I have not spent one year being a lawyer but I have had enough experience to last me a lifetime. The dramas and razzmatazz of joining the “Apex Team” in the chambers died down both in my head and in the office just the way it came. We all identified our limits and resolved within ourselves to stay within them. It did not come on a silver platter. Yours truly had to earn her respect by establishing and reestablishing the fact that she is a rookie and should be allowed to make her mistakes and learn.
Today, I want to talk about the high point of the week for me and it centers on a word, so common yet so scarce; “Compliment”. Does anyone notice how much good compliment does to a person? Regardless of who you are and whatever height you have attained, a compliment or two always makes a person’s day. I am of the firm view that many young lawyers who hitherto, sat on the fence between litigation and corporate practice mostly fall off the fence to the later as a result of their nasty encounters at the initial stages of attempting to appear in court. You have angry counsel wanting to devour you for the simplest mistake, you have very stern and no nonsense looking judges who smile only to the SANs and senior lawyers. The atmosphere generally is always too hostile to the new wig. Yes we knew, we were properly told that legal practice is serious business, so, you don’t need to act it for us and get everywhere tensed to show it to us. Five years in the university and one year in law school taught us all that. I always try to tell assure and reassure myself that nobody was going to beat me up or throw me in jail in the courtroom. I ask why? Why do we have most of the lawyers too serious? Why are the judges too serious, especially to most of us that are attempting to learn the rope? Does it mean that there was never a time they did not know how to just do it right? Or is it the case that they had forgotten? I continued to ask myself these questions each time I finish from the courtroom with all my repeated mistakes until I met a judge who did it for me!
Wednesday came and they called the application “innocuous” in the office and I was asked to go and take it. It is an application to change the Defence witness and amend some minor error in the statement of defence. We had filed it since three weeks and there was no counter filed for it. Just move the motion, it is granted and then you take a date for trial.
I was in court before 8:00am. My routine in court anytime I am to appear alone is simply to ensure I get to the premises on or before 8:00am, most times I wait for the Registrars to open the court room, place my stuff at the most comfortable position, check the bar list, then sit down to continue reading my file and writing down possible issues from the other side or the Judge and my response. Sometimes I discover something that I may need the help of senior lawyers to explain before the court sitting. So generally I try to be well settled in before other lawyers start coming in. This day was not different. While I was checking through my file, the courtroom gradually became bubbly with both lawyers and litigants looking for space to sit and exchanging pleasantries. I just watched.
9:45am court started sitting. I was before a female judge and our matter was listed as number 12 out of the 14 cases on the bar list for the day (I observed that when a matter is listed for trial or continuation of trial, it is often listed as the last). Our matter though listed for trial would not go on for trial since I had an “innocuous” application before the court. At exactly 11:am our matter was called. After announcing my appearance being the Defence counsel, the Claimant counsel rather than allow me to introduce my “innocuous” application jumped to his feet. (This makes me jittery all the time). I closed my eyes and said a very short prayer. I was asking within me, what in heaven’s sake he wanted to say. That was how he started o:
“My Lord, today again, the Defendant’s counsel have frustrated the progress of this case, this is the third adjournment at their instance. They have again sent a junior to take further date. My lord, if they are not ready to prosecute this case diligently, we know what to do”. And, he went on and on and on and on!
By the time he was done, I was confused. Seeing that I got confused the beautiful and very unassuming female judge, whom I would forever keep in my book of “good record” (I will buy that soon) spoke;
“Counsel, you are preempting your colleague. She has not said she wants an adjournment.” Facing me, she beckoned “Miss Eyisi,” I was already standing, battling with over a hundred things to say and which one of it is most correct and appropriate in the circumstance. Then came the magic words from her; “Calm down! What are we doing on the matter today?”
Every part of me instantly responded to those first two words. And I automatically owned the floor. Ignoring all the Claimant counsel’s rants completely, I started.
“My Lord, we know that the matter is for trial today, but the witness for the Defendant has left the employment of the Defendant and that was why we were taking adjournment to enable us try to locate him. We have succeeded in finding another witness and we have an application to bring him in. We also have an application to amend a few figures wrongly used in the statement of defence. (then I remembered innocuous” and so I added) it is an “innocuous” application” (they all murmured), we served the motion for amendment on the Claimants since three weeks ago and they did not oppose the application. My Lord, in view of the fact that we would still require to amend the processes. That is why my senior did not come to court with me.” We are most obliged. (**rolling my eyes***).
The only next thing I head was “go ahead and move your application in terms.”
Application moved and granted, this way:
“ordered as prayed. Defendant to file the amended statement of defence within 7 days, Claimant to file consequential amendment if any within seven days, case adjourned to ….” For trial at 12 noon”
And the whole people chorused “As the court pleases.”
Then came the big moment. My Lord spoke again; “Miss Eyisi” I jumped to my feet.
“I note particularly, the way and manner you spoke calmly and boldly in response to Mr.… I must commend that.”
“Mr. …., calling your colleague a junior counsel just because you are not happy about the progress of the matter was not too good” Inside me, I went oh, ok, that? Well, he didn’t lie now and I did not even notice, I am very junior and I don’t mind. In fact, I am a proud rookie!
So, I immediately leveraged on that to say:
“My Lord, no offence was taking, actually I am a young lawyer on my youth service ma.”
That was when the doors to the praises were opened. She was short of praying that I make it in life. Generally I felt loved, accepted and cherished. It only took the humane judge to give me the acceptance I had craved all the time I have spent trying to find my footing in court. That for now, was my happiest day in court.
I look forward to appearing before her over and over and over again. The way it is in my mind, there is nobody I will not be able to face before the Judge.
Dear ma’am Judge of the Lagos High Court, I pray you may get to read this, and you will remember because, you saw I was close to tears and you spoke for long because your spirit connected with mine and discovered what I was longing for. An onlooker may well have thought that you knew me before. This is Cecelia Eyisi, saying Thank you so much ma’am Judge for the compliments! You gave me the confidence to renew my aspiration of becoming one of the few best female advocates in Nigeria.
Back to where I started from, it takes nothing to understand a person’s predicament and build them up, it may be as little as “calm down” and as long as an hour counselling, so also, it takes even littler to destroy everything that a person has toiled for a long time building. The magic of commendation can only be appreciated if you have seen the opposites.
By the way, who else noticed that yours truly has really improved in this courtroom business?
Being in Apex Team is bae!
Keep it locked!