7 HABITS OF A SUCCESSFUL LAWYER IN NIGERIA
I am humbled and momentously surprised to have been bestowed the honour of delivering this speech at this august gathering. It is not an honour I take very lightly.
The topic I have been assigned to discuss is “the Seven Habits of a Successful Lawyer”. A topic which in itself presupposes that the person chosen to deliver it, is a successful lawyer! It is however my humble opinion that there are in this venerable body, in this esteemed company, many eminent lawyers and jurists who are much more qualified than my humble self, Kayode Ajulo, to mount this rostrum to do justice to this topic.
I am more than humbled by this honour and in accepting it, I stand upon the great and noble shoulders of those eminent men and I can only hope that by the time we are done, those solid and powerful shoulders upon which I stand would not have carried me in vain.
Let me quickly recognise those great and successful giants of our trade that the Akure Bar has been blessed with; Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN, Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, Olagoke Fakunle, SAN, Niyi Adegbonmire, SAN, Dr. Olatunji Abayomi, I.O.A Olorunfemi, Banjo Aiyenakin, and many others whose indulgence I crave to proceed.
Again, since the leadership of the Akure Bar has insisted that I present this speech, I crave the indulgence of all who is present to only listen to the message and discountenance any perceived inadequacies of the messenger.
As a lawyer, whenever one is privileged to deliver a speech, it is expected that one would speak from the position of knowledge and authority. And how does a lawyer get this knowledge and authority? It is usually from books. For example, if one is going to talk about Evidence, it is expected that one should read the Evidence Act, legislations, court decisions and books from great jurists who have espoused knowledge in the course over the years.
However, because of the peculiarity of this topic there would be no need to research on any statute or laws as all that needs be said must be from one’s experience gathered over the course of one’s practice as well as the examples laid by legal giants over the years. (Now you would understand my insistence that my noble seniors are much more qualified than myself!)
For the above reason, our authority therefore would be to a larger extent the styles and practice of the illustrious names I have earlier mentioned and many others. To fully and adequately deal with this topic therefore, it would make sense and would probably be downright unforgivable if one fails to mention the heroes past of this noble profession of ours; titans who achieved great success like FRA Williams, SAN, Richard Akinjide, SAN, G.O.K Ajayi, SAN, Ibrahim Abdulahi, SAN, Philip Umeadi, SAN, Okeaya-Inneh, SAN, Ajibola Ige, SAN, Bankole Aluko, SAN, Chike Chigbue, SAN, Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, Miskom Pueppet and a host of others, all of blessed memory.
Likewise, there are heroes present like Folake Sholanke, SAN, Afe Babalola, SAN, Ebun Sofunde, SAN, Gboyega Awomolo, SAN, Ebun Shofunde, SAN, Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, J. B. Daudu, SAN, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, Kanu Agabi, SAN, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, J. K. Gadzama, SAN, E. C. Ukala, SAN, Yunus Ustaz Usman, SAN, Adetokunbo Kayode, SAN, Adeniyi Akintola, SAN, D. D. Dodo, SAN, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, Wale Babalakin, SAN, Emeka Ngige, SAN, K. T. Turaki, SAN, Chris Uche, SAN, Ajibola Aribisala, SAN, P. N. Ikwueto, SAN, Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, SAM Ologunorisa, SAN, J. S. Okutepa, SAN, Dayo Akinlaja, SAN, Prof Akinseye-George, SAN, Mahmud Magaji, SAN, Femi Falana, SAN, Olumuyiwa Akinboro, SAN, Dame Priscilla Kuye, Dr. Olatunji Abayomi etc. These eminent personalities are those whose lifestyles and work ethics one should study if one is to become an effective lawyer.
Without sounding immodest, I must give myself a pass mark because of all these great names I have reeled out; I have made it a point to have good relationships with many of them either directly or indirectly. Some of them are my direct mentors, while some are indirect mentors because even from a distance at times, I have taken pains to watch and learn from them. I am also fortunate to have started my practice at the Federal Ministry of Justice which indisputably is the largest law office in the whole of Africa whereat I was quite lucky to have interacted with the best lawyers, which has aided my training in the profession.
My brief is to interrogate the station of a lawyer, and with respect, not just any lawyer but a successful lawyer and the habits that characterize the life of such a lawyer, The Cambridge Dictionary defines “habits” as something that one does often and regularly, sometimes, something done so routinely that it even borders on the unconscious.
Let me state at this juncture that the legal profession is one of the most prestigious professions in the world and although in the strict sense of the word, practicing Law encapsulates more than just litigation, as it expands to cover areas such as Corporate & Commercial, Oil & Gas, Investment & Finance, Real Estates and the likes. However for the purpose of this presentation, the focal point must be in tandem with the general circumstance of Akure Bar, the legal practice that involves litigation and Court proceedings.
With your kind permission, I would like to rephrase our topic of discussion and say that we should not be talking about being a successful lawyer, but rather an effective lawyer because an effective lawyer will, in due course, be a successful one.
