By: Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq.
The legal profession is one of the most lucrative professions in all disciplines in the world. Just like its counterparts such as the: medical; engineering; e.t.c. fields, the legal profession outstands itself among all its counterparts. Therefore, it is indeed a great achievement for one to be called to bar as a lawyer! I wish to use this medium to congratulate our newly called to the bar as legal practitioners in Nigeria! May God Almighty bless the new success! Nevertheless, it is beyond emphasis that the legal profession has its challenges especially in regard to early financial achievements, job placements, among others. There are however, lots of rumours amidst all these challenges against the legal profession by some who seem very jealous or envious of the legal profession (hence, those rumours and untrue in fact, unsubstantiated facts) by persons in other professions. Therefore, this article is aimed at encouraging our young and the newly called lawyers in the legal profession that notwithstanding those challenges in the legal profession, they should be eager to succeed rather than being dissuaded by those challenges, hence, this topic.
BUILDING A CAREER IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION FOR A SUSTAINABLE LEGAL PRACTICE
It is shocking to observe that some (if not many lawyers) do not have a particular career that they could choose in the legal profession. Some cannot even tell why they are lawyers and why they are doing what they find themselves doing at the moment in their legal practice! This discovery with due respect, though embarrassing, can be rectified with adequate but continuous career education for lawyers as the legal profession is full of unquantifiable career opportunities beyond what one can estimate as many different careers are evolving almost daily as the situations in life evolve. More so, since the aspiration of every lawyer is to make money and to be able to live a standard of living and settle down after rigorous studies at various educational institutions till he became a lawyer.
The word ‘career’ as a noun according to the Webster online dictionary means ‘a job or profession that someone does for a long time’. No doubt that when a child is registered in a western-educational institution by his parent or guardian, the goal of such parent or guardian (I think) is to create a career opportunity for such a child leading to his future success. With this goal in mind, such child grows up in his education up till the tertiary institution where he applies to study law as a profession. The purpose of studying in school in real sense is to become successful in one’s career. After such a child is called to bar (after completion of the tertiary institution), he finds his way in the society into the labour market from which he looks for his success. Finding or choosing a career that leads to success has always been a great challenge for a young lawyer and time is of essence as he proceeds in his future endeavours.
Duties of a lawyer
Lawyers run a day-to-day activities which form parts of the careers of a lawyer and these depend on the lawyer’s specialism and area of law he has chosen to work in. Some of these activities are as follows:
- Providing legal advice and guidance/general consultancy;
- Writing contracts;
- Meeting clients (individuals or businesses);
- Attending court hearings;
- Reading witness statements;
- Collating evidence and researching case studies;
- Keeping up to date with changes in the law;
- Representing clients in trials;
- Legal research; etc.
Areas of law
There are various areas of law that have evolved while some others have newly evolved and some are evolving while some are yet to evolve. These areas listed below are some of the areas of laws for private practitioners though government institutions run some of these areas of laws and engage lawyers to serve in the legal unit or administrative department of the institutions. Among some of those areas of law that have evolved so far are as listed below and each of these areas constitute a career in itself:
- Banking and finance law:
Banking and finance lawyers advise and negotiate on transactions, deals and loans of money between banks and companies or individuals. Work can be complex and often international.
- Commercial law:
If you are a solicitor working in commercial law, your job will be to advise businesses on issues such as mergers, acquisitions, and disputes.
- Criminal law:
Criminal law covers anything from small offences to serious crimes like fraud, murder and robbery and other criminal cases with various government’s security and law enforcement agencies, such as the EFCC, ICPC, Police, NDLEA, etc. You can be a defence lawyer in private practice.
- Public law:
This area of law represents legal issues between individuals and government. Judicial review is something a citizen can ask for if they feel a public body has not acted within the law.
- Employment law:
Employment law covers the relationship between employees or employers. Issues could relate to wages, safety and discrimination, and cases can be heard at tribunals or in court.
- Family law
This area of law covers children, family and personal relationships. Disputes handled by family law include divorce, financial settlements, child custody and adoption.
- Intellectual property law
Working in intellectual property (IP) law involves protecting the ownership of ideas and products for individuals and businesses. This usually means drafting documents, copyrights, patents and trademarks.
- Immigration law: This involves securing passports and settling various challenges relating to work permits, visas, etc, for employees of multi-national companies. It also includes assisting clients when their permits or visas are rejected.
- Arbitration: This involves a non-litigation way of solving disputes between individuals and among a number of them. This is another area of law that some lawyers have chosen as career.
