My first contact with a law firm was with Paul Usoro
& Co. in 2001. I was just fresh out of Keme Balogun College, Ibeshe. Some
of my classmates thought I might venture into science because of my reputation
in mathematics, especially Bearing and Distance. That subject got me my oldest
I was invited to Paul Usoro
& Co. in Lagos Island, by one Mrs. Godwin (Eme or Eneh), a lawyer and
family friend, just so that I would see how beautiful the profession could be.
Apart from her mixed-race complexion and eyes; her carriage, elegance and command
of English language were parts of what fuelled my desire to read law.
When I got to Paul Usoro &
Co., I concluded that it would be law or nothing else. Everywhere was
glittering. The people around too. By the way, it was my first time to
“enter” an elevator! In the conference room where I was waiting for
my host, I saw pictures of the then best performing lawyers for the preceding 3
years on the wall. The experience was awesome. It made a big impact on me and
inspired me throughout my legal education.
My second contact was F. O.
Fagbohungbe & Co., this time, as a law school intern, in 2010. I would have
loved to go to Paul Usoro & Co but no means. First, Mrs. Godwin relocated.
Second, Paul Usoro & Co changed address and because interns were hardly
paid then, I thought it was best to consider an easily accessible law firm of
commercial practice. God bless Hon. Justice Onibokun, who advised and gave me
the names and contacts of some law firms with buoyant practice in Lagos. I led
the interns from Law School to F. O. Fagbohungbe & Co. Marina, Lagos.
I was working like a full-time
lawyer in terms of commitment and participation in the office work. I would
take positions and express opinions even tried to research some esoteric legal
propositions conceived in my head to maintain visibility. It paid off. Apart
from a cash reward of N50k to each intern, the experience and a valedictory
party put together for us, I was glad to be informed by Justice Onibokun that
“Chief (Fagbohungbe) spoke so well of you.” This feedback fortified
my resolve to be better at it.
The next contact was with
Aelex for NYSC. At Aelex, I didn’t wait to take the job. After winning the 1st
prize in criminal litigation at the law school, I resolved to train in a 1st
tier commercial law firm. The knowledge of criminal law is good and thank God I
got it. But I didn’t want to end up being known only as a “criminal
lawyer”. So, I got posted to Aelex for NYSC.
I took tests and oral
interviews, the last panel had the highest management members. Theo Asotie was
also there. He won the 2nd prize in criminal litigation. Expectedly, he got the
job and did about 6yrs before porting to the Legal Dept of Diamond Bank at its
head office. Aelex was tough but of course promising. From my market research
in 2011, Aelex was paying a corper N95k/month! Also, NYSC stipend was about
N19k. You can pause to do the maths. But I changed my mind after the last level
of interview just before anyone of us got an offer.
I had wanted to train with
Mrs. Adekoya being a leading and Harvard-trained lawyer, but I reckoned from
the encounter that she would be a very strict disciplinarian. Then I thought of
punctuality. From Mile 12 bus stop to Falomo U/bridge, it took me 2hrs or more,
depending on the traffic, available BRT buses at Mile 12 and Keke Marwa
(tricycles) at Onikan/TBS. So, I knew my punctuality was in doubt even when I
set my alarm to go off at 5am. Why? Because I did a week trial, waking up,
dressed and went to the office building just to see how much time it took. I
was not only late on Monday and Tuesday, I was worn out.
Also, I had always believed
that NYSC was my biggest chance to get a good and sustainable job.
Sustainability was always on my mind. As a corper, I had intended to work so
hard that my employers would have no other choice but to retain me. But in
Aelex, I feared punctuality issues might stain my record and I wasn’t sure Mrs.
Adekoya and other partners could forgive that. So, I took precautions to look
for other equally good opportunities. I wrote few job tests and turned down a
few like Eternal Oil and Gas Plc offer of N30k.
