In every profession in the world, nearly everyone begins their career from the bottom of the career ladder but with an equal likelihood of reaching the dizzying zenith. Few do, some even manage to achieve a moderate level of career success, while others remain languishing at the very bottom where they had begun.
When you look at the legal profession today, it’s this same phenomenon that plays out.
What therefore sets the achievers and underachievers apart in any profession is their ability to know what early choices to make to pull ahead of the chasing pack.
Lawyers who reach the top of the legal profession know that HOW THEY BEGIN THEIR PRACTICING CAREERS MAY DETERMINE WHERE THEY END UP IN THE PROFESSION.
By making tiny adjustments and improvements to their professional lives, they are able to add newer dimensions to their careers to gain rapid momentum for the top.
New wigs who wish to witness this same rapid progression in their budding practicing careers must look to emulate these achievers by doing exactly what they did to get ahead. If you are wondering what to do, this article shows you how.
- WORK AT IMPROVING YOUR COMMAND OF ENGLISH
In practice, a good command of English will help a lawyer become more articulate, gain greater fluency with words, improve their advocacy skills and boost their powers of persuasion.
Some of you may wonder what’s wrong with these following statements: “The accused started the fight but the deceased was at fault for provoking him”.
“I sent the letter I wrote to my client before I realized it didn’t have my letterhead”.
But if you are a student of grammar, with little difficulty you know both statements are grammatically incorrect.
The first makes a common punctuation error for joining two independent clauses without putting a comma before the conjunction “but”.
The second, besides being a pretty hilarious thing to do, uses the wrong tense to emphasize the idea of completion of an action in the past before another. The right tense ought to be the past perfect as in “I had sent the letter I wrote to my client before I realized it didn’t have my letterhead”, not the past simple as was done in the above case.
That should make a very compelling case for why young lawyers need to work at improving their grasp of grammar. Because while mistakes like these may well escape the attention of our unsuspecting colleagues, hardly would it happen with either our eagled-eyed senior colleagues or the painstaking judges who often sift through our filed court processes.
Knowing the appropriate punctuation to use in your writing, what tenses convey the exact time reference you intend, or whether the sentences you make adhere to the guiding rules of concord can make the difference in both your written and oral arguments as a legal practitioner, to say nothing of the burgeoning reputation it can earn you with senior colleagues as a meticulous and thoroughgoing fluent professional.
The obvious negatives of a damning neglect to take your command of English up a notch would result in your being perceived as the poster boy for ear-aching bad English, ungrammatical writing, and error-ridden legal processes by both colleagues and members of the bench before whom you appear.
And in a world where rumors travel much faster than the speed of light, it may not be long before this gets to the ears of your potential clients and leave them in doubt of your ability to competently handle their matters.
As a young lawyer, bad English is the one thing you don’t want to be known for. Because the effects can be bad for your nascent legal career as I have already shown.
But if however you care about the accolades that come with being known for correct, fluent, and flawless English, it’s not too late, or early to embark on the exciting journey to grammatical nirvana.
There are many books on the subject of English grammar. But if like me, you would much rather gain grammatical mastery with fun without sweating blood, I would suggest you read Geraldine Woods’ Grammar for Dummies. It’s a great book for its simplicity of approach to such a complex subject (the title may sound insulting, but the book itself isn’t).
- SEE COMPUTER LITERACY AS A MUST
Lawyers often complain about the disruption of the legal profession by emerging technology and the threat it poses to their jobs.
But let’s face it, the legal profession has always been an intrinsically anachronistic profession that has from time immemorial been the champion of societal evolution while it has itself violently fought change to safeguard its time-worn traditions. The wig and gown is an example of that.
Not only has it become our collective identity today but a relic of a forgotten past and a symbol of British colonialism. Yet, there are many lawyers who would take up arms against anyone who even moots the idea of its being jettisoned.
Such has been our attitude to innovation. Our fears of identity change is the reason the profession has taken so long to fully take advantage of crucial breakthroughs in tech.
Not until recently, our relationship with technology used to be one of love-hate. Once there were lawyers who didn’t own laptops, see the need for a social media account, or official websites for their law firms.
Thankfully that’s changing. We’ve finally been dragged kicking and screaming into this fast-paced age of technological advancement and innovation. Our current use of technology is beginning to change the face of legal practice, helping to reduce the burden of manual work and increase the ease of conducting legal business.
There are now robot lawyers, virtual firms, virtual law libraries and what not. Technology has already begun shaping the legal industry while opening up new frontiers of employment opportunities that might not have been thought possible before the dawn of this technological era.
But these opportunities are only available to young legal professionals with sufficient computer literacy.
By “computer literacy”, I’m not suggesting you become a tech geek wannabe, or make a beeline for a career in coding. Far from that, I’m advising you get more adept at using a PC. That includes being able to type documents on a computer keyboard without getting the horrors. You should know how to use basic Microsoft Office packages like Excel, Word and Power Point.
