Enyioma Madubuike: The Nigerian legal profession: An exodus of young talent?

A lot has been said about millennials-that demographic of confused young people generally accepted as born between the early 1980s and early 2000s- about how we desire instant feedback, about how impatient we are; about how easily it is to distract us.

Is there a gradual exodus of young people from the legal profession? I really do not have access to authoritative facts and figures but I am beginning to notice a trend among colleagues in the legal profession today. “Enyioma, I am thinking of resigning from my chambers, I want to be a blogger. I have always had a passion for writing”. Enyioma, I am running a freelance business strategy project on the side and I may leave my job soon. Enyioma, I left my job last year, I have a digital marketing business I am running now and Sanmi, our law school roommate now has a cool bakery. Having just resigned from one of Nigeria’s top commercial law firms myself, I wonder if this trend of young lawyers exiting firms for other projects is one about which the legal profession in Nigeria should be worried.

A lot has been said about millennials-that demographic of confused young people generally accepted as born between the early 1980s and early 2000s- about how we desire instant feedback, about how impatient we are; about how easily it is to distract us. It is a demographic considered so troublesome that there is a multi-million dollar consulting industry out specializing in how to handle millennials, in schools, in the workplace and in government. It appears therefore that the rising trend of young lawyers pursuing other projects after going through a minimum of six years training is part of the worrisome symptoms of the typical Millennials’ penchant for rebellion.

While, this may be a large part of a plausible explanation, one wonders if this trend is not an indictment of the profession and the entirety of its structure. I make bold to say that with the peculiar structure of the legal profession as it stands today, it may continue to witness a decline in the number of young people willing to pursue a lifelong career as lawyers.  I will highlight a few reasons why I hold this belief.

  1. The length of training: Anyone who knows me knows how I have come to detest a system that takes six whole years to train a single lawyer in the theoretical aspects of a profession which is largely practical. The inadequacies of the Nigerian educational system which prioritizes tests and exams over discovery, and hands on experience will require another essay. The legal profession can actually do more to encourage an early exposure of law students to issues they will encounter in real practice as soon as possible to avoid the disappointment one feels as a lawyer when in your first year you realise most of your time in school was a waste because you have to learn an entire new set of skills
  2. Competing options: For many, whose main motivation for the practice of the profession is money, the information age has thrown up a new set of career options capable of providing enviable financial benefits with relatively less rigour and time requirements. Let’s face it, a few decades ago there was no blogging, digital marketing, programming and such other careers available to young people and so accounting, law, engineering and such traditional professions were considered the elite professions because they provided comparably better packages in prestige and money compared to other available careers at the time. Today, apart from the emergence of information age related careers, other options that were not as lucrative in years past are now more popular as a result of increased information and access. It is no more taboo for example for young people to pursue careers in music, sports and comedy.

