Tuesday, February 23, 2010

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

At about 7: 45 am, I watch Ghandi struggle with two heavy files on his way from the filling room. His glasses are slightly askew and his barrister’s jacket is a little higher than it should be. In my characteristically saintly mode, I offer to help him carry the lighter looking file. While we walk down the stairs, we make small talk. It turns out he was to appear with Plain-short who fell ill over the weekend and could not make it to the office.

‘Yes, so I will be appearing alone’. We are on the first floor.

At this point, sensible Rookie ought to have shut up or moved on to the weather and other ‘safe’ topics but sensible Rookie had not had her shot of caffeine. It was a case of diminished responsibility. I was not thinking straight. Then again, the work-free Friday made me lose my edge and a scoop of sense.

I hear myself offering to appear with him. I assume that it would score me brownie points and that in any case, since the matter was merely for adoption of motions, so I would be back in an hour.

‘Adopt and leave. That should not take forever’ – I reason. So, I run up, grab my wig only taking a few seconds to drag it across the wall for the right amount of dirt and distinguished threadbare look.

I do not realise the dire consequences of my good deed until we get to court and it’s filled with what appears to be the all the lawyers in Lagos. Everyone knows that the next worse thing to braving traffic and rain for an empty court is braving traffic or rain for a full court. Our matter is listed twenty-eighth on the cause list. The judge is one of those annoyingly efficient ones who would sit through rain, fire and no electricity.

What hurts most is not the thoughts of spending time away from my pc and Facebook tool but the fact that I could have earned the same brownie points by volunteering for work which I could pass on to some junior.

It is finally our turn at past three and we adopt our motions (which really means that Ghandi mentions my name while I take a bow; he speaks while I take notes). I am body-tired, mind-exhausted and definitely anti-good deeds.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Spell- Checking For a Good Cause

Gloater has been sending me her personal statements to spell check. Like the rest of Nigeria, she is applying for a master’s degree in some UK school and ‘is really hoping that bomber boy hasn’t ruined this for us’. She assumes I have nothing better to do that read through her lofty sounding ideals about saving the world and Africa (apparently, Africa is a little country, well away from the world). Although it has been a slow week (perfect after Grey-stripes Saturday drama), I realise my time could be spent playing Spider Solitaire or some other worthy pursuit while pretending to work.

There is nothing wrong with an LLM. In fact, it is a Nigerian civic duty to ‘do masters’ immediately after university. Besides the much touted theoretical reason – adding to the body of knowledge – it also allows you to wrinkle your nose and politely despise those who schooled in the ‘failing Nigerian school system’ while getting a year off traffic, work javascript:void(0)and buying credit for people who think you earn enough to share. Better still, when you return, you automatically earn the right to demand for a pay raise even if you have no clue as to what your mint certificate purports to teach you.

One advantage though – I get to keep her statements and rework it for me when I want to apply.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saturday: Law the Diva.

I understand that law takes a lot of attention and time - and I don’t mean the time we take to wear the shirt, suit, button the collar, robe, adjust the wig etc. After spending five years at undergraduate level learning a lot of things any self-respecting idler will forget before convocation, we get to spend yet another at law school, with parting words about reading all through one’s career. Thankfully, our National Assembly makes catching up with the law a whole lot easier.

In any case, six years of school is a disproportionate time for a course half as versatile as a Chemistry or Zoology, which can make you president or vice-president (and everyone knows that being vice-president is a potentially powerful or stagnant position, depending on the country you live in or what excuses the legislature can wield).

It follows that my random and regularly irrational ranting rarely involves regular mortals who have nothing to do with law i.e. family and friends. I don’t talk about them because they don’t really exist - not in the literal sense, since unlike Terminator, I happen to have come to earth by more conventional means. They don’t exist in the time-worth-spending scale. In the pursuit of law, I have come to recognise what is important and whose needs reign supreme: the salary provider and the client. I have then come to ignore those that have nothing to do with payment of bills, salary increases and those who have no power over my motions, appeals or determination of the next adjourned date.

‘Quite frankly’ (the verbal synonym for: a really modest shrug or the sound of patting my back), the only reason I can recognise the office building during the day is because I sometimes leave my tiny cubicle to appear in court. I hold my donkey-ethic in working seriously and have learnt to perfect the art of ‘work’ and ‘busy’. Naturally, in case anyone forgets this fact, I remind the salary provider about my consistent lack of life and love for the law by sending emails at 9:30 pm on Friday evening and working weekends since everyone knows weekends are the most effective time to begin intensive legal research.

