Tuesday, 19 July 2011


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I once sat to an out-of court settlement forum on the opposing side of a learned SAN. Daunted by the prospect, I had researched vigorously and come up with an infallible proposal, waiting eagerly to see it stun the silken one. Two hours later, my back still ached from the condescending pats he administered (good job, son! good job!...you have a bright future in the practice). Meanwhile, he had my client hopelessly seduced with his joviality- “Trust me sir, I hate court-rooms...I hope we can kill this matter before it gets there!” he crooned while making hasty red markings on my proposal. My client nodded along, blissfully unaware of how those red marks twisted his case beyond salvage.  

“You see”, the SAN started a monologue as we reclined in the leathery interior of his BMW (while I silently charted alternate courses for the transport-stipend my client had earlier provided) “It beats me completely when today’s young lawyers come up with paranoid ideas of some evil machine working on a steady grind to annihilate them. And in typical extremities of youthful ignorance, these ideas have been crystallised into a mindset. They suspect anyone upwards five years at the Bar of being part of a crew installed by ‘the system’ to operate the said evil machine.” I listened. He continued, “A quote from the 18th century Greek, Hesiod easily comes to mind - ‘When I was a boy, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders...but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint’
I hear they are even moving for a minimum wage for young lawyers; the temerity!” He gasped, turning to me in purple faced indignation. I fixed my stare on the glittering dashboard; silence is golden. “We do them a favour when we employ them, I tell you!  For what is intelligence without experience? Law practice is a juicy morsel you can only nibble upon sprouting the teeth of experience. We help them cut their first tooth, and it is bad enough that we suffer the double jeopardy of also paying them salaries...now they want to fix the rates!  The world is surely at its twilight when we  allow the issue of fair  recompense to be determined by  some psychedelic youth forum.

And the ridiculous chants to scrap this title, our little reward for a life of drudgery in the law’s temple. They try to support this position with claims that we block them from the largesse of legalesse. Ha! These kids have outsized self-beliefs I tell you. So they really believe they can compete? Clients are not fools. Winning cases has never been about lengthy research and smart presentations. If that was the case, the law would not thrive. Forget all that talk of no-adverts, the Law sells as a brand. In the legal marketplace, we have built brands. Clients are suckers for brands. Have you never asked yourself why despite the hue and cry of our high prices, we keep winning them? Do these neonates know this? They whittle down fees to ridiculous rates, and vaunt about revolutionising legal practice to become more affordable! Refined clientele flee from such roadside peddling.

Do you think the world is blind to the falling standards in the profession? This consolidates our position as rare species, who must be optimized before the entire legal structure falls to the ruins of the young bar. I have loads of them in my employ; what do they do? Waste all their time on the social networks and Blackberries. I humbly take my fair share of blame in this. I was the one that availed them computers and internet connection in the first place. Well, I have learnt that kindness does not always pay off. And they claim to work like robots, well they do. They churn out volumes of briefs and motions but the intricate process of structuring these to a win-win situation is what they are incapable of. 
Let me tell you, intelligence without initiative is useless. Theirs is a workmans’s mentality, and we treat them as such. How often do they initiate projects? Never. They are only about their salaries and allowances. They will grow to turn the profession into a vista for the mediocre...hopefully this will transpire after my lifetime.
Yet they shout for equal rights. That in itself is a measure of their superlative ignorance. The first maxim at the Bar is seniority...an age-long exception conceeded by the concept of Equality before the Law. What are their options? To operate misguidedly and try to win clients without mentorship and make further mess of the law’s reputation which they are already doing a geat job of rubbishing? See, I have a son in High School, a precocious dude, and he’s only fifteen.. He stands a better chance of making partner in my Firm than many of those shoddy young ones. My boy already stands up to me  without cowering and never takes no for an answer, the most essential attribute of a good lawyer. I now believe that perpetual succession should be advanced in Legal practice only if subsequent take-overs are from the Principal’s lineage.

I read of newspaper articles condemning the idea of juniors carrying our bags. Oh, you think we started that practice? No! It is merely an obsequious display which the incompetent hand tries make amends with. And now they turn it around to make us look like slave-drivers.  A judge once insisted in open court that I address my staff as “colleague”, I retorted that I would be doing the profession disservice by doing that, as the fellow’s case was so hopeless. I had since convinced myself he would at best function as a paralegal, and routinely assigned him such non-intellectual tasks as....well, carrying my bag. Everyday, I pray for the rascal to resign, but he sits smiling at every thinly veiled insult I throw his way. His numb skull probably managed to register a clause in his employment contract that entitles him to an extra month’s salary upon terminantion from my side. And I will not voluntarily finance the release of that hazard to the streets.

The funny thing is that I have witnessed many previously young lawyers metamorphosize once they attain their sixth year at the Bar. They are the quickest to scorn their immediate juniors, they are quick to betray their peers for a few privileges we dangle. I enjoy setting them against one another and seeing them fight for my approving nod or thumbs-up. They preen visibly at my slightest compliments and suspend further talk of salary review or any such ambitions. I deliberately make them aware of my assets, and nurture their dog-like loyalties along with their dreams of sharing in a huge rush of profit, someday.  

I also hear they are fighting the worthy efforts to electronically verify entrants to the legal sphere. In their shallow thinking, they fail to see the prospects this has of narrowing competition. Or maybe (as my precocious son pointed out) they are saddled with discomforts that their oftentimes dubious qualifications coud be called into question.”
He paused suddenly. “How long have you been at the Bar?” The truth forced an escape through unwilling lips. “Three years sir.” His eyes moved shiftily “Oh, you must note that there are a few exceptions to the general. From your intelligent proposal, I think you have a bright road ahead. Here’s my card, if you ever need better mentoring, we can discuss terms.”

I alighted, and for once the heat waves of Abuja was welcoming. I stared at the retreating vehicle and slowly released the shreds of his Call-card to the lazy hot wind.


First published in Thisday Newspapers: July 19, 2011