.
- Always upscale your knowledge. There are lots of books, courses, trainings, certifications that we can take advantage of.
- Develop attractive value proposition for yourself. You have to always make yourself marketable. We stand out when we invest in ourselves.
There are other professions gradually taking up the job of lawyers (for example with smart-tech, you do not even require the services of a lawyer). We should therefore not sit around, continually hoping and praying for that one big case that will make us.
Who says we have to be limited? We can journey the less travelled traditional areas of law and excel there. Let us make plans, let us have targets and work towards them.
Aishat Salami is a young Nigerian lawyer passionate about growth and development.
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