Litigation Note 1: The Court Room; where it all begins
Dictionary Definition – a room where a law court meets.
Generally Accepted ‘Actual’ definition for many Green Wigs – The room our stomachs rumble in, our palms sweat in and our feet get jelly in, all on our first day of litigation practice.
Let us revisit the scenery.
It is our first day of Court work after the glorious call to the Nigerian Bar. Before this day, Law school was either extreme fun, especially rewarding, grievously annoying, particularly disappointing or just some long period of avoidable human stress. Anyways, the situation is over and behold, we have become lawyers, called to the largest Bar in Africa, licensed to help all juristic persons get properly sued in any Court and having possession of a wig and gown itching for some court room action in the fashion of Harvey Specter from Suits or Alan Shore from Boston Legal.
So on this first day of real life after call to bar, we wake up, dust up that sleek call to bar suit – the one still reeking of all the goodwill and head inflating compliments from the day of call. We put it on and off we are to work.
It is common knowledge that not every young lawyer gets into the Ivy League law firms in Nigeria. But we trained 6 years for legal practice, so in any event, we still get to a law firm as available. For a number of these firms, the first day or even weeks at work (especially when you are an NYSC Associate) may involve taking innocuous motions, applying for adjournments, carrying files to accompany seniors and recording proceedings in various Courts. I say this because I’ve obviously had a small share of it and in some respect I agree that they are part of the learning process (I will explain my take on this in a subsequent note).
So back to where we left off – our first day of Court work. That first glorious appearance in Court stares us in the face. Whatever day of the week it is really doesn’t matter. The internal battles that precede it most times overwhelm all that. So that many times, that first appearance in Court requires the internal summoning of all the ancestors that did not send us to read this law.
Our wig and gown stand up with us to address the Court but when it’s time to talk, we discover our village people may have arrived and are standing with us too.
I remember my first appearance at the High Court of Edo State sitting in Benin. I was to appear before His Lordship Hon. Justice A. Edodo Eruaga (Now Rtd), the day was sunny but that was not my problem. I feared that my tongue would somehow not work once my Lord stared at me. Something even told me my legs might give way under me. And my stomach? The 4th world war was already happening there. I was just frankly scared. And what caused all these exactly? In my heart of hearts I could not tell. My purpose that morning? Simply tell the Court that we could not ensure service of our processes on the Defendant and therefore we were applying for an adjournment. Anyways, to the glory of God and the shame of the devil, I returned with the next adjourned date.
The point is; for a number of new wigs, the first appearance would be fear laden. Though I agree this fear is one that could have been dealt with in advance before that day in Court. That is why moot Court sessions, debate competitions and even speaking clubs like toast masters exist. This fear is simply the fear of public speaking in a regulated environment (in this case – the Court room). And it can be duly surmounted.
Even with that fear, proceed. Do it scared. Do it and even when you make mistakes, have the boldness and courage to learn. Besides remember that all the fidgeting going on under your wig and gown are generally not visible to onlookers in the Court room. Most times these onlookers are staring and hoping. Hoping that you get it right. Join your hope with theirs.
That is why you may get a lot of guidance from seniors when you’re on your feet addressing the Court and it looks like your heading into an oncoming judicial traffic of trouble e.g. costs or a stern rebuke from the bench.
Most times, you start scared and while still on your feet, all elements of the fear dissipate. I think that is a good sign.
Furthermore, with continued practice that fear is eventually lost. For some persons that is. For others, there is still a healthy fear when prosecuting matters in Court. In either case, a key thing to note is that mastery eliminates or subdues fear.
Mastery of the substantive law and procedure.
Mastery of the facts.
Mastery of fundamental presentation skills as well.
You can garner these while in School. But it’s not too late to garner them when already in practice.
Cheers. And to the newest wigs coming on board this July (2021), Welcome to the Bar.
Litigation Notes are a series of short courtroom and practice lessons gleaned from the personal practice journal that chronicles the green wig years of Frederick Nkobowo Esq. They represent his considered and respectful opinion which could change as his age at the bar inevitably progresses. It is respectfully hoped that these notes would proffer some aid to other practitioners even as the writer looks to gathering more learning. He practices in Delta State and can be reached via [email protected],