Chief Arthur Obi Okafor (SAN) has urged the Nigerian Bar Association to develop a policy framework that will improve young lawyers’ welfare and equip them to compete.
Okafor said every effort to improve and develop the legal profession must be synchronised with efforts to increase opportunities for young lawyers.
He spoke on ‘Young lawyers in legal practice: Venturing beyond usual borders’, at the maiden edition of the NBA Young Lawyers’ Forum, Calabar branch, penultimate week Tuesday.
Okafor said: “In recent times, the main problem of young lawyers in Nigeria has been locating opportunities for employment.
“This in itself is not the only problem, but from time to time we need to pause and examine the efforts, means and methods by which young lawyers can engage in expanding the frontiers of legal practice, appraise their successes, challenges and failures and adapt positively especially in line with the professional circumstances and realities in Nigeria and the world today.”
He identified the challenges facing the young lawyer playing across borders to include demand for specialisation.
Okafor said: “There is increased demand for specialisations in areas of practice in the global legal services sector that requires multidisciplinary skills, for instance a decent knowledge of accounting and finance in order to have a basic understanding of corporate governance issues etc.
“Law is increasingly becoming multidisciplinary in nature as a lawyer is now required to understand many socio-political issues, and happenings in other areas such as oil and gas, capital market etc.
“This is the effect of globalisation on legal practice. The reality is therefore that a lawyer should continuously pursue skills in related fields to remain relevant and employable in today’s rather overpopulated legal landscape.”
On the impact of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on the young lawyer, he noted that knowledge and proficiency in ICT is a mandatory requirement in the 21st century legal marketplace.
He said: “Clients often communicate through ICT systems and Lawyers must be in a position to access and have proficiency in utilization of ICT facilities. These include video conferencing, advanced document formats for sensitive documents etc.
“A Nigerian lawyer and indeed any lawyer anywhere in the world must therefore be abreast of latest developments in ICT as it is a requirement for effective use of ICT systems and devices.”
Okafor observed that the rules of professional conduct also affect the performance of the young lawyer. He said: “Every lawyer no matter how brilliant and smart must at all times bear in mind the strict rules of professional conduct for Nigerian lawyers and lawyers everywhere.
“A high regard for ethical standards and rules of professional conduct is an absolute necessity for success in the legal profession. The legal profession places a high premium on integrity, honesty, decency, dedication and discipline all over the world. A successful lawyer must always represent the high moral values and discipline which distinguishes lawyers in the society.
“A lawyer should act within the prescriptions of the Rules of Professional Conduct. It can never be over-emphasized that without integrity, no lawyer can succeed in the long run. Practicing across borders may throw-up ethical issues. All lawyers should be careful not to breach rules of professional conduct in discharging legal duties.”
He advised young lawyers to deliver solutions before making demands, as “the best way to make yourself valuable is to solve problems and find innovative solutions to legal problems that you encounter in your chosen area of practice.
“Instead of complaining, motivate yourself and constantly think of ways to solve problems. This adds value and helps you in the long run.”
The silk urged young lawyers to try and specialise in different areas of law.
He said: “A lawyer is a better asset to himself and society if he can demonstrate excellent skills in a niche within the profession. It makes you significantly more valuable and gives you potential to attract more clients. If you are known as a specialist in a particular area, for instance; medical negligence cases, your value will greatly increase.
“Take your employer’s office as your own: any aspect of legal practice is a “business enterprise”, a young lawyer must become part of the “business” and relate properly with the employer and clients. This is important in building a career and a reputation. Without owning the business and treating the “business” and clients’ right, it will be difficult to build a reputation and develop in your chosen area of practice.”