Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In-house counsel... What are those?

The life of a junior associate is mostly yawn material. Most of the excitement of a typical day is grovelling to the salary provider, backstabbing another associate as she grovels to the salary provider, gossiping about those grovelling and when the occasion demands, telling artful untruths. These many perils still come a far distance from that of the ‘in-house lawyer’.

‘In-house lawyers’, also derisively referred to as ‘legal secretaries’, a phrase that immediately evokes a bespectacled Pittman-trained typist; or the more generalised pompous sounding ‘in-house counsel;’ are law graduates and law school veterans who have ditched the proper practice of law for the overpaid corporate world.

The ‘in-house lawyer’ is in fact, a misnomer. ‘Real lawyers’ are those you see in the courts, dragging their robes, quasi toga style, like you’ll expect of royalty. ‘Real lawyers’ are also distinguished by their litigation prowess and adjournment-seeking skills. We take no prisoners. One easy way to tell a real lawyer from these pretenders is the way our voices are permanently set to the ‘high-pitch’ category (in order to share credit: I think that also has something to do with the fact that the microphones in the courts rarely work). Anyway, in-house lawyers also have rudimentary legal training so they have some limited right to the use of ‘lawyer’. A suitable analogy: real lawyers are like ‘presidents’ while in-house lawyers are ‘vice-presidents’. They both use the word ‘president’ but one does nothing but takes pictures and attend ceremonies on behalf of the other.

These poor souls are torn in between two worlds. They bear the burden of lawyering without any of the benefits that make Nigerian parents encourage their naive children to study law. After spending time in law school, undergoing the humiliation of the faceless penguin uniforms, pretending to listen while sitting through hours of classes, having to actually read tons of useless material, among other painful activities; they end up with a job that hides their strengthened virtues ‘under a bushel’. Their dignity and hard work is never recognised. For example, they never quite attain the glory of puffing while pretending to hate the wig and gown under the sweltering heat. Instead, they lose their lack of individuality in the corporate world as they blend into the army of mere commoners. Worse still, they daily contend with having to mix colours to wear after years of the easy and reliable monochrome.

In exchange for an over-priced salary (no, I am not really jealous), in-house lawyers will never get to say things like ‘objection, My Lord’, complete with the dramatic slam on the bar or with the right amount of spit, pronounce to an hapless witness - ‘I put it to you’. They will never enjoy the pleasure of being referred to as ‘Barrister X’ or if they like, ‘Lawyer Y’, as if the profession confers specialised honorifics that reminds all of our superiority. Their words will never be immortalised through the honourable judge’s pen. They will never sit through the drone that begins after the third hour of judgment-reading or fantasise about elevation to the bench. For the rest of their career-life, they will remain mere men, un-revered and un-awed.

Bits of legal training spurts once in a while as legal training cannot be fully tamed. ‘These people’, a hybrid of the fantastic and the mundane, try to convince their employers of their value. They struggle with the professionals by reviewing our agreements or making suggestions to our work but they only come off as meddlesome children, without the far reaching effects of a Kaita.

I ought to be thankful for me. There are far more horrible things than being a junior associate

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


As Africa celebrates playing host to a series of ninety-minute leather kicking, law practice is doing its own sober, non-vuvuzela version. Lawyers have become more friendly and less grumpy. Obviously, this has more to do with less work and the fact that partners either look the other way or at a television screen when people leave the office before eight. It seems that we are all united or fighting hard to appear united by the World Cup. Everyone has caught the fever – Groveller and Ghandi bought those phones with cable sports channels and seem to have permanently attached the phones to their left palms for the past two weeks; the last two weekly meetings have been shorter since few lawyers are interested in sharing hypothetical legal issues that take hours of shouting and arguing with no solution.

