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In Law practice, have a mentor from whom you can learn – Hairat Balogun

A former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Lagos State and a Life Bencher, indefatigable Mrs.Hairat Aderinsola Balogun, OON, is always a delight to listen to. She was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in the U.K. at 21, and she’s made giant strides since then in her beloved profession. Little wonder, she is set to formally present her latest book, ”To Serve in Truth & Justice,”  barely a few months after presenting ”Women in the Law,” a historical research book about women lawyers in the country. Vista Woman had a chat with her about this new book, her law memoirs, which will be presented to the public this week in Lagos at the Metropolitan Club.

My latest book, ‘To Serve in Truth & Justice’, is actually my memoirs in the law profession. Some people may want to say it is my autobiography, but it is not because it doesn’t really contain much about my personal life. Rather, it’s about the law profession, how I fared from day one till present and how I have conducted myself.

I took the title from the Holy Quran, and I think it’s very appropriate because when you tell people a story, you should tell them in truth and in justice; give them the full facts as you know them.

I believe that though we don’t take an oath like doctors, as soon as you are called to the Bar, you silently take an oath and make up your mind to be firm and principled; no matter the obstacles. Surely, you will have a time in which things will be slow because you probably need time to convince people about your own point of view, maybe in a particular issue. You try to maintain consistency because it is very important for a human being to be known as a consistent person. If you are a consistent liar, it will take a long time for people to believe whatever truth you may say.

But if you’re strict and people know that, they will just try and hold on to their own views. They will, however, become comfortable with you because they know what you are. It’s not like you’re expected to be an angel; but you should do your best to be consistent. In all, be yourself and try not to copy anybody.

The book also talks about my career so far. Like every other journey, I actually started with hopes and aspirations. The journey has been full of ups and downs, trials, tribulations, and what have you, but all the time, I have been courageous enough to say to myself ‘I’m making progress’.

Once you’re making progress and you’re not static, then you are happy because you know your journey is on course. Weather the storm, and if there’s a problem, try to solve it. That’s what I have always done with myself.

I believe the problem with so many lawyers today is that they want to run before they can crawl. The practice of law is not based on theory or your certificate alone. You have to make sure at the beginning that you have a mentor from whom you can learn the practical rudiments of behavior; whether in or outside the court. You work with them for a few years, and then you add that to your legal knowledge. That should make you very confident.

It will also hold you in good stead. But some people, even though they do not have much confidence, they do not believe they should go understudy some people and watch how things are done! That’s why they make mistakes and never recover. It’s not possible to just start all by yourself, and then go right to the top. It is impossible! You need to have to have a mentor! I had mentors and I still have mentors whom I’m very proud of! They are in my book! These are people who I can refer to at any time, and who will not say I’m too big for their advice.

A lot of people do not want to start slowly. They just jump into the pool and splash around to an extent that people around will feel there is life inside the pool. But before they know what is happening, this person has drowned.  That’s what happens to a lot of people who do not like making progress gradually.

You may even choose to go to a senior lawyer and ask him to let you work a bit with him and know more about how he works. You must have a mentor! These mentors may even introduce you to the other big names in the profession and help you widen your circle in the terrain. Sometimes, if you have problems, they may be the first to see that you have a problem with your case, and could bring it to your notice even before you observe the problem.

In the good old days, I could remember that as soon as some elderly lawyers in the court notice that your matter is shaky, they will just quietly advise you to take another date. If you’re somebody who is wise and ready to learn, you will go meet that lawyer to explain to you what is wrong with your stand, and he or she may even go into details to tell you what that judge, due to his or her own experience, is expecting to hear. Give me any famous name in the law profession, and I will tell you those who mentored and are still mentoring them!

Looking back to the good old days, I would say that a lot of things have gone wrong. Can you imagine that some lawyers do not have secondary school education? What they have is GCE! Some drop out of school at a point, and then went back to do GCE just because they wanted to go to the university.

They do not know that they’ve missed the basics already! That’s why you find many who cannot write a simple letter without making mistakes. It is from secondary school that you learn how to compete without rancour, how to behave, how to respect your teachers, how to be neighborly, and all that. I am one lawyer who will not tell you lies! Something is missing in many of the lawyers you see around today.

The fact is that people must have the basics before going into the light. Unfortunately, most of them do not have the basics of education. To be a good lawyer, you must have a good knowledge of English language because it is your tool of trade. You must know literature and history! In secondary school, they teach you to speak up; not to shout.

But you find some lawyers shouting instead of speaking up in the court room while presenting their case! Even in the university, the standard too has fallen drastically because most of the lecturers are from the crop of half-baked lawyers. Lecturers do not even have time these days for their students! Abroad, they have young and old lecturers. People who have even retired also come in too. The young ones teach courses like internet law, communication law, etc. But the old ones tell you the basics of constitutional law, defamation law, etc. from their wealth of experience.

Women in the Law
The Women in the Law is a partially historical research about women lawyers; their origin, how some of them have fared, etc. I’m so happy to mention that as at the presentation of the research, we had two women justices in Nigeria. But today, we have three! So that is an addition to the research. Also, we have an increase in the number of women Chief Justices.’


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