Chimezie Onuzulike bagged a First Class at the university and a Second Class Upper at the Law School. The best graduating law student of Anambra State University in 2014 and winner of the school’s Chancellor’s Award shares his law story
I am the last son of Chief Mark and Lolo Chinyere Onuzulike. I have three siblings, two men and a lady. I attended Anambra State University, Igbariam Campus where I graduated in 2014 with a First Class Honours. I proceeded immediately to the Abuja Campus of the Nigerian Law School and finished in September 2015 with a Second Class Honours (Upper Division) and was called to the Bar in December 2015.
‘Programmed to be a lawyer’
I probably was programmed from birth to be a lawyer. When I was a kid my grandmother would always call me “Pocket Lawyer” because of the way I spoke, defended myself, and asserted my position fearlessly with that witty childhood intelligence. I grew up that way, and I soon found out that this is my calling.
Only lawyer in the family
None of my parents or siblings are lawyers, they are business people. Howbeit my mum is in the academic field. She teaches French and English. To celebrate my Call to Bar, my family organised a party fixed for a date which incidentally coincided with my birthday, so, I celebrated with a lot of family members as well as close friends and allies. We ate and drank copiously. It was a day to remember.
Law school was rigorous
Law school took the most part of my 2015, it was very rigorous. This was owing to the intense pressure on me to replicate my academic feat at the university. So, I had to intensify efforts and hard-work. I dissociated myself from a lot of things and people just to be focused. I remember telling one or two close friends and allies that it must be a First Class, and in the event that push came to shove, a 2.1 (albeit painfully) and nothing less, and that if it went below that, I wouldn’t go back home; I would start living by the gate of the Nigerian Law School (laughs). But thank God it didn’t get to that.
First pay for personal work as a lawyer
I think it was N10,000. It was a quit notice.
Relationship with principals
Well, I think I have had a fair share of unpleasant experiences. The truth of the matter is that a boss always wants to be a boss and act as one even where it is completely unnecessary. So, sometimes principals can be cranky and overbearing probably because of the level they have attained in the profession coupled with the nature of the profession, as one where you have to be vociferously eloquent in asserting your position. So, as a young lawyer you have to defer to their superiority in the profession so that you can learn, but definitely not to the level of sycophantic compliance. It’s a moulding process so as a young lawyer you have to allow yourself to be moulded.
Marriage: lawyer vs non-lawyer?
Well, I am getting married to the woman and not her qualification. If I meet a good woman who incidentally is a lawyer, that would be tremendously beautiful. The virtues are the substance, whilst her qualification is the icing on the cake. So, you don’t want to lose the substance whilst going after the icing. Because, the truth of the matter is that, you don’t eat the icing, you eat the cake, so you have to look out for a good cake. But, if I get a good woman who is a lawyer, there probably would be nothing better than that.
Most annoying things clients have said or done
None readily comes to mind at the moment. I try as much as possible to organise myself and my practice in a way that they don’t get to talk to me in a manner that I won’t like. But sometimes clients talk to you in a manner that is offensive and you have to take it, because they are your gold mine.
Embarrassing day in court
I was in court one day with a senior colleague who was with the case file, and fully seised of the facts of the matter. It was his matter, not mine. I arrived on time but he didn’t show up before the matter was called. When the matter was called I informed the court that my learned colleague was with the case file and he’s not yet in court and I prayed the court for a stand down (A stand down is a deferment of your matter to a later time same day) but the judge refused and asked us to proceed to argue our pending applications, I was embarrassed and unsettled. But, luckily for me, he came in just in the nick of time.
Need to make law more elegant, attractive
I think there is need to change the face of the profession and make it more elegant and attractive. It used to be a very hallowed, reputable and respected profession but I think it is fast losing its reverence. Firstly, the way we appear. Some senior lawyers make a lot of money but would still wear tattered wigs, gowns and old suits. Secondly there are rogue lawyers everywhere who undercharge clients and end up spoiling the system for others. If we have a way of checking ridiculously low charges and making it a gross professional misconduct to undercharge, that would be great.
Advice for young lawyers
The truth of the matter is that in working under a law firm your pay is usually dependent on your result. There are big law firms around that pay amazingly well, but to get into those firms is a Herculean task, because, as a matter of policy, they have a 2.1 (both at the university and law school) benchmark for recruiting lawyers and you will also be subjected to the rigmarole of various tests and interviews. But that is just by the way. I keep telling people that you don’t come into the profession with the aim of making quick money. Growth in the legal profession, unlike in other professions, is a gradual process. You can’t skip a step. You learn first then with time money comes. Truth is, there is massive money in this profession but it doesn’t come so quick. You learn first, then with time you can establish your own practice, and from there you start hitting the jackpot. But, in the interim, whilst learning, there are law firms that allow you do your personal practice whilst working for them, so one can get into those kinds of firms and source for one’s own briefs.
I have to learn a lot now and acquire more qualifications, I will have my own law firm in the future, but the knowledge I acquire now will be very crucial to that plan.