It is commonplace for lawyers to wear the number of years of practice post the auspicious call to the bar as a badge of honour and receive acknowledgement of this as the measure of value gained as a lawyer, as well as the measure of substance or reward to be attributed by community, or even in the workplace. Lore has it that there are longstanding protocols, social seating requirements and obeisance rooted in this ideal which amount to sacrilege, if breached. That is how salient time as a measure of career success is.
One must acknowledge that time is indeed a badge of honour in the legal community, as well as a fundamental measure of the journey and the value that any lawyer can bring to the table. However, adopting time as the only measure of progress is quite dangerous. Many have been led astray to rely on time as the primary metric only to subsequently learn that they cannot trade time in for value when they seek to. It is important to note that the essence of your career is to enable you to trade in your resource(s) for value, both personal and organisational. If one is unable to get value on demand, then there is no point. Many young lawyers are at this crossroad when they are trying to switch roles, change jobs and or apply for a scholarship or endorsements. The rude shock of realising that the sum of your years at the bar cannot earn you certain roles or opportunities is one that many young lawyers encounter periodically and where not properly assessed, could result in significant frustration. I have queried this several times and the perspective I have gained is that the ideal metrics involve way more than the measurement of time. More importantly, I have learnt that to make time count, there is a certain driver on which time spins, and it is “hunger”.
Lawyers sell experience, and the customary assumption is that accretion of experience is equivalent to capacity. This is not the complete picture. The summary of what lawyers present to the world is more than experience, it is, “expertise”; the ability to do something well. It is the measure of delivery capacity, and this is the primary need of every actor in the legal services community including the employer and the client.
Expertise has surpassed all the other metrics of time and experience in relevance and is at the heart of the reward systems that channel the legal services community. This means that expertise is the end of practice and until one can display skill one is not fully formed. Skill does not happen to lawyers; it is worked at hard intentionally. It is based on a defined agenda that must be clarified from time to time. The litmus test for clarifying how much skill one has acquired is largely connected to a primal display of hunger.
Hunger is not only desire but is also to be wielded as a career skill as it is the fuel for grooming expertise. Hunger for more, for definition, for clarity, for success, for value and for results must accompany the daily quest of the young lawyer. Where hunger is missing, expertise is not possible.
Hunger is the young lawyer’s weapon and will become a career asset. The same way we feel hunger every day; there must be a career quest that drives us to aim and measure capacities that we can trade for value. The moment one loses the sense of a quest, introspection is necessary.
We all need to remember repeatedly that discomfort is the antidote to a mediocre life. Hunger is that discomfort that you fuel daily. If you are asking how to wield hunger as a career skill, I share some tips below.
Trigger your restlessness: There must be a measure of restlessness that you must keep, to build towards expertise. Career milestones will bring pleasure and hopefully, satisfaction. A satisfied lawyer must albeit retain just enough room for discomfort. Reaching for more than is obvious or understood. Every leader or successful career person will describe their version of hunger and it could sound like any of the following “what next?”, “what more?”; Hunger is the fuel for career success and must be skilfully wielded. The moment, you lose your hunger pangs in your career, pause and measure. Measure why you are losing the quest and get help clarifying the basis of this change so that you can make good decisions.
Hone your knowledge muscle: Continuous legal education is not an add-on; it is the life of your career. It is the centric force on which you build your value quotient as an individual. Failure to learn or increase knowledge that adds to the quality of your practice guarantees that you will plateau at the level of knowledge unimproved. No matter how inundated one is with work requirements, a system for grooming knowledge must be adhered to. Join clusters of knowledge, or even business communities of non-lawyers which will help you improve your knowledge of the law in several sectors. The value for such communities is not just networking, it includes access to information and personal resourcefulness.
Let Hunger deepen your expertise: The more you strive for expertise, the deeper you grow in capacity. Lunge forward into uncharted areas, new areas of knowledge or interest and work to deepen your skill set over time.
Time is in motion, but it has to be in tandem with expertise for value optimisation. Hunger is the key to ensuring that these career twins are not distorted.
Are you hungry?
Oyeyemi Aderibigbe is a Senior Associate at Templars. She is also the Chairperson of the Young Lawyers’ Forum of the Nigerian Bar Association-Section on Business Law.