Speech delivered at the Nigerian Bar Association, Benin Branch, Young Lawyers Forum Summit on May 5, 2023, by Mazi Afam Osigwe, SAN, LLM (Jos) LLM (Lazrsky), FCIArb (UK), Notary Public, Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK), Senior Partner of LAW FORTE (Legal practitioners), arbitrator and mediator, past General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, former member Council of Legal Education and Life Member (Life Bencher) of the Body of Benchers of Nigeria.


I am grateful to the Young Lawyers Forum of Nigerian Bar Association, Benin Branch for inviting me to share my thoughts on the above topic. My special thanks goes to the Chairman of Forum, other officers of the Forum and the members of the Summit Organising Committee, who thought it would be a good idea to have me speak on the topic. This discussion will always be a very topical one because we must all contribute to the conversation on the things we have to do to ensure lawyers (both and old) innovate and take their practice to profitable heights.

  1. Going beyond the norm or to do something ‘out of the norm’ is simply to do something that might be perceived different or unusual; or ‘outside normal’ or ‘further than’ or ‘away from’ the normal or usual way of doing things. Thus, anything that is considered unusual, unorthodox, or unexpected can be considered ‘beyond the norm’ or ‘out of the norm’ or ‘beyond usual borders or ‘venturing beyond usual borders’. The quest to ‘go beyond the norm’ or to ‘venture beyond usual borders’ in the context of empowering young lawyers, must be situated within the context of engaging in a successful or profitable legal practice or putting their knowledge of law beyond the usual or common things lawyers do or apply their knowledge to.
  2. Oxford Dictionary defined empowerment as “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights ”. Cambridge Dictionary defined it as “the process of gaining freedom and power to do what you want or to control what happens to you”. The empowerment of young legal minds (young lawyers) in the context of my presentation therefore means the process of giving young lawyers power and status to go ‘beyond usual borders or ‘venture beyond usual borders’ or ‘go out of the norm’.
  3. I will therefore discuss ‘empowering young legal minds’ from the standpoint of encouraging young lawyers engaging in a successful or profitable legal practice or putting their knowledge of law to successful use. It is my hope that the discourse will make the difference in some of our practice with regard to whether many of us are able to ‘survive’ the perceived difficulty encountered in practice of law and also build our practice to an enviable position. I intend to discuss this topic from a non-legal viewpoint as whatever principle that ensures success in all other spheres of life will apply in equal measure to legal practice. I must however admit that whichever perspective one discusses the topic, the focus should be about equipping young lawyers with modern critical and relevant skills and tools to provide for themselves, and be able to compete in a fast-changing world. I am therefore very optimistic that discussions like this will create an effective group of young lawyers with entirely new approaches to things.
  5. Many of us are content to do the same thing over and over again whether or not we get the desired result. Yet some of us are afraid moving out of our comfort zone. Many lawyers are contented to leave things where they are. If perchance, they fail and become unsuccessful, they blame it on evil persons or malevolent forces. Of course, it is not their fault. It must have come from their village or their enemies.
  6. According to John C. Maxwell, these unsuccessful persons are burdened by learning, and prefer to walk down familiar paths. He further stated that their distaste for learning stunts their growth and limits their influence. These persons do not plan, they live for the day, they do not improve themselves, they have a disdain for advice, are sometimes set in their ways, spend all they earn, hate exploring new opportunities or venturing into uncharted territories. Going beyond your dreams therefore means getting out of your comfort zone, conquering fears, believing in yourself, planning for success and daring to achieve that which your mind conceives.
  7. A good illustration of this type is Unoka, the character in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
    “A tall, thin man with a slight stoop, Unoka was Okonkwo’s father. He appeared “haggard and mournful . . . except when he was drinking or playing his flute.” His favorite time of year was after the harvest when he joined with village musicians to make music and feast; Unoka’s priority was to enjoy life to the fullest. An excellent flutist, he was happy and peaceful when he was playing his flute, in spite of the sorrow and grief that was evident in his music.
    Unoka lacked responsibility. He was poor, lazy, and neglectful of his wife, and he did not plan for the future. During his life, he never took a title and, therefore, never gained status or respect from the villagers. Instead, they called him a loafer, and he was the laughing stock of the community. Whenever he managed to get his hands on money, “he immediately bought gourds of palm-wine.” Unoka was a debtor and a failure. Also a coward, he never became a warrior — wars made him unhappy because he couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Unoka’s behavior was contrary to typical Igbo tradition, so he was not taken seriously and was treated in a demeaning manner by Igbo clansmen and, later, by Okonkwo, his son.
  8. From Unoka’s story we can safely surmise that a person who does not go beyond the norm or venture beyond the usual borders may be poor, lazy, and neglectful of his/her duties/responsibilities, and may not plan for the future. Of course, such a person will not be successful and may even be a failure.
