Diary of a Lagos Rookie Lawyer (16): Practice Has Taught Me (II)

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Litigation is the Most Difficult Aspect of Legal Practice

I am not up to one year at the Bar. You can argue with me by the number of your years at the bar and be able to defeat me with many points but it still would not change what I am thinking. It is also possible that as time progresses my perception may eventually change but for now, I strongly and sincerely hold the view that litigation is where the most tedious of legal work is.

Prior to writing this, I took a little bit of survey by asking senior colleagues in the office. Even those in core corporate commercial department confirmed to me that litigation is more tasking. There are lawyers in ministries and government parastatals, there are lawyers in companies acting as company secretaries and legal advisers. I have had to meet them at meetings and during some of our interface at the office. These people always seem to me to have comfortable work schedules. Not so with the litigation people I have been with. They seem to always have deadlines to beat.  I recall my first few weeks at the office, both SAN and the Managing Partner were always hard on the Litigation Team. There seem to always be something they failed to do or did the wrong way. Corporate commercial on the other hand always appeared to be on top of their games. I was beginning to think that they were more intelligent and wondering why management was not switching the teams. But now I know better.

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I have personally come to a conclusion; litigation practice takes a lot of hardwork, diligence, patience and commitment. I am not by any stretch of imagination saying that corporate practice and the rest of other arms of legal practice are not tedious, I am only making a comparative analysis.

First, it would appear that all the litigation team members are always in a hurry. The motions that must be responded to by counter affidavits within seven days don’t seem to finish. Around here, the procedure looks a bit unfair but they say that is the only way things get done. In the event that you fail to file anything within time and there has to be payment for default, for every day of default, your salary is deducted by the amount to be paid to court and you are charged for every facility you used to prepare your motion for extension of time. The only thing covered by grace is the time you wasted going to move the motion for extension of time. Each time a motion is served on the firm, the counsel in charge of the file goes into a frenzy. I recall when one counsel had about four counter affidavits to file within seven days. For a whole week, his routine was get to work earlier than everyone, retire to the library and around evening, someone would have to go and practically drag him out to eat, may be breakfast. And this is some kind of common occurrence around here. I can be tossed between five counsel wanting me to quickly get one authority or the other and sometimes helping to just get something started, no matter how little. It can be crazy. That is just on ordinary interlocutory filings. I have not mentioned preparing originating processes or responding to originating processes; final written addresses which sometimes are on cases as old as ten to five years and has gone through about four counsel. You get to just put the pieces together; There is also preparation and conduct of trials; endless research on principle of law; the endless preparation to go and counsel on the other side both senior and junior. Countless sleepless nights trying to read files back to back to ensure that you deliver top notch argument, dripping with excellence (SAN’s mantra). I could go on.

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Comparing these guys with those in corporate department, they are just more busy. There are times I have also seen corporate department sleep in the office to prepare international standard agreement, but they do not work under as much pressure as those in litigation. The only time they work under pressure is probably when they have a dead line to deliver reviewed agreement or newly prepared ones. These are not as frequent as preparing for cases in court.

I am not sure I have given a good analysis of this point. I am not even sure I am correct but please don’t forget that my analysis is based only on what I have seen around me. Don’t also forget that  I am just a few months old at the bar. This is just my observation and it is subject to change with time and experience.

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