Mentorship: The Key To Professional Development Of Young Lawyers

Being a paper presented by Terhemen Oscar Aorabe, Esq (Managing Counsel, Elohim Chambers at the annual summit of Nigerian Bar Association, Young Lawyers Forum, Makurdi Branch held on 24th to 25th February, 2024.


I count it an honour and a privilege to be chosen to present a paper on mentorship and the professional development of young lawyers.
When I received the invitation to present this paper I value this precious opportunity because I am also a product of mentoring, having been groomed by great personalities both living and dead.
The topic of mentoring ignites and excites my passion, especially when it comes to the only profession that I have known for the past three decades.
According to Wikipedia, “Mentorship is the patronage, influence, guidance, or direction given by a mentor. A mentor is someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person. In an organizational setting, a mentor influences the personal and professional growth of a mentee.
Most traditional mentorships involve having senior employees mentor more junior employees, but mentors do not necessarily have to be more senior than the people they mentor. What matters is that the mentors have experience that others can learn from.
For the purpose of my discussion, I will however, venture my own definition of mentorship as:
The provision of a platform for a legal neophyte to learn and earn, and also bring the best out of him of her, by a more experienced guide preparatory to launching him or her into professional excellence.
Bearing in mind the fact that the topic given to me is supposed to dovetail! into the theme of the Summit: “Reawakening the Ethics of the Profession.”, I will endeavor to look at the issue of professional development from two angles; (1) Professional development from the occupation or career perspective where the primary objective or aim is to earn or eke out a living, and (2) Professional development that goes beyond mere fee earning to attainment of the best ethical practices and standards even if it means sacrificing the fee earning aspect.
In my book, Legal Tactics and Antics, published in 2014 but currently undergoing revision, I said: “Every lawyer needs a platform to launch his career by learning patiently at the feet of an established lawyer for a reasonable period of time. The big names you hear of in the legal profession today did not invent legal practice, they learnt it from others. Just like Sir Isaac Newton acknowledged the role that learning from others played in his scientific discoveries that put him ahead of his time, you will also need to be mentored to be able to become a giant. Many senior lawyers are willing and ready, in obedience to the sacred duty to ensure that the best tradition of the legal profession is entrusted in competent hands that will eventually pass the torch to future generations.
They want nothing in return but the satisfaction that they have helped someone, Just like the legendary filmmaker Clint Eastwood said; “What I think f helping gets is the great satisfaction of dy pink somebody agrea nelping somebody take advantage a an opportunity that maybe he or she did not have.”FELIX CHUKWUMA ASHIMOLE, Esq., consulting to serve NBA as PUBLICITY SECRETARY 2024-2026.