The demands of today’s legal practice requires that lawyers be more than familiar with legal principles. The new watchword is computer literacy, because a lawyer who knows all the laws there are, but hits the Enter key when turning on a PC (as I have witnessed) would likely rely on others to prepare their legal documents. Such a lawyer, without meaning to, might indirectly be breaching their duty of confidentiality in handling clients’ sensitive information with regards to third parties.
As for young lawyers, the benefits of computer literacy are much more obvious and its lack would no doubt leave you in a position of weakness in a ruthlessly competitive profession. To give an apt example, in job interviews where candidates are neck and neck in credentials – as it often happens nowadays – being computer literate can tip the balance in a candidates favour.
Lacking this might result in your losing the position to a more qualified candidate who’s more computer literate – even when it’s clear you would put Lord Denning to shame in knowledge of legal principles.
- TAKE THE LONG VIEW
Becoming successful in legal practice requires that young lawyers approach legal practice with the passion of a sports fan, the patience of a kindergarten teacher, the energy of a child, the perseverance of a marathon runner, and the dedication of a bodybuilder.
These qualities are essential because they help young lawyers reach the cornerstone of legal practice and to attain the ultimate prerequisite for success in practice.
For want of a better word, it’s what I like to call ‘field experience’, which is something that often comes by several years of application of one’s legal knowledge to actually solving client’s legal problems. From observation, lawyers who possess this much-needed experience enjoy an elite status in the profession, are highly sought after, command bigger legal fees for their services, and consequently go on to have flourishing careers.
It’s in view of this that I often advise that young practicing lawyers take the long view on their goal for practicing law. In effect, this means seeing their primary goal as acquiring practical experience, and making money – which is something very important to us all- as being the end result of that.
I’m saying this because, owing to their relative practice inexperience, the take-home pay for young lawyers takes them only half the way.
So any young lawyer who goes into legal practice with only the high ambitions of, say, getting constant credit alerts, buying a Porsche, owning a house in Banana Island, and going globe-trotting within their first few years of practice may suffer the same reality check as an online shopper who thought they had ordered the latest I Phone on the cheap from a cunning E-commerce seller but got the phone case instead.
Such a lawyer is sure to have their hopes ruthlessly dashed when they find legal practice to be disappointingly unlucrative and unrewarding, leading them to call time on their rather young legal careers and to walk away from a profession that does generously reward the experienced.
To avoid falling into this trap, go into legal practice with the readiness to stick it over the long haul, despite the beginning low pay for new wigs, and one day you might join the elites of the profession who make fortunes in legal fees.
- EXCEL AT EVERY TASK YOU’RE GIVEN
“Plus Ultra” is a term that should be easily recognizable by those of you who, like myself, are itching to see the next episode of the popular running Japanese anime series Boku No Hero.
For the rest of you who think there are better things to do with your time, the term means “Go beyond”. Applied to practicing new wigs, I’d like to think the words demand we exceed expectations wherever we are, and at whatever task and assignment that are assigned to us.
In another sense, it suggests we push ourselves to over-deliver on every job we do, to go the extra-mile and to raise the bar for high quality work in our places of work.
Like the hardworking Midoriya in the series, this commitment to excellence can help us stand out and shine out of the anonymity of a vastly over-crowded legal profession.
The result is often a reputation for top-of-the-line work at our various firms. There’s no better advertisement for a young lawyer than that. Because it attracts attention and praise from our employers, wins over their trust, ends their skepticism of us, leads to greater work responsibilities while generating recommendations for promotion, and finally translates to more referrals, which is something critical to any lawyer’s success and by the same token to any law firm’s.
- GET A SIDE HUSTLE
With the current low pay for young lawyers, new wigs who decide they want to go into full time legal practice need to seriously consider other available means of earning additional income to support themselves while they are focused on racking up relevant work experience.
Relying on earnings from practice alone is a sure recipe for frustration, chronic want and deprivation. To avoid finding yourself in such predicament, having something to earn you some side income should be high on the agenda. There are a lot of income earning opportunities for interested young lawyers out there. You can blog, work as a freelance writer, or even trade forex – all of which are things I’ve done. You can also come up with other ideas that are tailored to your unique interests. But whatever side hustle you choose, be sure it doesn’t violate rule 7 of the RPC on engagement in business.
Wrapping Things Up
As with the starting phase of any endeavor, legal practice is challenging for young lawyers. And the perks are often not as rewarding as many might have first thought. But young lawyers desirous of having long successful practicing careers like many of their industry idols need to look beyond money as their motivation for practicing. Gaining work experience needs to be the main focus. Once this is in place, other things like money are all but guaranteed.
They have to see the opportunity to practice as providing them the backdrop to put classroom theories into practice for improved professional competence and to hone their lawyering skills.
They must go into practice with passion, perseverance, a strong work ethic, and a resolve to excel at every task while showing the readiness to keep learning on the job. These are what makes the successful lawyer, and should be every young lawyer’s aim.
To get in touch with me, you can reach me on my email at [email protected]
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LL.B from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
To get in touch, follow him on social media.