    Nigerian Law School, Lagos

    Nigerian Law School, Lagos

  3. The life of a young Nigerian lawyer: The early years of practice are expected to be strenuous for any lawyer all over the world. In Nigeria however, the strain of working long excruciating hours, is accompanied by the emotional harangue of bosses who believe they have done you a favour by hiring you- a mentality carried over from a past where the boss was the master and the employee was the servant; and the ridiculous salaries paid at the end of the month which is incapable of sustaining a young commuting lawyer for a month. The fact that one goes through six years of learning to be treated in this way is enough disillusionment for many young people; and with other options available there are enough ships to jump into
  4. The eroding credibility of the profession: One of the attractions of the legal profession especially for young impressionable minds is its position as a symbol of probity and virtue. Unfortunately, the profession has been battered in recent years from tales of incompetence to publicized news of corruption from the bar to the very top of the bench. Our courts have lost a lot of credibility and it has rubbed off on how young people view the profession. By staining its pristine cloak, the profession gives young lawyers one more reason to not associate with it.
  5. Dreams change: A lot of young people are young lawyers because it was considered a great thing to be. Prodded by parents and the society, they aimed to be called “barristers” with little or oftentimes misguided understanding of what the profession entails. However, upon becoming lawyers, the reality of the profession becomes a far cry from the dreams of youth and one is often faced with either remolding expectations or dreaming new dreams. More young people are choosing today to shoot for new horizons instead of managing the false pretenses of old ones.
  6. Career mobility: It has become accepted that the days when it was fashionable to work for an employer for a decade has gone. Young people prefer to be able to change environments and gather a mix of experiences through their work lifetimes. Even more, young people are beginning to desire changing their careers as often as they can before they die. The legal profession requires six years of training for a life of practice. With increased access to knowledge, young people are more likely to prefer fluidity to monotony.
  7. Doors of opportunity: Despite all that has been said about legal education, there is no doubt that it positions a young lawyer for more opportunities that his counterparts. This means that apart from openings in law practice, lawyers are more favoured in handling duties like administration, organization, advocacy and leadership. This makes it easy for a lawyer who grows dissatisfied with his practices to branch out into other field where his training is valued and considered relevant
  8. The Rules: The legal profession is a very conservative profession steeped in tradition and rules religiously protected by a well regimented structure. The millennial is one for fluidity, adaptability, speed and efficiency. He will continuously be at loggerheads with a profession which prides itself more in its ability to enforce its own rules than in its tenacity to reform it.

 

A lot has been written about the impatience and entitlement of millennials. However, businesses and industries all over the world are not just complaining, they are adapting. Hopefully, the Nigerian legal profession finds a way of reinventing itself to ensure it continues to attract and keep young motivated talent. If this is not done, trickles become torrents and the profession might find itself on the lower rung of preferences of young Nigerians in the nearest future.

 

Enyioma combines his knowledge of philosophy with an in-depth understanding of how law works. He is constantly in search of new and interesting pursuits.

Oluwatosin Fatoyinbo: Non-Academic Tips for Nigerian Law School Students

You must have been hearing the stories from your first day in the University of how terrible and hectic the Nigerian Law School can be. You would have heard stories of woes and poor results, of people having to resit the exams over and over again but its reality, you are now a student of NLS and you are wondering how to survive. First, you need to relax. NLS is not as bad as you have heard. This piece is intended to help you understand how to go about your non-academic life at NLS and other miscellaneous things.

A few clarifications: I don’t claim to know anything and I didn’t graduate with a first class. I wasn’t exactly the very serious ‘bookie’ kind of person but I made it out of law school and my experience may help you. In life, we learn from the experiences of others but one will have to create their experience and learn from it, so you will need to understand your uniqueness and carve out your experience at NLS. These are not academic tips though I will say a few things about the courses.

Let’s take the issues in numbered paragraphs:

  1. Understand your campus

There are six campuses of the NLS; Abuja, Kano, Yola, Lagos, Enugu and Bayelsa. I was posted to Bayelsa and what an experience it was. Apart from the Lagos campus, most of the other campuses are not in the center of town, they are majorly in small villages or outskirts of the city. Bayelsa for instance is on the outskirt of Yenagoa, though not too far from town. Yola campus shares boundaries with American University of Nigeria, Enugu campus is at Agbani, Kano at Bagauda while Abuja is in Bwari, a long distance from the Abuja city center.

Basically, you need to understand what is available on your campus and what you need to source from outside campus. If you are in Kano, please ensure that you buy winter cloths because the cold may deceive you to think that you are in Europe. If you are in Bayelsa for instance, prepare your umbrella and rain suits because it rains without warning and when it’s hot, it’s very hot. As an aside, Enugu has the Adam and Eve Hostel. What in goodness is that? Garden of Eden? Lol.