  9. Going beyond the norm or venturing beyond the usual borders prepares one to achieve one’s dreams or to make the future better than the present. It starts as a dream; an idea. According to Ernst Bloch, “Thinking means venturing beyond”. It starts as a dream, an idea, action etc. According to Norman Vincent Peale, the use of the word ‘dream’ “is not the reference to those shadowy images that flicker through our minds when we are asleep. No, dreams I am writing about are the indistinct hopes, the far-off visions, the first faint stirrings of the imagination that comes when we are in the earliest stages of planning something worthwhile”.
  10. Continuing, he stated that “there’s a wonderful thing about such dreams. In some uncanny way that no one fully understands they seem to contain the seeds of their own fulfilment. If you dream something long enough and hard enough, a door seems to open and through that door come mighty forces that will guide and support you in your efforts to make the dream come through”.
  11. When one goes beyond the dream or idea, the following may happen:
    a. take a risk for something more;
    b. question the acceptable way of thinking or doing things;
    c. refuse to accept a situation;
    d. be dissatisfied with his/her situation or things on many people are defeated by the everyday problems of life
    e. refuse to permit obstacles to control one’s mind to the point where they are uppermost and thus become the dominating factors in one’s thought pattern;
    f. attempt to physically breach a space;
    g. desire to form a new way of thinking about the world; etc
  12. Going beyond the norm or venturing beyond the usual borders, is therefore an attribute of people who are hungry to achieve outstanding success and make their future much better than the present. It contains the promise of the possible. To venture or go beyond the norm, one must dream creatively of what one wants to achieve, what one wants to do; what one wants to be and where one wants to be. To prepare for the future, we must identify our goals (dreams) and make plans on how to achieve these dreams. We must not overlook opportunities. As William Shakespeare, said, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures”.
  13. It is reported that the founder of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid, was once asked about the future of his country and he replied, “My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I ride a Mercedes, my son rides a Land Rover, and my grandson is going to ride a Land Rover…but my great-grandson is going to have to ride a camel again.” Why is that, he was asked? And his reply was, “Hard times create strong men, strong men create easy times. Easy times create weak men, weak men create difficult times. Many will not understand it, but you have to raise warriors, not parasites.”
  14. A similar quote to “tough times create strong men, strong men create easy times” can be found in the 2016 post-apocalyptic novel “Those Who Remain”, by G. Michael Hopf. The quote reads: “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men and weak men create hard time”. It is a historical reality that all great empires, the Persians, the Trojans, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, and in later years, the British all rose and perished within 240 years. They were not conquered by external enemies; they rotted from within.
  15. A good example of how a system will rot within can be illustrated with water intrusion which can ruin a house. Sometimes, water seepage arising from poor plumbing or faulty construction can allow water to seep into a home. Mold will begin to develop, almost from day one. It will be impossible to see immediately, but it is there. Building experts, blame the problems on rushed work, poor workmanship, under-trained workers, low-quality materials, and little to no oversight by the construction company management.
  16. Permit me to share some thoughts from the article ‘You will never know your limits until you push yourself to them ’.
    “The human spirit is an amazing thing. It is capable of doing and becoming more than we ever recognize. The fact is that we never really know our limits in life until we are pushed into them or until we push ourselves beyond what we are currently doing. It is so easy to just do the same old-same role. It’s so easy to get caught up in a routine day after day where you do exactly what you already know how to do and don’t push yourself to go beyond that. And we typically will continue on that path until life throws us a curve ball that forces us to step or, or until we finally reach a point of misery where we decide enough is enough and we force ourselves to change our lives by going outside our comfort zone. So often in life we think to ourselves as we see other people’s trials that are more difficult than our own, “I could never handle that”, but when push comes to shove and you have no choice but to handle it, it is amazing that somehow you find a way to get through. Our outer limits of what we can handle is well beyond what we seem to think. We are stronger and more capable then we typically believe we are, so its really a shame that it takes the negative trials to show us that. Wouldn’t it be so much better if we could push ourselves beyond our own limits without waiting for circumstances to force us there?”
    16 Steve Bloom took it from an equally interesting if not similar perspective. “The only thing stopping you from reaching your goals and dreams are your limits. It’s when you meet your limits that you feel resistance and things you want seem harder to achieve. Whether it is fear, doubt, physical abilities or some other mental block, it can present a huge barrier to getting what you want. Unfortunately most people can’t work past their limits and give up. So how far you get in reaching your dreams is very dependent on how good you are at overcoming this obstacle. Fail to push past your limits and you’ll leave your dreams unrealized. Work through them and you can make any dream or goal a reality”.
