Diary of a Rookie Lagos Lawyer (4): The Horror of First Court Appearance

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I began to hear real gist about first court appearance and the horrors associated with it during my final year in the university. The thing is, I had a friend whose elder brother was three years our senior, so we always got these gists ahead. I remember when he told us about the Law School Dinner and the insinuation that it is an initiation ritual. We broke the story in school then and while many were fidgety, fanatic wannabe lawyer like me was looking forward to the initiation. So, his first day in court was not an exception. My friend’s brother told us how he made very silly mistake and we both laughed him to scorn. From that day, my eagerness to one day appear in court intensified. I looked forward to the day I would have the whole audience in court listen to me with rapt attention.

The moment I resumed at work, I was attached to Senior MO and instructed to report directly to him and make all his instruction priority. That automatically meant that at the end of assignment of cases for the week, anywhere I saw his name, I was to prepare to be in court. I checked the outlook for the week and saw that Monday through to Thursday of that week, we would be in court. I got myself ready and was looking forward to my first court appearance as a lawyer with a senior.

On Monday we were at Federal High Court Lagos. Our matter was for hearing of an Originating Summons and I watched senior MO with so much admiration wondering when I would get to the level of standing boldly before the court to speak and marshal my points. Well, thing is,  I am a combination of boldness and timidity. God has a way of wiring people the way it pleases him. So, the ones that have seen me shy would quickly say, she is timid while those that have seen me in my element would fight the other group that saw timidity. In all, the fact that I can be bold and timid is not really the issue, the issue is that I do not have control of the two emotions and when and how they manifest. They have minds of their own and manifest at their discretion. So, I do not have the power to control which emotion is displayed at any particular event. I may be desiring boldness but timidity would prefer to happen and vice versa.

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Well I did not have to wonder for long about when my first appearance in court alone would be, the day came on the third day of the same week. It was a Wednesday. Senior MO suddenly called me on Tuesday and casually said “Cece, you may have to handle this matter tomorrow o.” It was a mixture of over twenty emotions, the most prominent being anxiety and excitement. The day has finally arrived. I would be in court to announce my appearance and not just nod my head in acknowledgment of being mentioned in court.

I left Senior MO’s office immediately and started rehearsing the best method of announcing appearance as if that was what mattered.

“May it please the court, my name is…”

“With Profound respect to this Honourable Court, my name is …

With utmost humility, I am ….

With due respect my Lord …

I was on this for over 20 minutes before I remembered that, I didn’t know anything about the file or what the case was coming up for. I rushed back to Senior MO to ask. Senior MO explained, that we were for the Claimants and the matter was for trial but the Defendants had an application for a minor amendment. We did not oppose the application and all I needed to do was say to court that “I am not opposing.” And when the application is granted, say to court that we shall be asking for another date for trial. The court will then give a date.

I thought to myself, “well that is pretty simple.” Once in a while throughout the rest of the day, I spared a thought over what I would do in court.

The next day, 7:20am I was at Ikeja High Court looking for the court room of Honourable Justice Ope (not real name). I located the court and was seated after confirming that my matter was number 12 on the cause list.

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Then I realized that the emotion that was going to play out was the timid one and battled in futility to subdue and replace timidity with boldness. The more I did, the more nervous I became.

While I battled with my emotions, I also observed that My Lord Justice Ope was not really in a good mood that morning. She was cranky and scolded almost all the counsel for one mistake or the other. I lost about 5kg of my weight. My palm and my feet were all sweaty and my head was pounding. At intervals my heart popped into my mouth like it was suddenly going to pop out. There was no going back. The day had finally come.

 Addressing the court was a dream I had from my first year in school. I was not your normal bookworm and I never participated in any moot or mock trial in school. My bad! Finally I heard my matter announced and I jumped to my feet.

May It please the court….

I did and then heard myself from my subconscious. If the judge heard me, I did not recollect. I had my lines written down and as I sat down, I ticked the first line; “appearance checked.

My Lord was waiting for the lawyer on the other side to announce appearance and so was I. There was nothing. I just sat there.

Next thing I head was the judge calling my name and asking what is the matter for today?

Well I jumped on my feet. Senior MO did not tell me about a situation where the lawyer on the other side would not show up. I was confused as to whether the matter should be coming up for trial or for moving application. I just stood motionless! It was turning out the bad way.

Lady justice Ope! Oh my God! She glared at me and the next I heard was, what is your application counsel? I heard myself saying “My Lord, the Defendant is the one that has application. We don’t have application ma”

At this point the whole court room was in uproar. There was laughter, there was murmuring, there were hisses and my Lord looked at me and shook her head.

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Well I immediately ran my brain scan through all my experiences during court attachment. How come I never saw a situation where the other counsel was not in court to move his application? At that point I remembered something. It was a not too serious phrase used by counsel during court attachment which I found amusing. “May we be guided by My Lord” I did not know that the sound was audible.”

Ope started:  “guided on what please?” What do you want me to guide you on? Please you are wasting my time I do not guide counsel anymore. I stopped guiding clueless people who come here to waste the precious time of everybody!” Those lines killed me three times over! I lost it! I was completely blank! Then I heard the voice of that Angel, I greeted him when he sat next to me but I didn’t pay attention to him at all.  He simply said to me, “say to the court that you shall be asking for an adjournment to enable the other party come to court.”

“My Lord, we shall be asking for adjournment to enable the other party come to court.” I repeated it without mistake and that was it. But justice Ope was not done with me! She certainly wanted to finish me.

She looked at me and said “what is your claim before the court?” I forgot. My God, how I read that file. I read the file from cover to cover but I could not remember anything anymore. My whole head was blank! So I stood transfixed and she came down heavily on me again. Justice Ope actually said I was not serious. She said I would prefer to stay up all night on the phone than read my file. She also said I would prefer to spend hours in front of my mirror making up and applying artificial things rather than take practice seriously. Those words stabbed right through my heart! If only she knew! Well I heard the most beautiful word “Registrar give me a date” And I heaved a sigh of relief.

Out the door, I broke down and cried helplessly until I didn’t have any more tears.

My first day in court!

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