Generally, you don’t have to worry about power supply, NLS ensures that you have light till 12 midnight at the least and the generator comes on again at 6 or 7am depending on your campus. With regards to food, as you may well be aware, you cannot cook on campus so prepare adequate food provisions as alternative to eating out. Again, depending on your campus and the size of your belly, an average meal goes for N250 per plate. Do your budget and schedule your “food money”. If you don’t trust your ability to keep your food allowance without blowing it, you can buy food ticket for the entire month such that you go to your preferred restaurant and have your meals without having to think about daily payment. I adopted that system with Iya Oyo in Bayelsa campus and it helped. The disadvantage of this will be that you may get bored of eating from the same restaurant every day but it saves the danger of blowing your food allowance and getting stranded. I can assure you don’t want to be hungry at NLS.

Another thing to consider is water and laundry. Again, depending on your campus, you may need to buy water every day. Some campuses don’t have water issues but some do. Your white shirts are very important, it’s essential that you keep them truly white, which is why they must be washed with clean water. In Bayelsa, we sometimes had yellow and ‘óyel’ laced water so that you couldn’t always wash your white shirts with the water. Dry cleaning is not too expensive depending on your economic capabilities but if you cannot afford it, get your clean water and do it yourself.

 

2.  Making friends

Forget all the stories you have heard, make attempts at forging new friendships. Attract to yourself guys who love you for you, and are better than you. Certain friendships from the law school will last throughout your lifetime and some are lifetime partners.

3. Falling in Love, Sex and weeding

Okay, you are an adult; you can choose to fall in love in Law school. If you truly fall in love with someone worth your love, and there is response from the other party, by all means go ahead and give the relationship a chance. I know you came to campus to pass the bar, but life doesn’t go on hold simply because you are in law school. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you go out of your way to seek for love but if love finds you, off course by all means…

On the other hand, you can also choose to have indiscriminate sex. It’s a choice but I would advise you not to do that – just my opinion. Some guys were expelled for having sex on Abuja campus so if you must have sex, make sure you get out of campus. Don’t do it within the four walls of the campus. Also, during my time at NLS Bayelsa, some guys were suspended because they were caught weeding on campus so watch it.

4. Piety and Religion

Regardless of what you believe in, you will definitely need God in NLS. So make it a habit to enjoy church services and jumat prayers as the case may be. I was active in Bayelsa as an executive member in CLASFON and Chapel. Those were great times of genuine service to God and it didn’t in anyway affect my academic purpose and pursuit.

5. Attendance and Law School Dinners

You should know by now that attendance at classes is very compulsory. If you don’t make 75% attendance mark, you won’t be allowed to sit for the bar finals. This is not a joke o; you have to take this seriously, make sure you sign in, in the morning and sign out after class. Please don’t skip classes unnecessarily except it’s totally inevitable. On Dinner, please do your best not to miss the dinners and dress in accordance with NLS requirements to avoid being asked to return to the hostel to change.

6. Academics

I really don’t think I am the best person to advise you in this regards. Anyway, there are five courses in the law school; civil litigation, criminal litigation, property law, Corporate law and Law in Practice (formerly called Ethics).Usually, two lecturers teach each course. Classes resume at 9am and closes at 2pm at the earliest with 30 minutes break, depending on your campus. Classes in Lagos and Bayelsa often don’t end till 4pm, sometimes even stretching till 5pm.

Be careful of the materials you use as some of them are greatly misleading. If you are not sure of the right position of the law, discuss with your friends and if still unsure, ask your lecturers. Most of them are easily approachable. Understand what works for you; don’t just simply run to the library to pass off as a serious student unless this system works for you.

Please note that Law in Practice looks simple but many have fallen by its sword so take it seriously. Corporate law is a continuation of your company law so it may be a little abstract and sometimes the lecturers may confuse you. Just ensure that you distill the conflicting information properly so you know what is right. Civil Litigation is bulky so you need to pay close attention to it; else you will find yourself lagging behind and having so much ground to cover.

In all, Law school is a mini NYSC before NYSC; you will meet people from all over Nigeria. Make maximum use of it. Have fun, rest well, eat well and read. Please read. I wish you God’s best.

 

Tosin is an Associate at Banwo & Ighodalo, one of Nigeria’s foremost law firms.