    17 Steve Bloom further advised that to push past one’s limits, one should not become complacent. He further stated that no matter what you want to achieve, you are going to eventually reach your limits and make little or no progress. You just need to make sure you are taking the necessary action to make sure your limits do not become a big problem. He therefore suggested the following seven steps to push beyond your limits.
    i. Find someone to help push you: he stated that just that little bit of support encouraging you to keep going in the face of resistance can mean so much. Having someone on your side can counter-balance any negative thinking you might have. They can tell you to do more and push you into doing things outside of your comfort zone.
    ii. Take on a little more than you think you can: Pushing past your limits means taking on newer, progressively harder challenges. If you are not challenging yourself to do bigger and better things on a regular basis, you are only working within the confines of what you already can do. It is a sure-fire way to stay exactly where you are and make little to no progress.
    iii. Imagine reaching your next level: Working on your dreams or goals can take a lot of focus. Where you put that focus matters a lot. You might know where you are and where you were, but do you know where you need to go? Imagine that next level for reaching your dreams and take steps to get there.
    iv. Look at how others reached where you want to go: Whatever your goals are, there are probably others who have had them and succeeded in reaching them. Look to them for clues on what they did to push past their limits on their way to success. You will probably find a lot of great information from examining the path they took.
    v. Inspire yourself to action: Find something that inspires you to reach your goals. Whether it is a video, quote or thought that inspires you to succeed, it should be something that fills you with passion and drive to get things done. Inspiration can be a powerful motivational tool.
    vi. Do not stop until exhaustion: Push yourself so hard that you reach exhaustion. Take on tasks that may appear novel, difficult and exhausting. These tasks may exhaust you, but they are completely necessary for you to reach your goals.
    vii. Work on your weaknesses: Where there are weaknesses, there are limits. Think about a marathon runner. They will not be able to train very well for a marathon if they cannot find a good running stride or have bad nutrition. These are big areas of weakness that just makes training harder. Without correction, your weaknesses will limit how far you can take yourself.
    18 To go beyond the norm or venture beyond the usual borders you must sometimes embark on or undertake what appear to be impossible. In order to reach your dreams or goals, you need to push through your limits and past your comfort zone. There are no shortcuts. Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. That has been my personal motto for success in life. It is my way of reminding myself to constantly venture beyond the norm and not settle for average. I equally refuse to be deterred by setbacks or failures because I believe that I can do all things only if I believe and work hard for it. “When you are facing your limits and you feel that resistance, it may seem hard to overcome. But just by pushing yourself a little harder, you can really accomplish some great things. And the funny thing is that once you do, you can look back and wonder just why you ever thought it was that difficult to begin with. Don’t let limits stop you from doing anything” .
    19 I will therefore suggest these tips on how to prepare for the future:
    a. Be confident
    b. Be open to feedback from your colleagues and superiors
    c. Upgrade your existing knowledge from time to time
    d. If there is a way to do it better, find it.
    e. Be open to challenges. Do not be afraid to take risks in life
    f. Master the skill of time management.
    g. Learn to work as a team player.
    h. Develop a positive attitude
    i. Keep searching until you find what you want.
    j. Trust is earned when actions meet words.
    k. Slow down so you can speed up (Festina lente – “make haste slowly”, sometimes rendered in English as “more haste, less speed).
    l. Find a mentor
    20 Some of the best empowerments young legal minds can be given are knowledge, opportunities and mentorship. As the saying goes, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” The knowledge enables them to believe in themselves and know that they can achieve a lot if they refuse to be complacent. For those engaged in the practice of law, the knowledge brings the realisation that they are engaged in business. It therefore follows that if a lawyer realises he/she is engaged in business, then they will see law practice as a business. While I concede that the scope of this paper is to examine venturing beyond the usual borders in the practice of law practice, I believe it is not out of place to say a few a few words on what will make for a better law practice.
    21 The health of any business depends on the skills, visions and plans of its management team. Whether a business was set up with the simple objective of making money or to render much needed not-for-profit services, the safest way to succeed is to be highly efficient, proactive, and result-oriented delivering services. A law practice must therefore strive for excellence. A practice may not achieve excellence or run efficiently if it is not run like a business. Like Jay Z wisely opined, ‘YOU ARE NOT A BUSINESSMAN, YOU ARE A BUSINESS, MAN’. Knowing that you are engaged in business will enable you plan and take steps to make it big and successful.
    22 In whatever way we carry on the practice of law, we must look at things the right way. We should always endeavour to do justice and serve clients when they come to us. Sure, we deserve to be well paid for the services we render to them as well as the value we obtain for them when we help them resolve such dispute or minister to their needs. “But if we can serve them well, we are satisfying our own professional calling. And—simply being blunt—most of those that have problems now that require a lawyer will have problems later that require a lawyer. Serve the client well and he very well may be back when you cannot resolve the dispute quickly. Law firm managers must be smart businesspeople. But we always need to keep in mind that we are more than that. We’re lawyers, too, and need to act like lawyers every day ”.
    23 May I therefore end this paper by reminding us doing what one believes in, removing all fears, not being complacent and going after one’s dreams will only result in success(es).
Mazi Afam Osigwe SAN speaking at the Summit

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