Echoes From The Court Room: “My First Court Appearance”

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Do you still remember your first court appearance? Was it pleasant or did it leave you wondering whether you made a mistake choosing to become a lawyer? What lesson did you learn from your first court appearance? How did that lesson shape you as an advocate?

We asked lawyers.



I was asked to Move in Terms

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell my first court appearance story. Hopefully, this will encourage a new wig who may be having his/her first court appearance alone.

My name is Ekene Okwumo. I was called to the Nigerian Bar as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court in December 2010. My first court appearance was in January 2011 during my National Youth Service Corps in Ibadan, Oyo State.

The previous day, my Principal informed me that I would be going to court to move an application to amend our Statement of Claim. The application was unopposed. I recall that I became nervous immediately I was informed. However, to calm my nerves, I picked up the Case File and read the pleadings, and the application I was to move in court.

On the particular day, I arrived early in court and looked for a comfortable sit. I can’t remember the name of the Judge, but I remember he was a male judge. The court began to sit at exactly 9:00 am and soon my matter was called. I announced my appearance and informed the court of my pending application. The opposing counsel informed the court that he was not opposing our application. Then I began to move the application as we were taught in Law School. During my time in Law School, we were taught the long process of moving an application.

The judge stopped me and asked that I move in terms of my application. At the time, I didn’t know how to move in terms and was almost fainting from my nerves. The Judge noticed I was nervous and asked if I had just been called to the Bar. I said yes and he was magnanimous enough to teach me how to move in terms. Thereafter, I proceed to move in terms while the Judge was smiling. I was happy that my experience wasn’t as bad as my colleagues who were bashed by the court.

The experience helped to build the confidence I needed in my legal practice whether while appearing in court or at meetings. Also, because of my experience, I mentored new wigs giving them the necessary support required to grow in the legal profession.

Thank you once again for this opportunity.
…Ekene Okwumo

He Struck Out My Case

My first court appearance was before Honourable Justice K.O Alogba of the Lagos State High Court. It was my second year at the Bar as my first-year was spent at the NYSC.

The experience has been indelible. It is an experience I recall every time I approached the Lagos High.

I was working with the firm of Shina Adedeji & Co.  I was full of energy and I had a penchant for all thing litigation; my principal noticed that and exploited it.  Though I would say that he gave me all the necessary support and practically helped to shape my future as a practicing lawyer.

on this fateful day, I got a call from my principal around 6.30am directing me to proceed to Ikeja. The next thing that followed after he hung up was the particulars of the matter that I was to appear in and the name of the Judge with an instruction to “urge his Lordship to grant us a further adjournment to enable the parties reach amicable settlement“. That sounded like a reasonable instruction, so it should be a walk in the park. But I was wrong.

It was a land matter. Our client, (an aged woman who I was told would also not be appearing because she had no one to assist her to court ) was suing the Lagos State Ministry of Works and Housing for demolishing her property to pave way for a public utility.

The counsel from the Ministry of Justice I think is also now a Judge.

Unknow to me, both sides in the matter had been dragging feet due to technical hurdles and had been using the excuse of “amicable settlement” to keep the matter on the cause list all to the annoyance of his Lordship. Apparently, the Defence counsel hadn’t appeared in court for about 3 consecutive proceedings. At the last adjourned date, his Lordship had  issued a final warning to both parties and directed my office to write to the office of the AG, intimating them of the court’s desire to proceed to trial if no progress was made towards settlement. I wasn’t aware of all this.

I had innocently prepared to get to court, make sure to announce my appearance properly and be careful not to refer to his Lordship as “your worship” and then with a smile, request his Lordship to grant further adjournment. And that would be it.

As soon as I announced my appearance and I was about to say the rest of what I had in mind, my Lord interrupted my thought:

“Yes, Mr. Abdul-Salam, did you write the letter to the Ministry”?

I was dumbfounded! “What letter”? My brain rang out. I was immediately sweating. I didn’t even come with the case file to start with. I was literally “dead”

My…my Lord…am…am…I..” was all that I could mutter with my voice that had suddenly left me and I was struggling to bring it back. I felt blank.

