How To Be A Nigerian Lawyer – By Elnathan John

Life is challenging. There is a reason your poor family decided to pool resources to send you to Law School. They didn’t send you there to take the long route – serving some stingy senior lawyer or law firm for 5-10 years before you can afford to make it on your own.  I will treat the issue of stingy senior lawyers another day.

When people ask me how it feels like to be a lawyer, I often save them from the disappointment that the truth is sure to give them; I shrug, smile and add to whatever mystery already exists in their head.

But you, my faithful reader – especially you, the new lawyer or law student – I will tell the truth. I want you to, at least, like your banker colleagues, be able to afford to pay your own rent and buy a clean second hand car in the first to second year after your call to the Nigerian Bar.

Register your private law firm as soon as you finish and print your letter head and complimentary cards. Your cards especially should have your full and imposing title: Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. I mean a lawyer knows that’s all hot air but to a non-lawyer it makes you seem like you learnt under Saint Paul himself and have your office right in the Supreme Court. Hustling must start immediately, whether you work in a law firm or not.

Learn how to eavesdrop on people’s conversation for any possible legal services they may need. Somebody’s wife was slapped. Apologise for butting in, then quickly inform them that under our legal system, that is a crime called assault. You are a lawyer and you can help them. By help, you mean take their money. If they look at you funny, whip out your card. They will see that full title, which is a killer. Suddenly you will appear more intelligent, more important.

When you walk into a big store, don’t just buy stuff and leave. If you can see the manager, ask if they have registered their business with the Corporate Affairs Commission. Company registration is a no-brainer. Yes, serious lawyers snub it but what do you care? Offer to register their business for less than what your colleagues charge. The idea is turn over. If you have many companies to register at the same time, it won’t matter that you are charging less (and spoiling business for other hustling lawyers).

You must never ignore police stations. There is always money to be made there. Anyone who calls you a charge and bail lawyer, God will judge them harshly.  Take keen interest in the affairs of your neighbours. There is always someone dragging someone to the police station or someone being arrested for something.  Don’t wait until you are called. Go there and offer your services. Trouble is your business.

The art of securing bail is one that only the streetwise can handle.  No one will teach you that in school.  They teach you crap like “bail is free” and “no one must be held for more than 24 hours without charge”. Bah! The Police in Nigeria don’t care what you’ve been taught, in fact, the more legal you get, the more complicated things get for your prospective client. And trust me there is nothing worse than messing up a neighbour’s case.  You don’t want to be sneaking into your own neighbourhood at odd hours. I have only, in my four years of legal practice, secured one free bail. And that was only because the DPO was on the Investigating Police Officer’s (IPO) case for something else. I cashed in on his confusion and by the time he realised I was not going to give him any money, my client had been released and bond papers signed. He, however, took me to the side and gave me a good talking to: “Na you make your client no give us anything abi?”

Moral of the story? Common sense is more useful than law inside a Police Station. You have no friends inside a Police Station. Bail is hardly ever free.

You must learn to negotiate with the IPO firmly, respectfully and pragmatically. Learn this and you will become hot cake in your community, making so much money that you won’t care if anyone calls you charge and bail.

To avoid the stereotypical look of the struggling Nigerian Lawyer – shirts that were once white, shoe soles eaten to a 45 degree angle, a heavy tattered bag containing everything from your wig and gown to dozens of company registration forms and affidavit forms – you need to also be an estate agent. You must befriend as many landlords as you can so that you will have signboards reading “TO LET” on as many empty houses as possible.

Look for people trying to sell houses or land and help them aggressively market it. You never know which 10% commission will take you permanently out of poverty. When you have sold that expensive house and ride home in a Range Rover Sport (with NBA stickers in front and behind) no one will bother if you ever go to court or not. Your neighbours will hail you as you drive past: ‘Barristaa!’

It is no surprise that struggling lawyers are the most hated in their families. The reason is simple. After supporting you morally and otherwise to become a lawyer, the least they expect from you is to make reasonable contributions at family events and send money into their accounts when they call you.

God forbid that you become a struggling Nigerian lawyer. Follow my advice and your family and neighbours will think you are the best thing since point-and-kill. As always, God bless your hustle.

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