Paul Usoro is one of Nigeria’s leading lawyers, with industry-leading expertise in commercial and telecommunications law. In the first of a series of articles, he tackles the issue of welfare for young practitioners in the legal profession, the structural problems fuelling it and sets out a range of proposals the Nigerian Bar Association should consider in order to alter the status quo.
Introducing the Journey
One of the hottest topics on the lips of everyone, is the poor welfare package for young lawyers and this is for understandable reasons. The demographics of lawyers shows a distantly outnumbered senior lawyers as against the growing multitude of young lawyers. Indeed, the Nigerian Law School has been turning out, on a yearly basis, a great number of young lawyers such that, it is beginning to seem that there are more young lawyers scrambling and rushing after increasingly fewer job opportunities and spaces. For those who are lucky to be employed, the consistent complaint that I’ve heard countrywide centers around poor remuneration packages which, in some cases, is as low as ₦10,000.00 in salaries and wages per month, and in some instances even less.
With such poor income and in a country where a social security safety net is unheard of, the living conditions of most young lawyers can only be imagined. And yet, our pride and distinction as lawyers lie not only in our erudition but also in our get-up and appearance. The truth is, no matter how erudite a lawyer may be, his appearance speaks first for him even before he utters a word. A shabby-looking lawyer, no matter how erudite, hardly commands audience or respect. In that circumstance, it is actually a miracle that more of our young lawyers do not suffer low self-esteem caused by poor living conditions and wages. It is therefore imperative, urgent and critical, beyond election pitches and rhetoric, that we take the amelioration of living conditions for young lawyers seriously, as an Association of Nigerian lawyers.
So, what can be done, in practical terms, to ameliorate the welfare conditions of young lawyers – and by extension, lawyers generally? What are the issues that should engage the NBA in working at solutions to this deleterious position? I invite you to journey with me as I examine, in succeeding parts of this series, the causative factors of this problem and the remediation steps that we should take, individually and as an Association of Nigerian lawyers, to remedy the situation. I will, in those succeeding articles, also x-ray some matters that are related to this over-arching and central issue of welfare which should engage our attention as well.
Let me however put in some required caveats at this inception of our journey: First, I do not believe that there is a magic wand or a one-size-fit-all solution that would resolve the welfare issue in one fell swoop. I believe that the consistent application of a raft of solutions may be required as a remedy to this cancerous problem and even then, we must have constant updates, reviews and dialogue on the issue – and such reviews and dialogues must involve the relevant stakeholders, notably but not limited to young lawyers. A second caveat is that I am not inclined towards a flat and regulated lawyer-centric national minimum wage pronouncement as has been suggested by some; this may not work and may not even be enforceable – and we will in the subsequent parts of this article elaborate on the reasons for our skepticism. For the moment, please, join me as we examine the causative factors and the required probable remediation steps which the NBA can take in that regard and other related issues in the succeeding parts of this article.