While I take special pride and fulfilment in bragging about how hard I work and the number of hours I spend at the office on weekdays and weekends, I see no reason why I should be at work today – the Saturday before Valentine’s Day.

Grey-Stripes (aka kill-joy, destroyer of my personal satisfaction) and who has no life outside the office except on his Blackberry decided that we (three other associates and I) meet today to review an agreement that I strongly suspect won’t self-destruct by Monday morning. I have tried every subtle and shameless hint to get out of this, feigned a cold and stomach ache, made repeated calls on my phone and hints that have not worked. Right now, I am contemplating mistakenly spilling water on my keyboard, pulling out my hair or some other act that indicates the need for strong men in white coats.

Finally we finish at a quarter to four, time enough for ice-cream and a movie. This is when I really really hate the law.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why Lawyers are Indispensable

Received new instructions today.

Last year, the client expressed an intention to buy a house in England but didn’t want her husband, Mr. Client to know. We were to handle the transaction until she sent a letter telling us that she had ‘resolved the matter’.

It turns out that she gave the money to a ‘longstanding family friend’ to purchase it on her behalf but in Mr. Family Friend’s name. Unfortunately, Mr. Family Friend died last month before he could transfer title to her.

Mrs. Family Friend has refused to pass the title to the client since her husband ‘did not tell her he bought the property for anyone’.

Mrs Client is angry and has come to the office to throw a tantrum. She wants to sue and hurl a fine dose of Zeus’ (or more appropriately, Sango’s) thunder bolts at Mrs. Family Friend. The first could be arranged though I am unsure about the second.

Unfortunately, suing will bring Mr. Client in the know. She does not think Mr. Client would be inclined to pat her on the back for hiding this from him.

She wants her lawyers to advise her. I could tell her in one sentence to tell her husband and maybe mediate or conciliate with Mrs. Family Friend. Plain-short has however instructed that I write a four-page opinion telling her the same thing and send her a bill.

I could also tell her that she could have avoided this by executing a trust deed with Mr. Family Friend or some other legal means but it would ring much of ‘we told you so’.

Soliloquy: Carrots work:

Carrots work: I hear distinguished lawyers have taken silk. I am awed, impressed etc.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The ‘Conspiracy’ Against the Messenger

Despite what ‘the media’, ‘aggrieved parties’ claim or any potential rallies or solidarity walks calling for the resignation of all lawyers; lawyers are not the villain. ‘They’ are merely conspiring to tarnish the image of this noble profession.

Lawyers are inherently good people (aka salt of the earth, righter of wrongs, ministers in Lady Justice’s temple etc). We are also patient and long-suffering, attributes that are clearly shown by our staunch decision to wear our uniforms in the sweltering heat even though it has been largely discarded in England, the ‘owner’ of the uniform.

If there is any hanging to be done – it should be of clients, whom we ‘happen’ to represent. Clients are the ‘bad people’, people!

Sadly, few minds are discerning enough to notice the fine line between the ‘bad people’ and the inherent goodness wrapped in skin underneath the wig and gown. Clients are the ones who do wrong and rely on us for help, which we benevolently provide for a fee. Just because we get to do the talking does not make us the wrongdoer!

I admit that sometimes saving the world can be pretty tough. Take for instance, the poor counsel for the naval ratings who must have sounded as ridiculous as: ‘My Lord, my clients, who are trained to fight in wars, were frightened of the non-Attila looking citizen and acted in self defence. The video of the beating was actually framed. It is blackmail! My poor clients only acted to defend their integrity’.

Sometimes, the unfortunate lawyer is saddled with a fight against commonsense: My Lord, my bank executive client merely acted in good faith when he helped himself to a little more of other people’s money and used his position for private profit.

There is however, a marked difference between the arguments we present and the really good and modest person who lives with mere mortals without protest despite her clear messianic qualities. We suffer reproach everyday – from clichéd lawyer-shark analogy jokes to clear protests of our existence.

*insert theatrical self-suffering sign*

We rise above these and remain amazing. However, we don’t take our ‘amazing-hood’ for granted neither do we assume that society will understand that technicalities rather than a general perception of justice win cases. We understand that we are special and very smart and in the face of hatred and ‘beef’; we hold our head high, defending the ‘poor’ (in the figurative sense!) accused persons.

