1. I am always amused by the eagerness of young lawyers training to be litigation lawyers to appear in court on their own. Many times, i listen to complaints about “just sitting in the office, doing nothing”, “just being led by my Principal to court without being given the opportunity to appear on my own”. At other times, it may be the boast of another young lawyer bragging about “conducting a trial just two months after being called to Bar”. I do not think there is any advantage in beginning courtroom appearance very early in a lawyer’s career. The emphasis should be on how a young lawyer is prepared for courtroom appearance and not on how early he starts.
2. This is not to say there is a disadvantage in beginning early, but if I were to advise a young lawyer preparing for a career as a litigation lawyer, i would tell him that it is better to delay courtroom appearances until one is properly prepared for it.
3. I was called to the Nigerian Bar on 30th July, 1983. My first courtroom appearance was in September, 1984, the second in October and the third in January, 1985. I was posted to the Central Bank of Nigeria to undergo National Youth service from July,1983 till July 1984. I did not go near the courtroom throughout that year. At the end of the service year, i rejected an OFFER to be retained there as i had already made up my mind that i wanted to practise law. A very good friend of mine informed me of an job opportunity in Gani Fawehinmi’s Chambers and i resumed work on 1st August, 1984.
4. How did this decision prepare me? The salary i was offered at CBN which i rejected was THREE TIMES that which i got as a junior in Chief Gani’s Chambers. Some of my colleagues at CBN thought i made a mistake. The resolve to choose legal practice made me prepared for the rigours of work in a top law firm. That was all i had: RESOLVE. NOTHING MORE. If i had sat for a law test, it is very likely i would have failed it. But what Chief Gani wanted was not the law i had crammed. It was only RESOLVE.
5. I was employed with some of the best legal minds of my set into a very big project. We were to read ALL the judgments of the Supreme Court from 1956-1984, extract principles laid down in the cases and support the principles with dicta of the Justices. Five of us read over 3000 judgments from 1st August, 1984 till 31st December, 1984, a period of just 5 months. During that time we also extracted the principles and quoted the appropriate dicta. Without resolve, we could not have finished this massive project within such a short time.
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6. In the five months, our court appearances were very few. It is true we also appeared at a military tribunal twice or thrice, but none of us could boast of more than six appearances in total. When we finally hit the ground running in January, 1985, we had been well prepared. I desire to share this preparation with you as a young lawyer
7 a. The quickest and best way of growing as a lawyer is to read judgments of the courts, particularly the superior courts of records. In a judgment, a lawyer learns the errors of other lawyers so as to avoid them. He understands statutes as they are interpreted, which of them are voided as unconstitutional and which require amendment. In a judicial decision, a lawyer learns how to be a good draftsman, avoid the pitfall in copying “precedents” and can better advise parties to commercial transactions.
b. Read judgments of court as you read novels, or WhatsApp messages. I recommend that you read a judgment of the Supreme Court at least every other day, three every week. You can alternate with judgments of the highest courts in England, Canada and the US. They deepen your thoughts, sharpen your mind and expand your horizon.
c. A lawyer does not have a free time. When a young lawyer is in chambers and not engaged in treating any case, such ” free time” is actually the time of preparing for a brief. The Nigerian client usually does not consult a lawyer until litigation is imminent or has commenced. The time of studying a case and offering an opinion is therefore very short, sometimes not more than a day. The lawyer who is able to respond quickest, within that one day, is likely to retain the brief and the client. Rapid response can only occur through adequate preparation.
c. The I more one prepares before commencing courtroom appearances, the better one performs in the court room. Reading in chambers helps such preparation greatly: writing articles, case reviews, reading law reports, biographies of great lawyers, asking questions from seniors, watching proceedings of foreign courts online( thank God for technology) are some of the ways the time in chambers can be usefully spent.
8. Never rush to start appearing in court. He that makes haste in this way more often than not becomes a half-baked lawyer. I add this with deep regret: the courtroom is more and more becoming a place to learn how NOT to practise law. This is because many are in a rush to get there and having not been well prepared, they hinder instead of helping Judges. Don’t complicate procedure by lack of preparation. Prepare in chambers before venturing out to the ‘war-front’ of the court room. It is not during a football match that a player learns throw-in. A soldier who wants to learn how to shoot after arriving at the battlefield is not likely to return alive.