By Johnson C. Ezeokoye, Esq.
The expression ¨Junior Lawyer¨ or ¨Junior Counsel¨ is often used interchangeably and rightly too to imply a younger lawyer in the legal profession. According to dictionary.com, ¨Junior Counsel¨ is defined as a body of barristers who are lower in rank than the king´s Counsel or Queen´s Counsel, and who plead outside the bar in the Court. According to the Black´s Law Dictionary, a Junior Counsel is the younger of the Counsel employed on the same side of a case, or the one lower in ranking, or who is trusted with the less important parts of the preparation or trial of the cause.
A lot of times there are job postings in various platforms such as Jobberman, LinkedIn, Facebook, or even on print media, the job title for employers looking for young lawyers who are recently called to the Nigerian Bar is ¨Junior Counsel¨ or ¨Junior Lawyer¨. It leaves me with the disturbing question, is a ¨Junior Counsel¨ or ¨Junior Lawyer¨ a job title?
A critical understanding of the above definitions will reveal that the term Junior Lawyer or Junior Counsel is used to compare a lawyer with another colleague. That is to say, a legal practitioner is only a Junior Lawyer when compared with another lawyer who is first to be called to the Nigeria Bar. The legal profession in Nigeria as borrowed from Britain has so much regards for seniority in the bar. A lawyer of 1-year post call is junior to a lawyer of 2 years post call. In the same vein, a lawyer of 35 years is junior to a lawyer of 37 years post call. It does not necessarily mean that the lawyer of 35 years is a Junior Lawyer in all intents and purposes.
There are various job titles for lawyers whether in-house counsel or in law firms which include but not limited to Counsel, Associate Counsel, Senior Associate Counsel, Head of Chambers, Head of Practice or Associate Partner, Partner, Managing Partner, Legal Assistant, Legal Counsel, etc. ¨Senior¨ is used to observe the stage attained in the work place in the profession with regards to other colleagues in the same work place.
In Lagos State Ministries of Justice for instance, the job titles and positions for lawyers are State Counsel (Level 9 and entry level), Senior State Counsel (Level 10), Principal State Counsel (Level 12), Assistant Chief State Counsel (level 13), Chief State Counsel (Level 14), Assistant Director (Level 15), Deputy Director (Level 16), Director (Level 17). A 1year post call lawyer employed in the Ministry starts with State Counsel and not a Junior State Counsel.
This misconstrued job position is often used by companies and employees who are not members of the legal profession to probably price down the worth and salary of the so-called Junior Lawyers. It is more disheartening to see lawyers use such job positions. The irony of the situation is that such lawyers will not address the Junior Lawyers as one in the firm profile when they are submitting a proposal.
In conclusion, the point is clear that Junior Lawyer or Junior Counsel is not a job title but can be used by learned colleagues to address themselves with respect to their seniority and year of call to the Nigerian Bar. Human Resource Departments, Recruiting Firms, Law Firms and Lawyers are enlightened to correct such anomaly.
Written By Johnson C. Ezeokoye, Esq. , LL.B (Hons.), BL. (Hons.), LL.M, CIArb.
Practical Considerations to Negotiate an Enforceable Joint Operating Agreement in Civil Law Jurisdictions (Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, 2020) By Professor Damilola S. Olawuyi, LL. B (1st Class), BL (1st Class), LL.M (Calgary), LL.M (Harvard), DPhil (Oxford), Professor of Law and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Nigeria, www.damilolaolawuyi.com. & Professor Eduardo G. Pereira, LL. B (Brazil), LL.M (Aberdeen), PhD (Aberdeen),www.eduardogpereira.com
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