Finally I to got Ajumogobia
& Okeke, Sterling Towers, Marina Lagos led by another leading and
Harvard-trained SAN, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia.
I digress. In Aug 1998, after
MKO’s death, I went with my late dad to a man’s house in Ikorodu to discuss a
project. I made the trip because I was on holiday. I didn’t ask if the man was
a lawyer. What I asked him was permission to read a magazine I found on his
table titled “Billionaire Lawyers: How they made their money.” I read
fascinating stories of successful lawyers like TOS Benson, Teslim Elias,
Adetokunbo Ademola & others. I believed the old men deliberately continued
“gisting” just to allow me read much of it.
Every lawyer interviewed in
the magazine disclosed his or her tipping point. One thing struck me in all. It
wasn’t their brilliance that made them succeed. Also, it was not just hard work
though that was said to be key. But it was opportunity combined with the
preceding two. Corollary to that was the fact that, apart from few pathfinders,
someone else gave them the opportunities that defined what they later became in
life. I once read somewhere that you should succeed in life if you have
opportunity to do what you prepare well for and you do it well without
interruption. You may read that again but not literally.
Back to Ajumogobia & Okeke (A&O). Truly, I
didn’t know Sterling Towers had any law firm in it. But after seeing a lot of #BostonLegal, I stared and imagined that if any law
firm was in the building, going by its elegance, it must have been one of the
best. I found out the building has a law firm on the day I dedicated to touring
the entire Lagos Island to compile the names and addresses of big firms.
Websites weren’t that popular and, even if any big firms existed online, it was
cheaper to move around than to “browse” in many cyber cafes around
me, most of which were offering epileptic services.
I recall telling some friends
that Lagos is a 3-region state, for the purpose of legal practice though. The
Island (Victoria Island, Ikoyi and L/Island), the Mainland (Surelere and Ikeja)
and the Rest. Those who know the names of big law firms would find them more on
the Island. I had planned to write 150 job applications with the expectation of
50 employers’ interviews, resulting in 5 offers with at least 1 job with better
rating than the rest! Yes I did the maths but didn’t apply it all. Because I
got the A&O offer with my 7th application letter!
The story of my employment
life is not complete. That’s because I left Ajumogobia & Okeke. This time
to Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie. The job was advertised and a copy of the
advertorial clip was forwarded to me by my friend, Akoh Ocheni. I checked the
firm’s website and I was fascinated by the sterling profiles of its partners,
including a Harvard-trained lawyer, ex-Senator and current Minister of Nigeria
and a business savvy Managing Partner. The middle level team is also solid. So,
I met familiar faces during
the written test and interview sessions. I recalled one of us joking, in the
course of waiting for test materials, that it was unnecessary for them to
continue with test because he believed if it was a single placement, Kayode
Omosehin would get it. We laughed about it. I wish I was that fantastic in the
Like I wrote earlier,
opportunities are the large parts of what constitute a success in any
endeavour. I was employed as other job applicants had expected. One month after
Chisom Ndubuisi. But that was because the first choice of the firm didn’t take
it. Not because it was not a good offer. But because he had accepted an earlier
offer from another equally good law firm, in the same building. So, I may not
be a fantastic job applicant, after all. But I was not bad too.
One thing is important for any
worker seeking to make a career move. Be gentle about it. I learnt that long
ago. If your employer wants you to put in additional period, do so unless you
have obligations elsewhere. The earth is getting smaller with technology. No
living thing remains the same forever, larvae or chickens. We are all in a
small space where the weak ones choke easily. But consider yourself lucky and
be grateful if you have had an opportunity to train and work with the best
hands in any sector.
Tutelage with experienced
seniors is important in all fields and it is second to nothing. Even those who
are forced to start out on their own for lack of opportunities have devised a
way out. The smart ones usually have a more experienced law firm at hand to
consult and work with. That’s how a sustainable generation is built. Thanks.
Associate at Koriat & Co.