The Successful Lawyer: “The Not To Do List (1) – Tosin Ajose Popoola


Dear Colleagues,

In our quest for success, we take on a whole lot of responsibilities while adopting several text book techniques. Some of these techniques work, but their efficacy is dependent largely on our attitude to work, the habits we pick up along the way, things we do and most importantly the ones that we choose not to do. While ticking off all the boxes required to succeed, we must not neglect that our attitudes, as insignificant as they may seem, go a long way in determining our fate.

To attain success, we must endeavor to inculcate some winning habits and drop some which may become obstacles to our winning. In the course of my career, I have identified some habits that are hurdles to success and in this article, I have termed them; ‘my not –to do list.’ This list is a product of my years as a litigation lawyer.  I have appeared in all superior courts of record, I have franked briefs, I have conducted trials, I have moved applications, I have applied for adjournments, I have opposed applications for adjournment, I have been commended by High Court Judges and Justices of the Court of Appeal and I have been chastised as well. I have had my fair share of appearance fees drama (story for another day). I have had good days in court. Oh! I have also had bad days; days when all the elements seemed to be against me. I have spent good hours in the court room and I have accordingly witnessed a lot of court room dramas. From all these, I can say, I have learnt a few things.

Within these periods too, I have had to admire a few lawyers for many reasons. Some for their oratory prowess and impeccable command of English; some others for their deep knowledge and appreciation of the principles of law and yet for some others for their good dress sense. Why am I saying all these? It is for you to understand and appreciate the source of “my not to do list”, as Rita Mae Brown An American writer, activist, and feminist once said, “Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decision.

We’ve all heard of ‘to do list’ and I want to believe that we’ve drawn up such a list at one point in time or the other,  it could connote lists of task to be undertaken or chores to be done or even books to be read, whichever way you look at it, they are list of things to be done. ‘Not-to do list’ on the other hand would then literally mean things that should not be done. Simple! Back to my earlier thought, I have seen lawyers fumble in court, I have thus come up with a ‘not to-do list’; this List is custom made for lawyers in Litigation. This notwithstanding, it may be adopted to suit various work environment and career paths. As a young lawyer on the path to success, please keep these few ‘not to-do list’:

  1. Never be Late: You must ensure that you are not late to any place or for any thing. Whether it be for a formal engagement or for some informal outing. Be sure to get to the point where the mention of your name brings that thought of, “he/she is always on time”. When you’re pretty young at the bar and still trying to build your self-confidence, getting to court late can portend a serious disaster. It would further rob you off that confidence you are trying hard to build or ruin the little you have built. Imagine getting to court and hearing that your matter has been called and struck out all because you were late to Court? I know you can relist and do all of that, but what does it say of your professionalism? What does it say of your attitude? Would you be trusted in Chambers with sensitive matters; knowing fully well that you can also get same struck out of the cause list for lateness? What about the client? What if they are in court? would they ever be comfortable with you appearing in their matter or would they say if; Mr. X is going for my matter, I can go to sleep and need not bother going to Court. Can this be their testimonies about you? Please remember that regardless of how brilliant, intelligent, smart and knowledgeable you may be, if you’re not known for timeliness; you would literally make a mockery of your brilliancy. Nobody wants to work with a lawyer who does not have regard for time. Lateness is a vice that you must avoid at all cost.
  1. Shabby Dressing: The legal profession is a profession that thrives on prestige. The saying; “dress the way you would like to be addressed” may have found its root in the legal profession. How one dresses is important for 2 reasons; first, this game is one of perception, so you dress the way you want to be perceived. The second reason is that this is a highly regulated profession with its own unique dress code for Court rooms. Even outside the courtroom, lawyers have an unwritten code of dressing which entails being well trimmed with dresses that are not loud. Dressing shabbily or without regard for the dictates of the profession especially when you have to appear in Court says a lot about you. Some dressing would immediately suggest you’re not to be taken seriously, some would portray you as a rebel such that the moment you act anything close to rebellious, you are not given a second chance. Shabby dressing takes away from your elegance and robs you of self-esteem.
  1. Don’t be sluggish – Remember, our discourse on Industry, this is where you need a refresher (please click on the link). There is no room for tardiness, the competition is tough and the stakes are high. Let’s do better! When you’re given a file in Chambers, please assume full responsibility for it. Do whatever it takes to study your file. It is not the court’s business if the file was given to you a day before the Court’s proceedings, you had a whole night to study it. In fact, it does not also matter that the file was given to you the morning of Court… read it as fast as you can. Don’t come to Court to advertise your ignorance and lack of industry. No judge wants to hear such phrases as; the file was just given to me yesterday; I am only taking a date; my principal said I should only move the motion; I don’t have the rules; and so on and so forth. You can do better, so please do.
  1. Dishonesty: Now, this can be understood in 2 contexts, the first is as within the legal profession and ‘outside’ the legal profession i.e. our relations with client. On the first context, you need to understand that honesty is key in the legal profession. Are you still wondering why you had to do Law & Ethics as a course at the Nigerian Law School? We are professionals, saddled with the responsibility to put our client’s interest second to the interest of justice, truth, fairness and equity. The law demands total honesty, faithfulness and loyalty from us, it’s like equity which does not; “abhor the company of those who are either likely to contaminate its majesty; taint its purity or dampen its allure! Above all, since she does not trade on detergents, those who approach her hallowed portals are forewarned to denude their hands of all dirt and appear with unimpeachable allegations” Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria Limited V. Dr. Tunji Braithwaite (2013) LPELR-20814(CA) 39, Paras. D-F Now, some lawyers have become serial liars to the extent that they lie about their year of call in court. I have seen this at the bar, young lawyers inflating their years of call at the bar to get their cases called before their real seniors so they can hurriedly leave the court to go to nowhere.
  1. Sharp practices: Whatever practice that is unethical is sharp practice and it can cost you your license (call to bar certificate). How can a lawyer stand as surety and/ or guarantor to a client?
  • How can you as a lawyer teach your client to lie in court? Under Oath?
  • How can you deny service of a process?
  • How can you refuse to accept a court process duly served on you or even tell your client not to accept a process duly served?
  • How can you just proceed on appeal to frustrate the other party?
  • How can you devise means to stall trials?
  • How can? How can? The list is endless.
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Do you have a list of your own? Please share with me.

Oluwatosin Ajose Popoola, ‘Tosin is a lawyer, content creator and blogger, she is passionate about law and its numerous instruments. She can be contacted at:


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