People including less mortal lawyers, are unable to make three statements without alluding to football. The only person who does not seem to care about the World Cup is Grey Stripes – but I guess work drones don’t count for much. Even Prof. Nkechi, who does not like football, mentioned the fact that Africa’s bit of the World Cup was providing the locations and showing up with everything from the theme song to the Zakumi figurines from Latin America and Asia. At least, she noticed.
The most obvious thing is the way conversations, no matter how ‘innocuous’ ultimately lead to football. Someone could ask: ‘Did the court sit on time?’ and find a perfectly reasonable response in: ‘Oh yes. Like Argentina scored that goal’. Earlier today, Groveller comes to our pool office to raise some issues about a Statement of Defence, which Ghandi and I were working on. Ordinarily, Groveller would send an email or call to demand the ‘lower officers’ to appear before him. In response, Ghandi, straight face in place said: ‘Our defence is tight Sir. Even if the Claimants want to try a penalty, our papers are tighter than Serbia’s defence’. They both guffawed like drunken hyenas over a carcass left by an overfed lion.
(I am thinking: *Just shoot me! Any more football jokes and my ears will fall off*)

The good thing about the whole increasingly annoying football stories is that lawyers are also less antagonistic at meetings and usually tense negotiations. I think the idea of common enemies - Argentina, Greece, Korea Republic – makes it easier to bond and make concessions. I have noticed that the best time to schedule meetings now are a maximum of one hour before the next match since the other side is much more willing to concede to your point than miss the next match.
Someone also put the World Cup fever in the air-conditioning at the courts. Ordinarily ferocious litigators now seem to leave their claws at home. I am in court for some pre-trial conference, while we wait for the judge to sit (His Lordship stood the matter down for a period which suspiciously coincided with the Portugal- Korea match). I sit two seats away from a lawyer who is more known for his theatrics rather than for his grasp of law. Last year, I heard him agree to an adjournment with another lawyer only to turn indignant when the other lawyer formally applied to the court for the same adjournment. He went on about how lawyers did not respect the time of the court and how he ‘was constrained to ask for costs’. The other lawyer looked torn between shock, worry for his learned friend’s psychiatric health and anger at being made a fool of. Anyway, that same theatrical lawyer was in court today, bowing and making jokes with his ‘learned friends’. He actually seemed to enjoy the court clerk’s obnoxious disagreement with which country ought to have won the USA-England fight and the predicted scores for Nigeria’s Thursday match.

Few care about Zakumi or the meaning of ‘Jabulani’. The World Cup however meets our (often false) sense of ‘togetherness’ - like the brotherhood of the legal profession. Then again, it provides an excuse to while away ninety minutes at arm-chair football analysis. That works for me.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Getting my Diary Back

Nothing says ‘well trained Nigerian lawyer’ louder than a nice large and hefty diary. In fact, the only thing that beats brandishing ‘the diary’ in court is showing off a four feet stack of law reports for a three-minute application. In addition to the ordinarily date-keeping ‘facilities’ of diaries, I usually use mine to vent, rant and complain about the things I sometimes love about being a lawyer. While modesty forbids my saying so, I also keep my diary to serve as a reference tool to record the details of my un-fabulous life so that when I become President or someone important, I’ll write a biography and get people to pay me for what they could get free on reality TV.

I didn’t realise how much I had missed my diary until Hyde Rookie accidentally spilled coffee on Senior’s Blackberry after Senior threw a typical tantrum. I stood in shock as I watched my beloved coffee go down the phone! Then, Groveller told on me so that I had to fix the phone. That would not have happened if I had a venting outlet. Usually, my diary acts as a virtual couch, unwavering listener to my irrational rants and comforter in the wicked law world. So, in order to spare the world of the dangers posed by diary-less me, I have decided to bring Rookie’s diary up to speed.

Lagbaja Tamedun and Co. aka the salary provider is still much of the same, save for the interns from the Law School and Muktar’s ‘defection’ to an oil services company. He left the firm two months ago. We still miss him. Plain Short has also been away for the last four weeks. The official reason is a short MBA course for lawyers, one of those executives’ courses where they eat three course meals for tea. Lekki-British said she must have her eyes on Posh Tall’s job. I think she merely wanted the vacation she could not take last year – no one really learns anything at those courses.

Posh Tall on the other hand is ‘different’. She has started smiling, saying things like ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and everything un-Posh Tall. Lekki-British (official position: receptionist; volunteer position: the firm’s chief news-spreader) told me Posh Tall has started reading management books and is practising what she learnt. Last week, she complimented Ghandi on his red tie. Ghandi looked like he was unsure of whether she asked him to strangle himself with the tie.

