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.