Thursday, February 3, 2011



(From the diary of a young lawyer)


Something tells me today is not a good day. I am in at a few minutes past nine as usual and don’t expect my boss in until about ten or eleven. I wonder how long I will have to practice law like this and in this unhappy state. I wish I had more precedents and that I didn’t have to find out everything myself from scratch. I miss the days when I looked up to seniors who were sure about the state of the law and challenged you with exact positions and authorities.

Suddenly my work accident on Friday has become an issue and I wonder if all this is worth it. I accept liability but resent the tone and language of my boss who seems not to care that certain words are used only on battle fields. Salaries are overdue by one day and I can’t wait to cash my cheque. The girl who sells credit on the corner has been eyeing me strangely since I asked her to give me a one thousand five hundred naira MTN recharge card on credit. I miss my red wine- my supply has since run out and my car is low on fuel.


I am taking my time. This particular Federal High Court where our matter is, sits at 10am. As is typical on court days, the boss appears on edge and slightly hyperactive. I stay out of her way and go to court on my own in a taxi. I am tired and don’t feel like driving. I get to court at 9am and I know it’s going to be a long wait. This is bad because I am in no mood for chit-chat or saying anything to my boss. Suddenly she goes into manic-hysteria mode because she forgot the case file in the office. I pity the secretary whose job it is to prepare her things for court, even though clearly it is not her fault. She transmits a good dose of that hysteria through the phone, barking and threatening. The driver gets his own share, for the boss has to use his phone, seeing as she also forgot her phone. I stand by and watch all of it, telling myself, I could never take that from someone whose only edge over me is the privilege of a head start and some more money (I admit that’s quite an edge!).

Court doesn’t sit and the embarrassing hysteria has gone to waste. She still has some left in her though, the boss! For me and for the Secretary. This must be the juiciest part of the hysteria for as soon as we get to the office I hear words said to me that I would not let even my father say to me. ‘Never talk back to the boss’, I say to myself, ‘especially if the boss routinely forgets that not everyone she pays is her docile driver’. ‘Calm down,’ I add, ‘you are probably her first real non-domestic staff as the sole boss, so she must forget from time to time the difference’.

But it does not abate. I ask myself what I have to gain by staying. ‘Just the salary’, I tell myself. So I finally fight the mental dread called insecurity; that fear of losing the security of paid employment even when one is completely unfulfilled and is treated less than desirable dignity.


Twenty four hours after emailing my resignation (and giving one months’ salary in lieu of notice- I feel power in giving the now ex boss money!) and feeling the weight of the world off my shoulders, the depression begins to set in. Suddenly there seems to be no structure in my life. Suddenly nowhere to rush to at 9am. Suddenly I miss the screaming in Engliigbo at ancillary staff: “Friday! When you get there, kpoo the man!” or “Blessing! nyem the land line...”

Gratefully I get a brief from an old friend needing emergency legal services: a partnership agreement to be signed in Lagos in 24 hours. Thankfully, something to engage me at my most fragile (and impecunious) moment.

I deliver at the end of the day and they like it! And I get my cheque!!!


My good friend and senior Musa introduces me to the Magistrate courts. Before now I have never been to the Magistrate courts as a legal practitioner because of the policy of the ex-boss of not going to Magistrate courts. I have always thought it slightly presumptuous for someone of her legal experience but of course I don’t ever say that to her. The Magistrate court is quite interesting. I am appearing with Musa in a fraud case. The matter just before ours is between a landlord and tenant. The Plaintiff, an elderly Igbo man, glowers at his tenant who has managed to stay in his house for an extra 4 months on a legal technicality. She grins, stopping short of sticking her tongue out. The man takes the box.

““And what do you do for a living?” The metrosexual looking lawyer asks his client.

“I am a pastor in private practice” The client replies holding his head up, as if there was something inherently noble about not just being a pastor but one in private practice.

I can’t hold myself. I put my head down and laugh. It feels good and I cannot not remember when last I laughed heartily and sincerely on a work morning. I am happy.


I am surprised that this High Court is sitting today. The registrar told me once that the Judge didn’t sit on Fridays. I am here to hold brief for someone in a matter under the Undefended List. I scan my brain to remember if my ex-boss has any matters in this court. My quitting wasn’t particularly with hugs and kisses so I am not looking forward to seeing her bespectacled face anywhere around town.

My Lord is fond of going off at tangents and discussing politics and religion. In fact , once he asked his registrar to go get his Bible so he could tell a story about a man in the Bible with my name. Today he is discussing a man of God in Anambra whose sermon touched him. Then he goes on about the bad roads on the way to the East as he was going for his learned brother’s mother’s funeral last month. ‘I led the delegation’, My Lord declares proudly. The lawyers in the first few rows upon who My Lord has his intent gaze, all nod in acknowledgement of the immensity of his task and the greatness of the risk on the road. My Lord smiles and chips in something about the sad state of the country before going ahead with the case at hand. A young lawyer beside me is hissing and looking at the time. He seems like he would rather be at the Corporate Affairs Commission pursuing some company name Availability or Legal Search which his boss has no idea about.

I head for the Corporate Affairs Commission to file ‘same day’ incorporation. I see one of my former colleagues. It seems like one month already. He tells me the ex-boss has employed two men to replace me. I am happy for her. She must miss calling me 19 times every day to keep tab on things. And to be honest I also miss the rumbling feeling in my stomach when I see her 11th call and I need to go to eat or use the bathroom.

Friday evening is NBA meeting. Maybe I will see the ex boss, maybe I won’t. I wonder if the ex-boss resents me for just leaving without notice or if she realizes what I think of her.

I will go for the meeting and be bored and have a beer to drown out the annoying rowdiness of lawyers struggling for food like ravenous wolves at the end of the meeting. I will tolerate the annoying old lawyers whose anthem is always ‘wait for your time’ or ‘these young lawyers have no respect’. It is campaign season and I wonder how many young lawyers will be pressured into stepping down for their seniors at the bar. I will try to ignore the questions in my head each time I realise that perhaps fifty percent or more of lawyers at NBA meetings are from the same ethnic group; (knowledge of that language is crucial to understanding any serious side talk.)

Friday night is club night and when I am on the dance floor no one will call me a young lawyer or scream at me or ask me to wait for my time. I won't need to know anyone or any specific language to feel comfortable. There will only be laughing and vodka and loud, mostly Nigerian, dance-hall music. And I will dance until my knees start to ache.