Ghandi is as mischievous as ever. Yesterday, he put salt in Totally Together Chick’s tea. TTC took the first sip, made an appropriate ‘oh dear’ face, and in her classic annoying calmness, walked to the bathroom. Lesser mortals a.k.a. Rookie would have simply spat it out and later worried about apologising for the uncouthness of the spray-spit. Ghandi also tried wearing contacts for about two weeks until he caught some eye infection. Of course, I made the appropriate (chuckling) sounds – haha!
Besides Ghandi’s perils, Grey Stripes is wearing a knee brace. I hear he fell down the stairs (it was about 11 pm and the lights were out). Everyone is pretending to be nice with the dutiful ‘oh, sorry oh’, ‘eh ya’, while we all laugh and ‘mock his downfall’. Grey Stripes hasn’t changed from the kill joy he used to be. He still does not understand that ‘normal people’ come to work only for the strong pull of the salary and not for the love for the law.

Senior is still a pain in the neck (see above). She has also taken to bullying the new juniors which is the straw before the last one to break the camel’s back. There is only ONE set juniors below yours truly on the ladder i.e. only ONE small sect of minions, I can rule over. Senior deprives me of this joy since by the time she is done with them, they are quivering and do not even notice my derision at their ignorance. *Sniff*

I am appearing with Big Oga, Ghandi, Prof and some ‘nameless junior’ (power is so yum yum!) at the Court of Appeal tomorrow. It means staying late to review the file.
Why on earth did I study law?!!
P.S: Note that rant was contained in diary, rather than throwing something at the nameless junior.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Robin Hood in a Wig!

Some impertinent bad belles may insinuate that politics and doggedness, rather than the ‘rule of law’ allowed Mr. Igbeke take his seat at the Senate. They may irreverently add that the court’s decision was hardly effective since the Senate got away with ignoring their Lordships for two weeks. It seemed that the Senate conceded when it pleased them to do so. These ignoramuses may then conclude with a feathers-ruffling question – did we really need to take three years worth of fillings fees, lawyer’s fees (undiscounted by actually having to listen to lawyers speak), appeal and all, just to ensure that the right person gets to spend one year at the Senate? In fewer words – ‘does law and the legal process matter’?

*Smsh* The simplest reason for the law is that a society that is burdened with an overzealous Police, bloodthirsty naval ratings, nit-picking LASTMA, selected politicians and predatory paedophilias, needs pre-agreed rules to function and protect it. The legal process ensures that those rules are enforced and do more than provide theoretical study materials for law students. Law is the protector of all from all. Deeper reasoning however, shows that law and the legal process are important without having to do anything else. Law simply exists because it does.

For one, the law justifies itself by birthing the hallowed legal profession. The legal profession (or more appropriately, ‘vocation’) is one filled with ministers who tend to Lady Justice and her nephew, Rule of Law. Law helps massage the egos of these chosen few and reassures them of their superiority over ordinary people. Law therefore, is entirely for society’s own good since one can hardly trust mere men to take care of themselves. Consequently, the legal process helps emphasise and remind everyone of how much they need our awesome selves. Better still, it allows us earn a living by saving the world and righting wrongs – like Robin Hood in a wig. (*Yes, I agree, ‘deeper reasoning’ is that complicated.*)

Many points acknowledge the fact that lawyers are essential to life in the way overpriced weaves are crucial for the over-processed hair of the Ultimate Lagos Chick. While the world may not be fortunate enough to get forty year old lawyers on the World Cup lists, they make do with one of ‘our own’ on the Federal Executive Council as the chief law officer. Our constituency is in power every time! More importantly, every bad guy knows from movie experience that the four magical words after getting caught is: I need my lawyer!

Despite the reasons to keep our feet away from the ground and scorn everyone, we are innately modest and acknowledge certain limits. We realise that we may not be as powerful as the former INEC Chairman who remained unfazed despite calls for the thing above his neck. Our judges however have the security of staying on the bench until they can hardly move their wrists.

Law also matters because it provides a logical excuse to carry out elections necessary to justify paying the legislators out of our taxes. Legislators of course, are those people who are officially paid to talk about making laws, sponsor bills to dictate the length of our skirts and sleeves, and ignore decisions of the Court of Appeal. Oh, sometimes, legislators apparently meet to discuss weighty issues such as their quarterly allowances.

Law is mostly like the United Nations – it helps us assume we live under one big happy umbrella and share the same goals until the USA decides it is strong enough to do justice by itself.