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‘Clients lack confidence in female lawyers’ competence’

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‘Clients lack confidence in female lawyers’ competence’

Oluwabukola Adekemi Adedeji was called to the Bar in 2016 shortly after her LL.B from the University of Abuja. Adedeji shares her journey into the wig and gown profession, challenges, pupilage, others with JOHN CHIKEZIE

 

 

Background
Oluwabukola Adekemi Adedeji, an indigene of Owo, a town in Ondo State read law at the University of Abuja where she obtained an LL.B in 2015.
She was, however, called to the Nigerian Bar in 2016. She told New Telegraph how her journey into the noble profession began.
Adedeji said: “My name is Oluwabukola Adekemi Adedeji and I am from Owo local government area of Ondo State. My primary education began at Adedewe Nursery and Primary School Owo and a High School at Parker International, Akure in 2006.
“In 2008, I obtained a Diploma in law from the University of Benin in 2008 and thereafter proceeded to the University of Abuja where I obtained my LL.B in 2015. And in 2016, I was called to the Nigerian Bar after I graduated from the Law School, Abuja campus.”

Law
Initially, I dreamt of becoming a Mechanical Engineer but because of my poor performance in mathematics, I joined the Art classes in secondary school. I had a good knowledge of literature and Government, also very active during school debates. So, as a result of my love for debates at tender age, my classmates began calling me a lawyer.
However, my decision in choosing the legal profession was actually spurred out of a passion for fighting for people’s right.
I remember while growing up and watching the late Chief GANI Fawehinmi, SAN on TV; his charisma and erudite description made me to decide then that I will do whatever it will take to be like him. The actions I further took earned me my recent popular nickname “Comrade”. And at last, I became a lawyer just like he did.
Although the journey wasn’t an easy one, God made it possible for me to achieve this and I love every moment of it.
First court appearance
My first court appearance was just a week after my call to Bar. I was opportune to join the law firm of Kola Olawoye &Co. in Owo, Ondo State.
On that day, I went with my Principal, Kola Olawoye Esq., now Attorney-General of Ondo state.
The matter was scheduled for trial and the party on the other side didn’t want it to go on. But my principal urged the court not to adjourn the matter while appealing that he had a new wig with him who is eager to learn a thing or two at her first day in court.
So, after a short argument from parties, the judge ruled that the matter should proceed.
However, my first appearance alone as a lawyer was at a magistrate court. It was a bit nervous on how to announce my appearance in a matter but it finally went well.

Pupilage
After call to Bar, I joined Kola Olawoye &Co. in Owo, Ondo State while awaiting clarion call. I thereafter proceeded to serve at Tanko Beji & Co., a law firm in Minna, Niger State.
I must confess that legal practice in the Northern part of Nigeria, especially in Niger state, is far different from the modus operandi of the western region. After my youth service, I now work with a firm, Seun Aderibigbe & Co. here in Lagos.
Challenges of female lawyers
I believe most female lawyers have separate and several challenges while in practice. Being a full time female litigation lawyer isn’t an easy experience in a state like Lagos, especially on the issue of mobility. On daily basis, I have had courses to travel outside jurisdiction just to represent a case.
For instance, there are times I would have cases in Ibadan, Abeokuta, Epe and so on, where I would be required to leave my house as early as 5:30a.m., since I am not mobile so as not to come late for proceedings.
Second, the issue of client’s lacking faith or trust in the capabilities of female lawyers is the greatest challenge.
I remember, sometime ago, when my principal had informed a client that he would send a lawyer from his firm to represent him in a matter at Epe. As usual, I left the house at 5:30a.m. in order to locate the court and further introduce myself to the client, since it was my first meeting with him. After I introduced myself as the lawyer sent from the firm, I could see the disappointment on his face as he murmured in Yoruba language, translated as, “so Barrister sent me a female lawyer. I hope she will perform well.”
The matter was for argument on a motion which, however, turned out im my favour. And after the case, he quickly approached me and said, “lawyer you tried oooo.” This is one of the challenges common to female lawyers; a situation where clients believe we cannot handle their cases or represent them properly in court.
We still live in a society where people believe that men in the profession are far better, but ignorant of the fact that female lawyers are more committed than the men.

Administration of Criminal Justice
With the invention of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, I would say that the criminal justice system in Nigeria has truly improved. The Act brought innovations like suspect giving statement in the presence of his legal representative and in the event that he doesn’t have, the statement must be taken in the presence of a legal aid officer.
Also, the Act is against the arrest of a person in lieu; this is a situation whereby if a suspect cannot be arrested, someone close to him/her will be arrested in his place.
Most of the states in Nigeria have adopted this Act, especially in Lagos. For example, in the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL), there is also an Office of the Public Defender (OPD) which makes provision for the legal representation of defendants who cannot afford a lawyer.

Spousal abuse
Honestly, it’s unfortunate that female lawyers are involved in such act, but then it could be anyone. Therefore, it’s not alright when people now attribute female lawyers as being aggressive or abusive. It has nothing to do with the profession; those who abuse their spouse simply act on the nature of their own character and not because they are lawyers.

SANs and judges in corruption trial
It will affect upcoming lawyers. It will largely affect their perception of the judicial system and since they look up to some of these people, they may decide to be like them on the assumption that such conduct is a normal way of life.
In conclusion, most judicial officers are the most corrupt, especially those at the registry.
Filing of process is difficult for lawyers as they are mandated by the court officials to tip them before they can accept the process and again after paying for service copies at the registry. Sheriff Officers, will still ask for money from counsel before they can serve the process filed. This is a serious matter going on in the system which requires urgent and immediate attention.

Remuneration
The issue of remuneration for young lawyers is a serious matter. They earn little or nothing and are expected to work like an elephant. I’m not proud of my salary but I can say it’s better compared to what some of my colleagues earn. There’s this general saying by most senior lawyers that “nobody can pay a lawyer” I really don’t agree with that.
If you can’t pay a lawyer but at least pay them according to the effort they put into your work. More so, most of the senior lawyers don’t like their juniors doing personal practice.
In addition, the government or the Nigerian Bar Association should look into this. If a lawyer must open a firm and employ junior counsel then there should be a standard mode of payment. This will help curb the numerous law firms we have around that cannot pay their members of staff.

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