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My Lord could see from his bench that there was no file in front of me; the only thing I had in my front was my diary, a pen and my soaked handkerchief.

What was happening? I only came to court to get an adjournment.

Then I managed to be lawyer again and I felt that not serving that letter would be a serious issue, and reasoned that my principal would have written the letter. So, I raised my sweaty head and blankly announced to the court that we had written.

“I want to see the acknowledged copy”.

My heart sunk. The weather wasn’t helping. The courtroom suddenly became too hot. despite the 2 units of cooling system blasting cold air at me from each corner of the courtroom. I almost fainted.

Then I snapped out of it again; I told myself “say something, everyone is watching”.

“My Lord, unfortunately, I don’t have the case file here with me. I came from home to avoid the traffic but I forgot to bring the case file of this particular matter (as if there were about 5 other case files in front of me other than the diary, pen and my liquefied dignity inside the handkerchief).

Then his Lordship looked at me momentarily as if about to “sentence” me, he opened the court’s file, flipped about two pages and read out from earlier adjournment up until the last page. “If by the next adjourned date the Claimant’s Counsel did not write to the office of the Attorney-General this suit shall be struck out”.

He struck out the matter and told me, “next time you are coming to the court make sure you know about the matter you are to handle”.

Finally, it was over but the damn sweat wouldn’t stop! I couldn’t leave my seat. I just buried my head in my diary pretending to make notes. It was really humiliating but I later got to realize that it was good knowledge for me.

If I had not had that experience, I probably would have been very sloppy in practice today. The highest lesson I got from the experience was to never appear unprepared for anything.

Although, I have appeared in other cases before his Lordship over the years, that particular experience still lingers. All my years of practice, I try very hard not to ignore any information. I don’t go to court on behalf of anybody on short notices unless it is a matter that I have appeared in on several occasions whether alone or with colleagues. I take note of all warning signs whether or not they are directly related to my affairs.
…A.T. Abdul-Salam Esq.

I Rehearsed Repeatedly

My first appearance was before Hon. Justice G.M Onyeabo. She presided over a court at the commercial division, TBS annexe of the Lagos high court then (can’t remember the court number again). It was my second year at the bar I believe.

I must confess that I was quite nervous leading to my appearance. I rehearsed repeatedly everything from announcing my appearance to addressing the court. Mi Lord must have noticed my greenness as she was helpful to the extent legally permissible. It was an eye opening experience. The relief was clearly written on my face upon finishing my business that day!

Over the years, attention to details, proper planning and learning to anticipate the directions issues can go are qualities that I picked from my experience of the first day.
…Adedeji Aniyikaye-Quadri

I was Chastised  

My first court appearance was at the Badagry High Court. I was probably a year or two post call and I appeared before Honourable Justice Oshodi.

It was not a pleasant experience at all. I was asked by my Principal to just appear in court and ask for an adjournment. I got to the court, and did exactly as I was instructed. I asked the court for an adjournment but the judge insisted that the matter must go on. I did not study the file at all. No body prepared me for any other outcome except the adjournment.

I tried to think on my feet immediately and informed the court that I just came into the matter and will need a little time to know the facts and come back.

The judge became furious. He told me that from the evening of the previous day that the file was given to me, till the morning I appeared in court was enough time to have gone through the file. I told him I was not ready.

After a long chastisement from the judge on how he started his legal career and advise for counsel to always be ready at all time, I was glad when he eventually adjourned the matter.

Twelve years after, I appeared before the same judge for another land matter, now at Ikeja. After our trial sessions, he mentioned my name in the open court and asked if actually I work with the ministry or the matter was firmed out to my chambers. He commended my diligence and trial skills.

Even though he never knew it was that same lady he disgraced in his court years back, it was a consolation for me that finally, I received praise from the same person that condemned me.

That first experience helped me a lot, in the sense that after that day, I will always go through whatever file I am handed over to, before appearing in court.

