Law practice is a business. It is not merely a business; it is a professional business and must be taken seriously. There are various professional business a lawyer can do in Nigeria and they are:
(1) Representation of litigants in any proceeding in court: See Section 36(6)(c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended), UZODINMA V. C.O.P. (1982) 1 N.C.R. 27.
(2) Company Secretary – See Rule 7(3)(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007. See also Section 295 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2004.
(3) Legal adviser
(4) Solicitors and Preparation of documents – See Section 22 of the Legal Practitioners Act.
(6)Appointment into Public offices. For example Attorney General of the Federation or State. See Section 150 & 195 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As amended).
(7)Validation of documents
NOTE: A good career at the Bar should start with a general knowledge of almost all aspects of the Law practice. Too early a specialization should be avoided.
THE QUALITIES OF A SUCCESSFUL LAWYER
The qualities of a successful lawyer are:
1 Knowledge of law and practice of law
2 Skills and experience
3 Hard work
4 Determination and commitment
5 Honesty and integrity
6 Good luck
7 Well organized, focused and eager to learn
8 Humility and respect
KNOWLEDGE OF LAW AND PRACTICE OF LAW
There is a presumption that practitioners are knowledgeable in law, that they have acquired this knowledge through their legal education. Clients consult practitioners because of their presumed knowledge of the law and can use their knowledge to solve their legal problems. A practitioner need not know all the law, what is required is knowledge of where to find the law. Therefore, he or she needs to know the fundamentals of the law, which will be the basis of further research.
There is a lot of difference between knowledge of law and practice of law. Knowledge of law alone does not itself guarantee success at the Bar. In other words, one having good degrees in law does not itself guarantee success at the Bar.
In the case of AKWIWU MOTORS LTD & ANOR V. DR. BABATUNDE will buttress the point that knowledge of law alone is not sufficient for a successful practice. In the matter, Chief Afe Babalola SAN appeared for the Plaintiff/Respondent while Ojo Madueke Esq. appeared for the Defendant. Chief Afe SAN got judgment for his client. The Defendant thought he would win on appeal if he secured the services of a professor of law. He therefore engaged a professor of law to conduct his case on appeal. The only two grounds of appeal filed by the professor were of facts or mixed law and fact which the law requires him to appeal with leave. He appealed as of right. Chief Afe raised a preliminary objection that the appeal was incompetent on the ground that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the appeal because he failed to obtain the leave of the court. The appeal was accordingly struck out.
The issue here is not whether the professor is not learned in law. It is whether he has good knowledge of practice of law. If the professor was a good practitioner of law, he would have taken appropriate steps to save the brief.
However, it is very important to note that you must have the knowledge of law to practice the law effectively because knowledge of law is the bedrock for good practice of the law, the absence of it necessarily means lacking in the basics for practicing the law by any person. A practitioner must have the ability to find the law.
SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE: It is very important to note that knowledge of law is not enough to solve your client’s problem. In addition to knowledge of law, a practitioner must possess skills because it is these skills that would be used to carry out legal work.
The distinction between Legal knowledge and Skill is usually stated in terms of “know-what” and “know-how”. Knowledge of law relates to “know what” and skill to “know–how”. Therefore, a combination of knowledge of law and skills is required to render good legal services to the client.
A practitioner must possess the following skills:
5.Communication and excellent presentation
6.Negotiating and management
Advocacy involves telling a story in a systematic fashion. It must be cogent and compelling. A practitioner who chooses to practice as a barrister must possess advocacy skill.
Advocacy skill includes but not limited to the following:
Knowing the conventions, practices and rules adopted in a court.
It also involves adhering to the dress code in the court in which you appear. There was this handsome, good-looking, well-built and light complexioned lawyer that came to court to handle the case of the client. He came to court well dressed but the suit was shining light blue. When his case was mentioned, he announced himself for the plaintiff. The judge said “you don’t appear”. The young lawyer looked around and wondered why the judge said that. He repeated his appearance again and the judge said “you don’t appear”. The lawyer announced his appearance again and the judge told him that when he has finished his wedding party, “he may then appear”.
Advocacy also involves showing courtesy and respect to the court and your fellow lawyers. A lawyer is expected to exhibit high level of ethical conduct expected of a practitioner. He has to be calm, alert and decorum in postures when addressing the court.
Advocacy also involves thorough preparation because an effective handling of a case in court requires enough preparation. A practitioner must prepare his case with conviction. A lawyer is expected to prepare each case as if the case is the only case of the year. Most cases are won or lost at the stage of preparation. If you are the plaintiff, you must know the fact of the case of your client. You must equally know the cause of action. You must equally find the relevant authorities that support your case, you must fashion your case along decided cases so that when you are leading evidence, you know where you are leading it to.
Advocacy also involves presenting your case before the court. This presentation of cases involves an effective examination-in-chief, cross examination and re-examination. It also involves final address.
