On the verge of my becoming a senior member of the Nigerian Bar: My compassionate advice to young lawyers 

Hameed Ajibola

Being a senior is in my humble view, a status that generally shows growth, experiences and advancement of a person. The legal profession is not an exception to this fact about seniority. I am seven (7) years at the bar by the grace of God at the moment and I shall become eight (8) years old at the bar by God’s grace next year (2021), may Almighty Allaah strengthen my life beyond that time in greatness, good health, everlasting prosperity and all the good of this world. Aamiin! It is customary and or conventional (though no law to this position) that seniority at the bar commences from eight (8) years post-call or post-enrollment (according to the Legal Practitioners’ Act, 2004, in section 4 and 7, of who a lawyer is). I intend by this paper, not as pride or arrogance, but to give some pieces of advice to young lawyers who are still within seven (7) years of their membership in the legal profession on how best they are to utilize every opportunity that comes to their ways and not wastes their precious time while their seniority is on the verge. My intention is to the service of God through humanity and not as pride or arrogance or showoff.

In the Nigerian legal profession, there is a common coinage that ‘there is seniority at the Bar’. Seniority in this sense does not refer to the age of individual lawyer or the academic degree of the lawyer but refers to the seniority of the year of enrolment in accordance with section 7 of the Legal Practitioners’ Act, 2004-herein referred to as LPA and not the year of call to Bar contrary to what some lawyers might assume. Seniority at the bar is so fantastic that even where a lawyer is eighty (80) years old and was called and or enrolled after a lawyer who is twenty-eight (28) years was called and enrolled, that lawyer of twenty-eight (28) years of age is a senior to the lawyer of eighty (80) years of age. More so, it is not only in the legal profession that this happens but in every discipline, civil service, academics etc. 

Furthermore, the Rules of Professional Conducts for Legal Practitioners, 2007-herein referred to as RPC-, provides for the seniority of lawyers at the Bar. Rule 26(2) RPC provides thus ‘Lawyers shall observe among one another the rules of precedence as laid down by the law, and subject to this, all lawyers are to be treated on the basis of equality of status’. It, therefore, means that the issue of ‘observance of precedence’ at the Bar among lawyers and in fact, in courts is a matter of obligation and not a matter of option. This is so from the provision of Rule 26(2) RPC above which provides that ‘shall’ which means that it is mandatory and not optional. More importantly, the LPA has already mandated this rule of precedence in section 8(4) LPA thus ‘Legal Practitioners appearing before any court, tribunal or a person exercising jurisdiction conferred by law to hear and determine any matter (including an arbitrator) shall take precedence among themselves according to the table of precedence set out in the First Schedule to this Act’. 

Therefore, it is submitted that it is not only the courts that are to observe this rule of precedence but also all administrative tribunals, quasi-judicial bodies, arbitrators, etc. and as earlier submitted above, the seniority at the bar is determined by the year of enrolment, because, from the First Schedule to the LPA, especially item 5, which provides thus ‘Persons whose names are on the roll in order of seniority of enrolment’, which means where a lawyer was called to the Bar in a year and he does not make a quick step to get himself enrolled as soon as possible or immediately the day and or year he is called or for whatever reason(s), any lawyer who is enrolled at the Supreme Court of Nigeria before him takes precedence over him. Further, see the precedence of seniority on the First Schedule to the LPA and section 23(1) LPA. Also, see Section 6 of the LPA.

Furthermore, generally, the first year of a young lawyer in the legal profession is spent in the National Youth Service Corps-herein after referred to as the NYSC-, wherein the young lawyer is placed on a Place of Primary Assignment (PPA) to work and or serve for a year. It is my humble advice here that since lawyers are afforded the opportunity to nominate any private law firm or law office where they intend to serve or work, those who would love to remain in private practice should rather serve in a private law office than in a government’s institution since they gather more knowledge and exposures from this private practice and private law office, though, they might and might not get much money as allowances as they might get in a government’s institution.

In fact, the majority of government’s institutions do not even pay well and if they pay, they do not pay on time. You may also benefit from knowing how to do the legal practice. In my reasoning, where a lawyer is able to use his first year of the NYSC in a law office, I reason that that should serve him as a pupilage and he might even after having worked diligently, establish his own law practice without the need to still go for any pupilage under any senior and even if there is need, he might just have to spend just few months or one or two months depending on his discretion. He might also carry out a personal project under the NYSC Scheme, perhaps, he might be conferred awards of honour. I have conferred the highest award in the NYSC during my service year of the FCT-MINISTER AWARD OF HONOUR which is the highest award of honour in the FCT.