Success is quite relative. And success is not a destination; it is a journey, a process. What one lawyer considers as success might be radically different from what another considers as success. For example, the idea of success to Eyitayo Jegede, SAN might be when he becomes Governor of Ondo State, while to another lawyer, it might be attaining the rank of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
It is therefore best to talk about an effective lawyer, because effectiveness will keep you focused on characters required for utmost and quality productivity. And, to be effective is to be successful in producing a desired or intended result.
Becoming an effective lawyer in the profession may be quite an uphill task. It takes only a person who knows the secrets, qualities and skills required of a lawyer to become effective. The skills a lawyer needs for an ideal career are things he must be deliberate and intentional in working upon and diligently develop over time. As they say, practice makes perfect, and dedication makes dreams come true.
In my limited and humble experience, below are seven highly recommended habits a lawyer must possess if he aspires to be an effective attorney. I have however not listed them in any particular order of importance, as they are all important for an effective legal career.
Theo Gold, an author said “Communication is your ticket to success if you pay attention and learn to do it effectively.” He further added that, “communication is one of the major keys to success. When one is able to communicate their position, their plan or their ideas effectively, one is able to achieve much more.”
I am sure we have all heard the popular saying that “language is the major tool of a lawyer”. There is no gainsaying that an ability to communicate clearly and unambiguously is a must-have skill for every lawyer. And this vital skill can be developed by engaging in public speaking.
A renowned Human Rights Activist and learned Silk is an example of a great orator with the ability to argue convincingly in the courtroom, even when he has a seemingly bad case. Frankly speaking, the way you communicate as a lawyer will go a long way to tell what you are capable of doing.
Additionally, in this era of front loading processes, lawyers must also be able to write clearly, persuasively and concisely, as they must produce a variety of legal arguments backed by legal documents. To be able to analyse what clients tell them or follow a complex testimony, a lawyer must possess good listening skills.
A lawyer will also have to convey important ideas in a variety of environments and settings, such as: private conversations, informal emails, phone calls, conference meetings, etc. This makes communication skill one of the most important habits a lawyer must cultivate if he really desires to get to the top of the legal profession.
Therefore, whatever means you have chosen to communicate, as a lawyer who wants to be successful, you must do it effectively.
DILIGENCE AND PERSEVERANCE
“Diligence is the mother of good fortune, and idleness, its opposite, never brought a man to the goal of any of his best wishes.” “He who labors diligently need never despair; for all things are accomplished by diligence and labor.”
Therefore, another non-negotiable quality of an effective lawyer is diligence. Diligence is the combination of hard work and consistency. To become an effective lawyer, you must not lack this quality because it takes time for a young lawyer to be noticed. An Indian Judge said that “the success of a lawyer depends upon himself”. And, just as Walter Elliot put it, and as similar to success “Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.”
Even studying to become a lawyer takes a great deal of perseverance and commitment – and that’s before you even start work.
When working on a case, you must be diligent and have the perseverance to complete a quality work, necessary to drive the case to a successful finish. Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, comes to mind when talking about a diligent lawyer who spends enough time on a legal problem until he finds a convincing solution.
This is not a profession for lazy people who wants to win without putting in the required works. Even the Good Book says “Seeth thou a man diligent in his ways, he shall dine with kings and not mean men”! What more can one add?
Allow me to read this words of an educator, Neil Postman, to you on analytical thinking. He was, though, taking to readers but this cannot be truer for lawyers because it is what an effective lawyer should be.
“To engage the written word means to follow a line of thought, which requires considerable powers of classifying, inference-making and reasoning. It means to uncover lies, confusions, and overgeneralizations, to detect abuses of logic and common sense. It also means to weigh ideas, to compare and contrast assertions, to connect one generalization to another. To accomplish this, one must achieve a certain distance from the words themselves, which is, in fact, encouraged by the isolated and impersonal text. That is why a good reader does not cheer an apt sentence or pause to applaud even an inspired paragraph. Analytic thought is too busy for that, and too detached.”
This is simply to tell you that an effective lawyer cannot be lazy with his mind because the fate of many individuals (life and death, win or loss) depends on his thoughts. To win as a lawyer, your analytical skills must be top notch.
Reading large amounts of information, absorbing facts and figures, analysing material and distilling it into something manageable is a feature of an effective law career. Being able to identify what is relevant out of a mass of information and explain it clearly and concisely is vital.
At times, there will be more than one reasonable conclusion or more than one precedent applicable to resolving a situation. An effective lawyer must therefore have the evaluative skills in order to choose which is the most suitable. This skill can be honed by taking large documents or long news articles and making bullet points of the most important themes.
CLEAR SENSE OF JUDGEMENT
To become a successful lawyer, the habit of drawing reasonable, logical conclusions or assumptions from limited information is essential. You must also be able to consider these judgments critically, so that you can anticipate potential areas of weakness in your argument that must be fortified against.
