To Whom Can We Pass the Baton?

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As we edge on into a new decade, looking onwards from what can be best described as an excruciatingly painful year, I am acutely aware of the fundamental demand for law and lawyers in our societies to steer the ship. The events of the recent past have shown that there are significantly wide gaps in the legal and justice system in Nigeria as well as in the support that the legal services industry provides to the business ecosystem in Nigeria. While there is still a pervading lack of faith in legal solutions as a first resort for social and business problems, there seems to be a clarion call for lawyers to lead the way in the development of a viable legal and justice system. This call is both from practitioners and the communities that we serve. As our transactions become more sophisticated and we build institutional infrastructure, opportunities will increase and the demand for quality legal services, skill and knowledge leadership will expand. As such, there is a need for continuous repositioning to ensure that the mileage that these opportunities provide is indeed realised.

The role of young lawyers in this developing legal ecosystem cannot be overrated. Young lawyers are especially suited to harness the advantage, flavour, speed and traction that technology and a more connected and globalised business environment present to the industry. Occasionally, in conversation with more experienced lawyers, they speak of legal luminaries, heroes past, their work ethic and prowess and their tutelage under them. They ask with uncertainty, “to whom can we pass the baton? who is ready to give it what it takes?”. They express a strong desire for a tribe of young lawyers who can take up the challenges that the developments in commercial law practice mandate with similar skill, courage, wit and professionalism. They are conscious of the immense potential that young lawyers have and hope that increasingly, young lawyers rise to the occasion and display willingness for the refinement that the “heroes” demonstrated.

The primary ideal that is transmitted in the preparation for practice is the concept of the dignity of the profession rooted in dexterity and excellence. Many young lawyers struggle to relate with these ideals, for different reasons including the litany of institutional problems in the legal education system in Nigeria. While institutional efforts are necessary, they are complemented or in some cases, obviated by individual effort. I have seen several young lawyers take up the challenge already in entrepreneurial endeavours or even intrapreneurial success within the organisations that they work. Albeit, a critical mass is required for impact and more of us must catch the bug and begin to build ourselves up nonetheless. Some tips that I have identified from giving this more thought are set out below:

Get hungry: the more I watch the professional trajectory of many successful lawyers, I realise that their professional success is largely predicated on their hunger. Hunger (being the desire to know, practice and master a body or system of knowledge) is a fundamental requirement for success as a lawyer. In engaging many lawyers, I realise that a lot of us are driven but not hungry. They are two different things. Hunger for knowledge and mastery is the secret tip to success. The hunger is expressed in ownership of tasks when handed over. Hunger is also expressed in work ethic and in habits built over time.

Equip ourselves: legal education as we know it is not sufficient to meet the requirements of practice. The work that needs to be done via continuous legal education is a personal responsibility and its impact is largely underrated by lawyers. The distinction in market that we see is in many cases because of personal equipment. Dexterity is not always premised on natural endowments. Many times, the superstars are only displaying the result of compounded self-development.

Embrace a culture of excellence: Here, I will keep it simple. Mediocrity is culture in Nigeria, it is time to lose this culture. Push the limits, do more than is meet. This is a personal charge that must be rehashed every single task, every single time. The demand for excellence is driven from the inside. Be that person whose judgment people can defer to because you will do more. Whatever the demand, give it your best shot and if this is not enough, embrace the skill development that helps you deliver on being the best.

Stand in line to build the legal services industry: It is time for batons to be passed across the industry. Dexterous seniors are seeking spinal assistance from young lawyers who have built stamina and are ready to build, get in line so that the labour of the heroes now passing can be augmented by our excellence.

Oyeyemi Aderigbigbe is a Senior Associate at Templars law firm and the Chairperson, Nigerian Bar Association, Section on Business Law, Young Lawyers Committee.

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