I really thank God for where I am today.
…Uzokwe Ifeyinwa



My Principal Abandoned Me in Court

I was called to Bar Dec 2010 immediately I resumed at my PPA (Adebayo & Gbadamosi {Legal Practitioner}. I appeared at the High Court 11, Ring Road, Ibadan before Hon. Justice P. Y Ige (now of the court of Appeal Abuja Division)

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I was told to pick the case file on my principal’s (Adebayo Mutallubi Ojo Esq. {Former AG Oyo State} table and follow him to court but unfortunately for me, immediately we got to court he received a call and had to leave me ALONE with the file and gave me the instruction to move the motion recently filed for extension of time to regularize our defence in the matter. I was dumbfounded and was looking up and down jittery. I just summoned the courage and looked at proceedings going on in court and fortunately someone moved similar application. I just took hint from the counsel and I did same when our matter was called.

The counsel for the Claimant wanted to serve the Writ on me because there were 2 defendants in the matter and we were appearing for the 1st defendant (MD of the 2nd Defendant) the Judge made it known that service of originating processes is personal and referred him to a case: KIda V Ogunmola.

The experience made it dawn on me that as a lawyer we must always be ready for eventuality all the time and carry the slogan of the Boys Scout which say : BE PREPARED ALL THE TIME !
…Kasunmu Oluwafemi Samuel

I Told the Justices That I was  a New Wig

My first court appearance was at the Customary Court of Appeal Enugu State. I was about seven months at the bar.  I appeared before Hon. Justice G. C. Nnamani Hon. Justice Onaga and Hon. Justice Obayi.

I appeared as a Respondent’s counsel. I was jittery because our office had filed the Respondent’s brief out of time, with no motion for extension of time, and with no payment of penalties. The Appellant’s counsel enraged threatened me with cost application despite all my pleas.

When the matter was called, I announced my appearance and told the Justices that I was a new wig and appearing before them for the first time alone. After my submission, the appellant’s counsel applied to court for cost against me, I pleaded with my Lords that it will be devastating to me if I should go back today to my principal with costs, I threw myself at the mercy of my Lords. And they obliged me.

The experience really challenged me and gave me the courage to move on despite all odds.

For now, I am fine and pushing and ready to reap all the fruits of legal practice despite all odds.
…Nelson Bosco Uchechukwu Attamah

I Spoke From the Inner Bar

I would have been derobed even before I started practicing. It was at the Court of Appeal Lagos. It was quite an experience. I was “directed” to appear in a matter that we already had notice debriefing us from the client. My Principal had handled the matter at the trial Court until judgement was given in our favour even before I joined the firm in 2011.

We were handling both criminal and civil aspect of the case for the client.  My Principal had withdrawn appearance from the criminal case and wanted to continue with the civil case, his reason being that the client refused to attend court for fear of being arrested.  Unhappy with that decision, the client debriefed us from handling the case on Appeal. My principal had already prepared the brief for filing and was not happy that an incoming counsel will just reap from all his effort.

Hence, we must go to the court of appeal to show our appearance. I got to the court of Appeal, Lagos, ( Panel 1) I can’t remember the names of the Justices, but the court was filled to the brim although the inner bar was empty

As I was standing outside the Bar with other counsel waiting to have my matter called, one of the Justices asked that we should come and take the inner bar. I joined others to sit at the inner bar and soon enough my matter was called. Well “our” matter was called. The Appellant’s counsel announced appearance. But the Respondent had two counsel announcing appearance.

The three wise men looked up and of course they did not have time for the drama. They ask who I was. Of course, I was the Respondent’s Counsel. They looked at each other and asked the other counsel too who she was. She narrated the true story of how we were served with the notice of change of counsel and how they have served us and how I was appearing against the Respondent’s will. The three wise men dropped their pen and two of them removed their glasses and turned towards me again.

“Mr. Kadri, can you please confirm whether you were served or not”

Your Lordship sirs, I don’t know what the counsel is talking about”

Then, she brought out the proof of service showing the endorsement on the copy of the process bearing the name of our Litigation Assistant

“Mr. Kadri, why are you lying? Don’t you know the Miss XYZ on the process?”

“Well, your Lordships, she use to work with us but…”

The one that refused to remove his glasses then said in anger; “are you lying in the face of proof?”

I knew at this point that I should not push my luck further. So, I used the only joker left, hoping to be let off.

