Since the 2008 financial crisis, the world had never remained the same. New trends had evolved. Effectiveness and efficiency in solving existential problems in a pragmatic and inventive ways have been explored. The legal industry was never spared. Traditional practice of law was jettisoned, as legal service delivery was embraced by most law firms and innovative legal practitioners.
The acceptance of legal service delivery in the Nigeria legal space, had revolutionised the legal sphere in many ways. The adoption to Artificial Intelligence (AI), technology and innovations, alternatives to solving clients’ problems, in-house lawyering had helped law firms thrive in this 21st century adoption to legal service delivery. In the quest to remain ahead of others, law firms are visionary. Hence,they are deliberate in exerting energy in admitting lawyers who have sufficient understanding of the times and season vis-a-vis the new legal order. These are lawyers, who understand the concept of career advancement, and are committed to advancing same. Hence, the essence of this article.
As a young law student, I had been faced with an arduous task of understanding the role I will play as a lawyer. The primary basis of this profound confusion was furnished by the clear divergence between career and profession. Not until I understood that a profession is a paid occupation which involves prolonged training and a formal qualification. Career on the other hand is an undertaking for a significant period of a person’s life, which could with opportunities for progress. It will be safe, to add then that profession is a destination while career, is a progressive journey towards attainment of experience in any carved out niche.
This has been the confusion point of Nigerian law students. Most are oblivious of the truth, that a profession like law is a broad and generic one. Career then, is drawn from the generic and broad profession, as we have in the legal industry. The law student therefore needs an awakening, to carefully understudy career advancement vis-a-vis legal service delivery. Which is now adopted by some law firms in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the educational system in Nigeria has been lethargic, in purging itself of the old and traditional curriculum. This is the curriculum that had never been revised or reviewed, to reflect and capture the realities embedded in the legal industry today. This has posed a big challenge to an average law student to deal with, in order to compete favourably with their global counterparts. To this end, most students are not aware of the various means to hone relevant skillset required of them.
Therefore stalling the opportunity of career and personal development of the students.
While we mourn the students being shackled by the old law curriculum, most law teachers serve as warders to the prisoners. The law teachers do not explore the new areas of law, in order to intimate their students on the importance of career advancement and personal development. These loyalists to the old curriculum are the lawyers who are oblivious of the new legal order. In essence, their traditional view about the legal industry still hold sway for them. This has rubbed them their sense of creativity which ought to be active as law teachers.
The way forward to career advancement:
Career advancement could be argued to be a topic for discourse, especially to lawyers or professionals in various areas of human endeavours. To some, law students being exposed to it, os like putting the cart before the horse. I however beg to differ on that line of thought. The essence of learning or having sufficient knowledge of the legal industry is to be prepared to join it. Any law student with global perspective must have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the industry.
The writer highlights areas every law student must endeavour to develop, in order to be a better lawyer of the 21st century. These areas to be leveraged are not limited:
Developing an interest to a niche: this might be dicey. Considering the kind of educational system we have in Nigeria. However, to have an understanding of an area of interest or niche requires a lot of energy by the student. Such student must be deliberate in his or her approach in knowing the area of interest that arouses their attention. Being intentional to knowing the area of interest would help the law student develop an undying passion for that niche so discovered.
Learning of skills: skills are special and practical knowledge on a particular thing. It involves practice, which metamorphize to experience and dexterity on the long run. When the interest is developed, the next approach is to understand the relevant technical, soft and hard skills needed for that area of concern. Although there are generic skills every law student must possess. These are not limited to; leadership, creative thinking, communication, technical, people skills.
Internship opportunities: experience is gotten from internship. It can not be argued that internship opportunities are gateways towards experience. Interning in law firms or organisations that provide services or deal with the developed interest of law, exposes such student to more knowledge on that area. In this instance, the student is given career tasks which stimulate a deeper interest coupled with practical approaches to solving clients’ problems. Networking with experts in such area of concern during internship is also a benefit of internship.
Mentorship: prior now, compulsory “pulpilage” was advised in the industry. Although this practice helped smart lawyers. It was a ploy used by the senior lawyers to exploit younger lawyers. Today, pulpilage is replaced by voluntary mentorship. No one learns in a vacuum. Mentorship allows for deeper connection, between the student and the mentor. This mentor is versed on the area of interest of such student. S/he had built a niche and charted a course in that area of student’s interest for better connection and learning. It must be noted that voluntary mentorship broadens the imaginative, creative and knowledge horizon of a law student.
Networking: this is where the law student connects with both professionals in the field and other law students. While professionals serve as role models and guide to the student. Their fellow students help them rub minds on areas of law and issues of mutual interest and benefit. It will be safe to postulate, that such law students need to connect with other professionals outside the legal industry. This is to broaden the knowledge of the law student on other areas of human endeavours. Such stint in other knowledge would help such law student progfer better solutions with the knowledge of law.
Article writing and Research work: the Hallmark of scholarship is research. A good scholar is one who is good with research. In fact, knack for research should be what every law student must possess in this era. Unfortunately, this is not so. Our educational system has made research to be reserved for final year law students when writing their “long essay.” This limits their knowledge bank of such student. So, in order to build one’s career as a law student, research must be carried out, especially on the area of interest.
Career advancement is a conscious effort to be made by law students. There should however be a balance to ne struck by the law student. Academics need not be jettisoned in pursuit of career advancement in the legal industry as a law student. It is like putting the cart ahead of the horse. Neither should academics , which is based on the old curriculum be depended on, at the expense of career advancement knowledge and building. A good academic grade would get one a great job placement. However, knowledge in the new legal order would sustain such person in such job. Therefore, the maintenance of balance as a law student is paramount.
As a student with global perspective, in order to have a place on the table of relevance must endeavour to explore every opportunity to develop oneself. Intentionality must be imbibed so as not to end up chasing clout.
Ogbu Ekeoma Solomon, SM-CIArb
500 level law student
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.