- Technology/IT Law: This is another area of law evolving rapidly. The social media has also exposed the importance of this area of law. There are also contractual agreements metamorphosing into terms and conditions prepared on these social media. Many business transactions are also carried out online through various means which make the presence of lawyers very important to avoid any dispute or loss or to be well guided in protecting one’s interests. Etc.
I must however state that these areas of law may be specialized into individually or in addition with other areas of law.
Furthermore, there are several careers or career opportunities in the legal profession depending on one’s passion and expertise. A legal practitioner can be engaged in private practice or in the public practice or in a non-public practice as an employee. Where he engages in the private practice, he might take a career of being a Senior Advocate of Nigeria after some years not less than ten (10) years as a lawyer and after having fulfilled the requirements for qualification for such prestigious rank or remain a Non-Senior Advocate of Nigeria after some years not less than ten years of being a lawyer. He might also be in the service of being a legal practitioner as an employee to any law firm or private institution such as company, bank, etc. he might also be in the legal department of government’s agency or in the office of the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation or of a State as a Counsel. He can be in the Federal Civil/Public Service or that of a State government as a civil/public servant. He might also be appointed a Judge of a High Court and then (may rise to being appointed as a Justice of the Court of Appeal or a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria). Also, being a Magistrate or Area Court Judge or Customary Court Judge upon call to bar is another opportunity in the legal profession/legal practice. Some States do not require many years of call to bar to be appointed a Magistrate or Judge or Area or Customary Courts or other inferior courts of records, for instance, Lagos State requires not less than five (5) years post call to be qualified for being appointed a Magistrate under its Magistrate Courts Law. See: Magistrate Courts Law of Lagos State, 2009. Such as lawyer might also be appointed as a legal adviser or legal assistant in both public and private establishments. Politics is another career opportunity in the legal profession either as legal adviser to political parties or as special adviser or commissioner or Minister of the Federation depending on his good relationship with the political party in power or his connection with some powers that be or he might win election and be elected as a political office holder. From whichever career a lawyer chooses, he finds his success over the years that he remains in the career. The very great issue is how would a young lawyer find his career through which he overtime acquires or attains his success?! It is very unfortunate that a young lawyer has to undergo a terrible financial crisis for quite an unascertainable period of years roaming about in a poor condition without any succor, though, those with influential background are supported by their family or by the strength of that background to withstand the periods of famine or inadequacies.
Furthermore, a young lawyer should immediately after his call to bar, consider whether he intends to seek his career opportunity either in politics or private practice or public practice or in the judiciary and then as early as possible, to pursue same because time is of a great essence. If he starts early for instance in the public service, he is likely to become a Director though considering his age and his retirement age. And if his aspiration is in the private practice, he should keep developing himself through research and practice and to hope with prayers for a greater height in future years as a notary public, as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria or as a judicial officer or being an appointee of a public office either as Attorney-General of the Federation or of a State, among others. From all these careers, he would find success in his future years. I must also add that a lawyer whose major career is in litigation practices and has acquired some wealth, should consider investment in other businesses or alternatives to take care of his survival in time of famine, though this should be done within the accommodation made by the Rules of Professional Conducts for Legal Practitioners, 2007 (herein after referred to as RPC).
Also, the Nigerian Bar Association especially at the national level has a lot to contribute in a young lawyer’s career opportunities and welfare either by a continuous professional trainings or by engaging young lawyers in active participation in the bar affairs. The Nigerian Bar Association across the nation must swing into action by taking up the affairs and welfares of young lawyers so that their being a lawyer would be a grace and not a disgrace to those lawyers, their family and the general public. The truth too is that the legal practice or legal profession has lost and is losing legal practitioners to other professions due to the unbearable frustration and financial conditions experienced by majority of the young legal practitioners, hence, the need for a systemic approach in winning back the heart of those who have departed and to retain the heart of those new wigs for a better future for the legal profession and the progress of Nigeria as a nation. I believe that evolving career opportunities in the legal profession would entice lawyers as to those benefits that accrue to them as lawyers in the legal profession no matter the financial challenges!
Finally, in my humble advice, the legal profession remains an enviable professional practice that gives many inestimable career opportunities to lawyers and only patience and good mentorship are required to truly get things done in their proper manner which leads to success and a fulfilled legal practice, therefore, there is no need for a young lawyer to get dissuaded by challenges in the legal profession amidst some unsubstantiated rumours rather, those career opportunities should encourage such young lawyer to be eager to succeed.
God bless us all as Nigerian Lawyers! God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!