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“Your Lordship sirs, I am speaking from the bar and not just the bar but the inner bar”

At that moment they all took up their pen and the remaining two put on their glasses. It worked, they were all smiling and the entire court room went up in laughter.

I continued, they gave me all that I needed to proceed;

“Although it is a privilege from your lordships and I am grateful for sitting here today.” And the laughter came even from the bench.

And then one of them simply said,

“Okay then, Mr. Kadri, leave the inner bar and sit down because you are not in this matter again”.

The whole court roared in laughter and that was how I escaped any form of tongue-lashing and possible discipline.
Kola Kadri

I Shifted for a SAN to Join Me on the Front Row

My name is Ferdinand Emeka Ugwuarua. I am from Enugu State. I was called to bar in 2008. I served in Kwara State, in the office of Prof. MM Akanbi SAN. As at then, he was the Dean of Faculty of Law, University of Ilorin. We were more into legal research. As a result, we appear in court intermittently. After my service, I wished to practice and had to join the office of Dr. D.A Arioyosu and Co.

My first court appearance alone was before a court of record presided over by Hon. Justice Gafar, (now of the Court of  Appeal). I woke up early in the morning that faithful day and got to Court first. It was a court sited out of the capital city.

The only experience that was remarkable to me as a first timer was my encounter with Pa. Olorunonisola SAN in the said court. As a fresh wig, I never knew most lawyers in town let alone the big masquerades. The learned Senior Advocate met me comfortably sited at a choice location of the front sit of the court rehearsing what to do before his lordship in my case when the learned SAN stepped into the court.

Of course, after pleasantries I was shifting for him to enter the front row with me innocently ignorant of his status as a senior advocate of Nigeria and he was wondering who is this small lawyer trying to accommodate him albeit magnanimously in his mind? Because I had gone back to my file not looking at him again and waiting for him to join me having created a space for him to occupy beside me.

He threw one question to me and I quickly recollected myself:

He said, “are you a senior advocate or still an aspiring senior advocate?”

I quickly looked at his gown and decoded that he was a SAN, then I quickly abandoned my sit with apology but he told me not to border knowing that I was a legal neophyte.

Eventually, my case could not hold on the said day.

Thanks.
Ferdinand Emeka Ugwuarua

I Took A Ruling

My first court appearance was before Honourable Justice Buba at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos State. I was one year at the bar. It was a good experience. It was for a ruling. Thankfully it was in our clients’ favour.

It gave me the confidence to appear in court alone, as I had been dreading the day I would appear alone before that.
…Oludayo Ayodele Okeowo



Judgment was in my Favour

My first court appearance was at the Customary Court Ado-Ekiti in Ekiti State. I was about 3months at the Bar. I can’t remember the name of the judge now but it was an awesome experience, because judgement was given in my favor and a senior was on the other side.

The appearance gave me the confidence in handling of cases.

Thanks.
…Omani Michael

Prosecution Counsel Misled Me

My name is Adenike Badaru. My first lone court appearance was two weeks after Call to Bar. It was at the Lagos High Court, Ikeja division. I cannot remember the name of the Judge. It was a pro bono criminal matter and I was asked to represent the firm as other counsel in the firm were engaged. I got to the court and discussed with the state counsel prosecuting the matter and he told me he wasn’t prepared for trial, he did not even have the case file with him, so he said I should tell the court that I was appearing for the first time and that I wanted the case adjourned, not knowing that the judge was strict and the prosecutor wanted to escape the brunt of the court. The prosecutor did not even give me the proof of evidence as the case file was not with him.

The matter was called for trial, the prosecutor got up and told the Court he was ready for trial and I told the Court gullibly what the prosecutor asked me to say, the court was so angry with me and told the prosecutor to commence trial. He then started stammering, I happily told the Court it was the state counsel that advised me on what to say in Court that I was a new wig.

The Judge said to me that even when I am not sure about what is happening in my matter, after conversing with the counsel on the other side I must make sure to seek the opinion of another colleague in Court as the advice of the opposing counsel might be to his own favour.

I still use the Court’s advice till date.

Adenike Badaru

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