I must begin by congratulating, my soon to be colleagues who will be called to the Bar on the 30th of September 2016, exactly 5 years since I joined this noble profession. As a fellow junior member at the bar, I pray that you will take these words as my infantile advice to you.
- Being called to the Bar is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end:
I can only imagine the joy and the pride that most of you felt when the final results were published and your names appeared therein. It is an ecstatic feeling knowing that you will soon belong to the same profession that has produced great leaders all over the world. It may have been a very grueling journey over a 6 year or 4 year period (depending on whether or not LLB was your 1st degree or post graduate degree). I am sure at publication of the results, most you may have said “Finally the Battle has Ended”.
Well I have bad news for you: The battle just begun.
You will soon realize that there is more to be done as a lawyer than there could have ever been as a law student. One of my favorite quotes about Albert Einstein is that “He was no Einstein when he was a student”. The journey to success as a legal practitioner just begun, it has not ended so guild up your loins and let the watch word be forward.
- The Wig and Gown brings respect; but your integrity maintains it:
The legal profession has recently come under severe criticism because of the perception of bribery and corruption. Once you are given that wig and gown, you are tempted to think that you are above the law. No you are not.
People will respect you because they know you are part of a noble profession. Being part of a noble profession does not necessarily make you a noble person. You need to read the Legal Professions (Conduct and Etiquette) Rules over and over again before you begin your full life as a practitioner. Trust me if you do so, there are so many pitfalls you will avoid.
Building a reputation as a sincere lawyer is something that is so difficult to achieve now, but once you do, guard it with all your life because your longetivity in this profession, depends so much on the reputation of sincerity you are able to build over time. If you throw your reputation to the dogs and engage in activities which are not worthy of a lawyer, you are finished. It is more dangerous these days because Anas may just be watching you.
- The Bar Sticker will not bring you cases; knowing people bring briefs:
I am sure that for most of you, getting a bar sticker is one of the first things on your mind (i.e. if you already have a car). Some may have already put it on their windscreens before being called to the bar. There is so much pride in putting the sticker on the windscreen, at least to get some sympathy from the Police in case you fall short of any traffic offence.
More often than not, we are tempted to think that the bar sticker will help people easily identify us as lawyers and bring us cases. Well, it is not entirely true.
This profession is about knowing the people who matter in the society. It is about building a Clientele base. Your success as a practitioner depends largely on the circle of Clients you have. So instead of sitting in your car and expecting people to walk to you and ask for your cards, go out there and fish for them. Do not be only a member of the Bar, be a member of the Society. Make friends, anywhere, anyhow and anytime.
- Your Suit and Tie will not bring you money; your knowledge and Skill will:
Yes it is true that a lawyer must look and speak well. But Clients are not interested in models or English tutors. Clients want lawyers who can bring solutions to their legal problems. Your appearance and oratory may attract many a Client, but your substance and depth of knowledge of the law and its application to solve their problems, is what will make them pay you your fees. So do not be so interested in investing only in your suit and tie, also save some for your books and law report; for Solomon said in all your getting, get wisdom and understanding.
- Don’t always trust your seniors; they don’t trust juniors anyway:
This is a very sensitive subject, but it surely the hard truth. A senior once told me that in this profession, there is no handing-over; there is simply no retirement. A junior must therefore not aim at taking over a senior’s practice. It won’t just happen. You are not your senior’s priority. His reputation and business are more important to him. He will be willing and ready to sacrifice you any day for these two things. Never think you are indispensible. You need to respect your senior but learn to be selfish and cultivate your own dream. That is the only way you can reach the top. I believe I may have just told you why many a law firm do not survive after the death of the person whose name appears on the signboard. Look out for yourself because no one else will.
- Your senior’s fruit may become your seed; never despise any “left-over” Client:
The usual practice is for seniors to hand over to freshly called lawyers briefs that have “no juice” in them. These briefs usually have Clients who do not command the “time and attention” of the senior for one reason or the other. The senior may despise such a Client or brief.
When such a brief is handed over to you, treat it is as a seed. Handle those Clients and briefs with care. You will be building a foundation for your success in the profession. If your invest in those seeds, the Client will appreciate your time and effort and begin to make referrals to you (sometimes on the blind side of your senior) and that will be the beginning of your journey to having a trusted and solid clientele base.
- You can’t stop learning; you risk being a local champion.
It is easy for lawyers to be content with the good reputation that they may acquire within their region or even in the country. But the world is a global village and the various legal systems keep churning out new legal principles and challenging old ones. To be up to speed with the changing trends on the legal profession, you simply cannot stop learning. Attend seminars in and out of the country; buy books from other commonwealth countries and learn to apply yourself to new developments in the law. That way, you can rob shoulders with lawyers from all over the globe.
I will encourage all of you to dare to dream, dare to shine, dare to be first and dare t be bold because in this profession, there is always room at the top. I wish you well.