Drafting is a legal composition. Every lawyer must involve in drafting. A lawyer may be required to draft internal memorandum, letters, legal documents, legal opinion, advice, and pleadings. Drafting is an important skill that every practitioner needs to possess whether the practitioner practices solely as a barrister or solicitor or as a barrister and solicitor. Therefore, a practitioner must adhere to drafting rules when drafting documents.
Research: Practitioners must be able to carry out legal research effectively. Enough time should be spent on research to obtain the information required. A good practitioner is one who not only knows the law but also knows where to find it. It is necessary for you to conduct a research first before drafting. Practitioners must take notes while doing research and this is why it is important to have practice note.
NOTE: Your well-kept practice note will remain with you forever. Currently, I have over 500 pages practice note in less than two years of my call to the bar.
Negotiation: Every legal practitioner must possess negotiating skills because negotiation is such an important aspect of practitioners work. A practitioner may be engaged by the client to negotiate on his behalf in domestic transactions such as banking, commercial or property transactions. Practitioners may be required to negotiate loan agreements, hire purchase agreements, sale of goods agreement, mortgage and debenture agreements. A legal practitioner may also be engaged to negotiate international transactions. Therefore, a practitioner must prepare for the negotiation effectively by knowing the negotiating strategies, negotiating styles and tactics.
HARD WORK: Legal profession is like a pyramid. The base is very crowded but there is plenty of rooms at the top. The top is refreshing and rewarding. You have to work hard to get there, and you need to work even harder to remain there. You have to work hard to be a successful practitioner. You must also be smart in you work and brain to get there. Hence, there is need for you to work hard to be a competent lawyer. It is left for you to classify yourself either as competent or incompetent lawyer. If you are an incompetent lawyer, the competent ones will eventually use you to shine. Hon., Justice A. A. Ekundayo says:
“Let us get it straight, it is not right to think that incompetent lawyers serve no useful purpose in legal profession. They are very useful indeed. It must be remembered as philosophy teaches us that without blindness, the significance of sight would not be inappreciable; without death, life would be meaningless; without stationery objects, motion and speed would denote nothing and without late comers, punctuality would have no place in the dictionary. So also, without incompetent lawyers, the brilliance of the good ones would not shine. The best friend of a brilliant lawyer is his ignorant counterpart.”
Hard work makes practitioners marketable, law is a utility subject. Therefore, in whatever you do, do it well. Always be polite, diligent, industrious and thorough.
DETERMINATION AND COMMITMENT: You must be determined and committed to law practice to gain success. The beginning may be difficult but your commitment and determination will take you far. In your law firm you must work hard to promote your organizational goals and targets, you must also work smartly to make yourself renowned in law practice.
HONESTY AND INTEGRITY: A practitioner must be honest to the court, client and your fellow colleagues. You must be honest to the society. You must desist from professional misconduct. Honesty gives briefs.
GOOD LUCK: Your success in Law practice involves Your God, Yourself and Your destiny. These three things must work together. Your success in law practice can be determined by a measure of good luck. Good luck provides an abundance of opportunities and when it comes you should grab and seize it. One thing you must always do in law practice is to ask for good luck because God gives everyone opportunity at some time or the other.
WELL ORGANIZED, FOCUSED & EAGER TO LEARN: A lawyer is a gentleman because of the unique ways he presents himself in public both in conduct and appearance. The legal profession is the most conservative one. It is distinct, peculiar and I think beautiful, your character will go a long way to attract brief as well as connections. Don’t think or feel that you know all the law even when you are good in law practice. No Attorney is bound to know all the law and God forbid that an Attorney is bound to know all the law. You must always read, read and read. Law practice requires constant practice and reading
HUMILITY AND RESPECT: The first thing you should learn in law practice is humility. Avoid pomposity. The dress you wear in and out of court must reflect your state of mind, tidy, respectable and not flamboyant. You must learn how to carry out instructions. On the other hand, you must show respect to your colleagues as well as judges. One day, they will stand as threshold to your promotion or success in Law Practice. They are needed in your quest to be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria or a Judge or Notary Public etc. They are the ones to recommend you and also to delay or destroy your ambition.
I will conclude by reminding us that Law Practice is a lucrative job crave with opportunities and riches. Legal Profession is a Honourary vocation. In the case of WILLIAMS V AKINTUNDE(1995) 3 NWLR (PT381) 101 AT 114-115 PARAS H-B; Per Pats-Acholonu JCA held thus:
“We belong to an ancient, to a great, to an honoured profession. The practice of law is a worthy calling. It has rewarded us with financial success and with prestige and Leadership in our communities. It has given us much happiness and the good life. From it we have received the gratitude and respect of our friends and neighbours whom we have served. Our word affords intellectual pleasure with dignity and independence, in competition with our fellow Lawyers with whom we have cemented warm friendships and enjoyed happy companionships. For these blessings, we cannot but have a sense of gratitude and of obligation.” The most productive, unselfish and wholly satisfying repayment of the obligation is constructive work to increase the effectiveness of our judicial system and the welfare of the profession.”
Miracle Akusobi ESQ
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