Also, after the completion of my NYSC, I worked in a law office for two months and one or two weeks after which I resigned and established my registered law office in the year 2016 with the name ‘THE VICEGERENT LEGAL CONSULT’. With God’s grace, my law office is five (5) years old this year (even though, I am a young lawyer). Within this five (5) years, I have handled more than fifty cases across the Federal Capital Territory- Abuja, in both civil and criminal cases such as Area Courts; District Courts, Magistrate Courts, High Court of the Federal Capital Territory-Abuja, Federal High Court of Nigeria, Abuja and the Court of Appeal of Nigeria, Abuja, in several litigation matters. As of the moment, I have more than six appeals at the Court of Appeal of Nigeria ripe for hearing this year 2020. In addition, in the year 2018, upon my legal recommendations to the Honourable, the Grand Kadi of the Shariah Court of Appeal on the need for His Lordship to utilize His Lordship’s powers under the Constitution to establish Islamic Marriage Registry and Islamic Probate Registry, Shariah Court of Appeal, Headquarters, Federal Capital Territory- Abuja, I was appointed a Member of an ad-hoc Committee for the Establishment of Islamic Marriage Registry and Islamic Probate Registry, Shariah Court of Appeal, Headquarters, Federal Capital Territory- Abuja, established by the Honourable Grand-Kadi of the Shariah Court of Appeal, Abuja, to consider the establishment of those two very important registries in the Federal Capital Territory- Abuja. 

I also contested and was elected as the Assistant-Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, Abuja Branch (Unity Bar) under the Chairmanship of Mr Folarin Aluko in immediately I became five years at the bar i.e. in the year 2018. Over these few years, I have through my law office, engaged in legal services to my clients (though, still struggling), in the following areas: Corporate Law Practices, Litigation, Property Law Practices, Debt Recovery, Criminal laws, Human Rights Protection, Electricity Law Practices, General Public Law Practices, Islamic Personal Law Practices, General Consultancy. I created a pro bono Whatsapp group called Hameed Ajibola Jimoh’s Pro bono Legal Mentorship Forum where I render free legal consultation to non-lawyers across Nigeria with more than one hundred (100) members-free of charge. I have just registered a non-governmental organization for charitable services by the name ‘STAND UP FOR SOMEONE’S RIGHT INITIATIVE (SUSOR INITIATIVE). All these are not for show off or to canvass for any political office either in the NBA or elsewhere but a sincere account for our young lawyers to remain serious and focused and for them to utilize their early years in the legal profession very well in preparation for their future prosperity. Furthermore, my articles as of moment are more than three hundred (300) in public circulation, more so, I had started writing articles since the year 2015, in my NYSC, where I had been writing as a columnist in the Nigerian Pilot News Paper for years and a columnist too with Unini theNigerianlawyerblog and other blogs.

I am also a Media consultant on legal issues with several interviews (both live and recorded) held with Independent Television (ITV) News; the Coretv News; the Silverbird Television, Daily Trust Newspaper, Daily Times Newspaper; The Sun Newspaper; Nigerian Pilot Newspaper, online-blogs: such as www.nigerialawyer.comwww.elombah.comwww.news-chronicle.com among others. There are many more accounts that the space in this paper cannot permit. With all these accounts, I give all the glory to God Almighty!

Furthermore, young lawyers should try their best to remain focused. In your law office, always make yourself available to being used in the practice of the law. Study your law books and legal principles. Read through all the files and letters, documents, correspondences which you are allowed to read and study in the file cabinet or in the office. When you are obligated to carry out any official duty, make sure that you do your best in working without supervision. Your years of being a young lawyer should be to learn the practice of the law.

Yes, you need money but the law office is not likely to be able to pay you what is due to you for your services, you only get the fees that you deserve, in my humble view, when you have a law office of your own. So, do not become lazy at work! You need to have passion, focus and determination, be hardworking, consistent and prayerful. Make sure that you always ask questions from your seniors in the office and other senior members of the bar. Do not forget to also have a mentor who guides you through your legal practice. I can tell you that if you as a young lawyer can do all these, the sky is just the beginning!

Finally, it is my belief that young lawyers would find this piece of compassionate advice useful and they would be well guided in their endeavours. I am available for young lawyers who desired my legal advice or mentorship! This is my story! What will yours be on the verge of your becoming a senior member of the Nigerian bar?!

Email: hameed_ajibola@yahoo.com

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