Similarly, you must be able to spot points of weakness in an opposition’s argument. Decisiveness is also a part of judgment. There will be a lot of important judgment calls to make and little time for sitting on the fence.
This is the point where the emphasis on the analytical skills comes in. It is where your must be able to combine clear, undiluted and and deep instinct with relevant knowledge and experience to form opinions and make convincing decisions. You must be able to deploy this at an unconscious level to produce an insight or recognize a pattern that others overlook.
And let me state that what can guide you here is the value you are set to give and the goal you are set to achieve. Once you keep these two in mind, your sense of reasonable judgement will come to life.
Two things that I love most about research are captured in the followings quotes.
“Research is formalized curiosity, it is poking and prying with a purpose.” says Zora Neale Hurston.
And according to Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, “Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.”
Diligent and efficient researches also play a huge role in a lawyer’s day-to-day job. This gives an inkling to whatever situation a lawyer finds himself and also helps to activate other necessary requirements to deploy when faced with a situation. Research is unavoidably important especially when doing the background work on a case, drafting legal documents and advising clients on complicated issues.
In the same vein, being able to research quickly and effectively is essential to understanding your clients, their needs, and to preparing legal strategies. In fact, what differentiates a good lawyer from a bad lawyer is the level of research they put into their work.
I don’t know if this truth is popular or not, but I know it for a fact, through diligent studying, careful observation and detailed experience that you can’t go it alone if you want to establish a fruitful and fulfilling career as a lawyer.
Instead, staying connected to a robust network of your peers and definitely your seniors will help you have an edge in the field. Your network can give you advice, direct you to helpful resources, and even help you land new clients.
Almost anyone you meet can be a possible connection. From your law school classmates to your former clients, every professional you interact with can potentially provide insights, resources, and opportunities that could make a substantial difference in your career.
Law is not an abstract practice. Irrelevant of how well someone does academically, at the end of the day lawyers work with people, on behalf of people, and the decisions that are made affect people’s lives. They must be personable, persuasive and able to read others. In doing this, a lawyer in this present time must be conversant with the use of technology, particularly the social media as an effective tool for great networking.
In one of my researches on the importance of being a creative lawyer, I read this statement and I found it appropriate to introduce this last habit I want to share.
“Law isn’t always seen through a creative lens, especially when compared to more artistic sectors. It’s often perceived as rigid, academic, and perhaps a little dry. Law may be built on precedent, but the profession is ripe for change and is ready for an injection of all-important creativity.”
Sincerely, many people may think that the legal profession provides little outlet for an individual’s creative talent but this isn’t the case. No matter what aspect of the legal profession you choose, you will frequently have to think outside the box to get the job done.
The very top lawyers are not only logical and analytical, but they display a great deal of creativity in problem-solving. The best solution is not always the most obvious and in order to outmanoeuvre your challenger. It is often necessary to think outside the box.
In actual fact, creativity is highly sought after by clients, even if it remains somewhat unacknowledged by most within this legal profession.
Who is then being creative if not a lawyer, who can read a sentence and interpret it in many parts to give various logically convincing conclusions?
Effective lawyers understand the importance of flexibility and creativity. Innovation is vital when developing effective solutions, but it also allows you to serve your clients better by discovering cost-effective and efficient processes.
The great scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, said that “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Again, I implore any one that aspires to be an effective lawyer to study the lives of great lawyers not only in Akure Bar, but across the country. Listen to them. Read their books. And when the knowledge gleaned from studying their lives is combined with the seven habits enumerated above, such lawyer is on his way to becoming an effective lawyer.
Above all of these abovementioned habits, there is a G-Factor that I have observed working for every effective lawyer, even for these great ones I mentioned in this lecture.
Irrespective of your religion or belief, there should be an acknowledgement of a supreme being that has your back because there are many who have mastered the above stated habits as part of their daily living for decades but still struggle to call themselves successful.
Though, there is public acknowledgment of this notion in Islam, Christiandom and African Traditional Beliefs, I can bet that it does get to a point that even an atheist, in the corner of his heart, strongly desires to experience the guidance of a dimension that is higher than what he knows when his personal ability fails. That is nothing but a humble acknowledgement of a higher level-The God factor.
This I recommend highly to you as you sing the popular Yoruba gospel song to the Supreme One with me. He is the X-factor of my existence, my G-factor of whom I can say that if you walk with Him in faith, the world will hear the best of you:
“Gbemi Soke, gbemi dide
Fami lọwọ soke, ki n ga jù ayé lọ
Ògo ayé mi, jẹ kó yọ jáde
Fami lọwọ soke,
má ma jẹ kó pẹ”
Thank you for listening.
26th January, 2023.
DR. OLUKAYODE AJULO, FCIArb [UK]
*A Capacity Building Lecture delivered at Monthly General Meeting of Nigeria Bar Association, Akure Branch on Thursday, 26th January, 2023.
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