What is a good person supposed to do? Turn the clients away? Daily, we fight between our consciences and our work with ‘bad people’, who incidentally pay us to keep our offices open. Every day, we are torn between our beatitudinal attributes and natural proclivity to work hard and the client.


We shall overcome.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ladies, Gentlemen and Lawyers

The underlings (Rookier Rookie and the other younger lawyers aka juniors, minions, life beneath the life under the ladder, etc) are scampering all over the office like overfed puppies, obviously excited about doing ‘real’ work’.

*Face is set in disapproving expression. Insert supercilious eye over pursed lips.*

You should see the way they preen on their way to court with their necks held stiff in a bid to draw attention to their collars. They are all excited about the wig and gown and still clueless about the dark days ahead. In my characteristically benevolent manner, however, I have decided to draw a caution list to guide them through this trying period of metamorphosis from innocent, ready-to-save-the-world Hercules, to the cynical show-me-the-money ambulance chasers. I’ll leave out the easy bits of wisdom – like how to keep your collar starched and sharp between two law reports, how to hide a novel from the bench during a long judgement and other worthy tips for another day.

Lesson One: Never rely on carrots.

It is okay to assume that you will graduate with a law degree after spending the required years in school. It is forgivable to think passing law school examinations really gives you a right to appear by yourself at the Supreme Court the following day. What is plain ignorant is to make plans which assume that the years of reading fine print, brownnosing judges and seniors and doing all things detrimental to self worth and pride will pay in the end as you take silk.

In real life, things don’t work as smoothly as you may discover that the year before the Supreme Court finally rules on your fourth ‘outstanding’ case for your SAN application, bad belles start to make calls to scrap SAN status. At that point, all your lofty dreams and your life’s work come crashing down. Worse still, you realise that all the time spent planning your grand entrance to court as you send the lesser and apparently mortal lawyers to the outer bar, were all wasted.

Lesson Two: Change your name or style.

Except your name is Goodluck, don’t take it for granted that good things will indeed drop on your laps while you pleasantly wait. Being a superstar and making partner by thirty-five is a lofty dream when the strikes in school ensured that you manage to graduate while eyeing thirty. However, don’t lose hope. What you should lose is the assumption that dedication and hard work will take you far. Learn the fine art of schmoozing and ensure at least one equity-partner thinks you are family with a different surname. Then again, work on your creativity and ingenuity at making perfectly reasonable excuses for avoiding work.

Lesson Three: Distinguish between theory and practice

Theory – learn the law; uphold it and you won’t go wrong.
Practice – The law is an ass, whip it as hard as you want. It is tough, resilient and would bend under your skilful whipping. Capiche?

Lesson Four: Nice lawyers are losers.

Remember those nice clichés about lawyers being ministers in the temple of justice and the lovely little book on the rules of professional conduct that contains really good things about how lawyers ought to behave? ‘Ought’ is the operative word. Forget every word you read. In fact, try to get a refund from the bookshop. It’s a dog eat dog world, where we stick daggers in each other’s backs. Tough and trained lawyers would not even say good morning to other lawyers as this may amount to an admission of fact on some fine legal point.

Lesson Five: Create illusions.

Get a Blackberry. Blackberry satisfies the important need to appear busy and wanted. Just fiddle away on it, people will assume you are loved and have a life outside the hours spent in the office.

Lesson Six: Show off.

Most importantly, stop reading unserious time wasting blogs like this one. Go to the library and pick a copy of last week’s law report. Read it with the underlying rationale to show off your knowledge at lunch while your Big Oga is across the table. If he is not there, show off to someone else. Just let everyone know how smart you are.

There. Rules to guide your path.

All with love from big Aunty Rookie.

Monday, February 1, 2010

My Epiphany

If I had lingering doubts about my ‘calling’, reading something on CNN Money totally resolved them and eased my conscience. It had this report on the top ten companies with the highest pay packages in America.

Guess which sector had six of the ten slots – law offices!!!

Immediately, it struck me that studying law was the right decision. I am on the right path. This is ‘what I was meant to do’; ‘my passion has led me to my vocation’.... *insert other high-sounding epiphanic expressions*.

Now, if only Big Oga took time to read the news.