How do I survive without wages?

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“A salary does not make a person rich, but only gives him the opportunity to take care of his needs. It is not a means of becoming wealthy, it is a means of fulfilling our potential.” – Sunday Adelaja

A lawyer met me recently and said, “I follow Young Lawyer’s Column, and I quite agree with most of your recommendations on how a young wig can grow in the legal profession like packaging, branching out from litigation, finding alternative source of income, etc. Sadly there is an impediment to a legal practitioner achieving all these in the Nigerian legal environment, yet you downplay it like it does not matter; how does a legal practitioner survive without wages?”

Another young lawyer, Tasie Jennifer Chika, in the ‘DNL legal and style, why you want to go to NBA-AGC competition’ wrote, “I am a massive law geek, and attending the conference is actually a bit of a challenge, I work in a law firm but am not being paid.”

According to Fumen Isaac Gandu, “It depends on the arrangement between the counsel-in-chambers and the principal partner; it’s either the principal gives you brief based on percentage, or the firm pays you for any job done by the counsel. To me, in private practice this arrangement works better than the monthly wages as it motivates me to keep my A-Game on, instead of waiting for monthly pay cheque.”

To my mind, there are two sides to this coin of not being paid monthly wages by a firm a legal practitioner is employed by, the firm offers such legal practitioner office facilities for free to conduct his/her private brief, on the other hand, the legal practitioner is not restricted to a monthly pay cheque but rather his/her input and contribution to the growth of the law firm.

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This arrangement is because of the poor monthly wages and welfare packages that most law firms in Nigeria offer. There are law firms that pay good monthly wages, with a welfare package that augments the monthly wages – from loan packages, accommodation allowance, wardrobe allowance, payment of NBA dues, to travel allowance when going out of jurisdiction for matters to be handled by the firm. The downside is, these law firms are few in the Nigerian legal system and cannot cater for all the legal practitioners in the system.

Whatever the reasons might be, I think it is important that legal practitioners get paid monthly wages for working in a law firm, that’s the only way for him/her to discover his/her potentials in the legal profession. Realistically speaking, a legal practitioner goes through five years of university, pays N250,000 (two hundred and fifty thousand naira) for nine months in the Nigerian Law School, (exclusive of feeding, and books), then gets called to the Nigerian Bar and the first place he/she gets employed to is a law firm that doesn’t  pay monthly wages, because of the experience of practice he/she stands to gain while under such employment,  and the provision of office facility to use to handle private briefs for free.

It is understandable that some of our colleagues are without jobs and sometimes need an opportunity like this to engage the mind and develop their practice, but if you ask me, there is no reason to work without wages, the legal environment is not a place to practice under bondage of any sort.

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Having said the above, if a legal practitioner is okay with a job with no wages then he/she ought to be ready to practice with the consequences of working with no monthly wages, and if one cannot survive without monthly wages while on the job, then it does not make sense to agree to an arrangement where a legal practitioner works without wages.

That aside, it is my humble opinion that law firms try to encourage legal practitioners under their employ in any little way they can. Sometimes it’s not about the amount paid but the care and attention given to the welfare of an employee, I might be earning N20,000 monthly and be satisfied with my job because of other incentives that follow.

A young lawyer’s problem cannot all be solved with a monthly pay cheque, but it is better to have something little to take home at the end of the month than have nothing at all.

Godspeed!

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