By Stanley Ekpa
Though legal practice in Nigeria is over a hundred years old, it was only about five decades ago that the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, was established as the umbrella body of all lawyers admitted to the bar in Nigeria.
Since 1900, NBA has had 34 chairmen and presidents. Established to protect the welfare of its members, promote rule of law, good governance and protect human rights, the association has continued to play a critical role in the Nigerian socio-political and economic landscape.
As the bar elects its leaders for the 2020 – 2022 legal years, there is no doubt that the three presidential aspirants are prepared persons whose electoral messages and manifestoes resonate with all facets of the bar. The core plank of the campaign, however, has been on how to reposition the bar for the benefit of its over 120 members, and to remain relevant in the pursuit of social justice and rule of law.
By the time eligible lawyers exercise their franchise and give their mandate to a President-elect today, all that will be left is how to translate the canvassed brilliant ideas for rebuilding the bar into concrete and measurable realities and results, particularly as it affects young lawyers in Nigeria.
The prevailing challenges of unemployment, poor remuneration and lack of opportunities for young lawyers in the profession have been core issues of campaign in recent election circles of NBA, yet no institutional and sustainable solution has been achieved.
Expectedly, all the three candidates for the Presidency of the bar, namely Dele Adesina(SAN), Babatunde Ajibade(SAN), and Olumide Akpata have all espoused viable and very similar welfare policies for young lawyers. Beyond campaign promises, the welfare of new wigs as the future of the bar is a core leadership burden for whoever wins this election; more importantly, the next President must adopt an institutional, inclusive and sustainable model in solving this problem.
Plan Partners’ proposal for a Firm-to-Firm Tutelage Programme in partnership with the Young Lawyers Forum, and monitored by the leadership of NBA creates a common and shared solution that focuses on partnership, collaboration, mentorship and tutelage, support, and growth measurement.
The next NBA President have a responsibility to first, galvanise and unite the bar. Then leverage on this unity to build consensus on how established law firms, as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility, can provide professional tutelage, mentorship and support to start-up partnerships/firms. There are huge potentials in the untapped legal market in Nigeria, but for young lawyers to benefit from this fertile practice climate, they need an institutional support system that promotes proficiency and expands the frontiers of opportunities for them.
To guide whoever becomes the NBA President-elect is important to articulate the underlying framework and philosophy of the Firm-to-Firm Tutelage Programme as practical steps for creating inclusive opportunities for young lawyers.
First, the future of successful and sustainable law firms would be anchored on functional partnerships. To ensure that young lawyers do not find themselves in desperate circumstances culminating in sharp practices and other unprofessional conducts, the leadership of the bar must use the Firm-to-Firm Tutelage Programme to encourage new wigs who are unable to find employment or who are poorly paid to go into partnership with peers as the baseline for accessing mentorship, start-up support, and monitoring to ensure their professional growth, expansion and sustainability.
We are persuaded by the reality that the existing law firms cannot absorb the teeming number of young lawyers in Nigeria in search of jobs and opportunities. Hence, a structured and professional mentorship model of this nature would create a platform for new wigs to learn, support and thrive, as the mentoring firms are to engage the platform firms, assign some minor cases to them, and guide them through the entire lifespan of such cases.
Law is big business and new wigs must be trained and prepared for the diversity of opportunities that the business of law presents. There is a compelling need for the new leadership of NBA to establish and efficiently manage a “Young Lawyers Enterprise Fund”.
Accessing a start-up fund under this scheme would be predicated on a start-up partnership’s completion of the Firm-to-Firm Tutelage Programme. Such tutelage prepares the start-up partnership with practical knowledge of law firm management, client sourcing and management, professional skills, growth and sustainability strategies, and insights into complex nature of some emerging practice areas.
More importantly, the next NBA leadership must work swiftly to restore the dignity of the profession against the background of police harassment, poor remuneration and dehumanising treatment of new wigs by their principals and seniors. After six years of training, a lawyer deserves both good wage and respect. With emerging digital disruptions in different sectors of the economy, NBA must continue to build the professional capacities of its members to meet up with global standards.
Ekpa, Principal Partner, Plan Partners, writes from Abuja.