Even though by Section 8 of the Legal Practitioners Act and by virtue of Section 36 (6) (c) of the 1999 Constitution which stipulates that a person has the right to counsel of his choice, by which any lawyer by his call to the Nigerian Bar has the right of audience in all the courts of the land including the Supreme Court, most young lawyers lack the competence to do so without undergoing additional practical training under an established lawyer. Unfortunately, many young lawyers lack the patience to learn under a senior for the necessary length of time that will make them master the rudiments of practice that can take them to all the Courts without fumbling. They refuse to understudy senior and more experienced lawyers, behave like the goat and end up being frustrated with legal practice because their ill-preparation renders them incompetent and without the needed skills to respond to complex cases that come their way as soon as they set up their independent practices. By working diligently under a senior lawyer, you are indeed working for yourself and your career.”
Sir Isaac Newton, referred to in the above quotation, unarguably one of the greatest scientists and inventors of all times, had this to say about his greatness: “IF I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.
(1) The mentee gets an opportunity to learn under a master and get experience. The biger the firm the vaster the expertise will be in different areas of practice.
(2) The mentee earns money using the mentor’s good will and clientele.
(3) The Mentee gets an opportunity to gradually build up his or her library and other necessary resources preparatory to setting up his practice when the need arises.
(4) The mentee gets an opportunity to appear in court frequently and showcase his talents to potential clientele.
(5) The mentee builds a base of future clients, mostly from clients of his mentor, for whom he or she has handled cases and are convinced of the mentee’s competence.
Mentorship inculcates the virtue of humility in the mentee that would help later in professional practice.
(1) A mentor with a multi practice office is to be preferred to one with an office where practice is limited to one area of practice. If you choose to start practice in a firm where only land matters are handled, you will be completely at sea when you are briefed to handle even a simple matter of fundamental rights enforcement. It does not matter your age at the Bar, once your practice experience is limited your age at the Bar cannot help you when it comes to matters relating to an area of practice that you are not used to.
(2) Bear in mind that how much you are going to earn is important but should not take pre-eminence over the experience that you are going to acquire, if you put money making before the requisite experience, you may soon fizzle out of practice as your lack of experience will. definitely cut off your source of earnings.
(3) Remember that while it is true that you cannot be adequately remunerated for the work you do for your mentor while being mentored, you cannot equally pay your mentor for the experience and the exposure you will get under his or her tutelage. Always remember what Heinrich Heine, the German writer and poet said, “Experience is a good School. But the fees are high”.The benefits of mentorship are more pronounced in a mentee, but the profession and the mentor also stand to derive benefit from mentoring others in the profession.
For the profession, mentorship endures that the best traditions and practices painstakingly developed are handed down from one generation to another.
For the mentor, it means he has to do less work and less supervision and reaps the benefits of his mentoring of others when the mentees gets the grip of the practice as they work on the briefs that come to the office through his goodwill and fame.
I have observed sadly, that as soon as a lawyer is able to announce his appearance and move a motion, and he can garner the resources, the temptation to go solo becomes irresistible.
Don’t be carried away by the euphoria of briefs and support by family and friends when you start showing some promise in practice under a mentor.
When you start losing cases, the same family and friends will look for a more competent lawyer to handle their cases. No reasonable family member or friend would love to lose his case in court on the altar of patronizing you because you are family.
In legal practice, the sound knowledge of the law alone is not enough to see you to the peak of the profession. There are several other factors that will propel you to excellence, without which your sound knowledge of the law will remain in the realm of academics without any uttarian value, and these can only be learnt from proper mentoring. I will just mention a few.
(1) Mentoring in law provides the opportunity to put in practice the theoretical knowledge and test is limitations and explore possible wider applications.
2) Mentoring proves to you that the knowledge of the law sometimes take the backseat or is a mere background upon which cases are fought, wits and mind games and strategic thinking more often than not determine the success or failure and you can only pick all these from understudying more experienced lawyers.
The history of under whom you have learnt and worked is an unwritten certificate of recommendation when it comes referencing for sensitive and big briefs. That is why Paul the apostle in the Bible could proudly state that he studied under Gamaliel in order to establish his authority and pedigree in Jewish law, and he could also remind his protégée Timothy to remember the people from whom he learnt. In legal practice, there is no self-made man. The people you have understudied and are convinced that you have proved your worth will certify you fit to handle cases that they can’t handle due to conflicting interests.
The quest for quick wealth has often made young lawyers put the issue of making money from professional practice without first paying their dues to the profession by learning to ensure that the sanctity of the profession is preserved so that they can benefit from it as long as they remain in practice. They therefore, cut corners by engaging in unscrupulous practices as long as they earn money.
A good mentor should not only mentor a mentee to a career development that put him in good stead to make money from the profession, but should also mentor him in giving back to the profession in terms of learning and preserving the ethical standards of the profession.
As a matter of fact, the Mentor owes the mentee a duty to teach him to place the interest of the profession above his own personal gains in order to promote the administration of justice for the benefit of the society instead of his parochial needs. I will bring out a number of legal authorities that shows that a lawyer should learn to put the professional development for attainment of the best ethical practices over and above the professional development for the occupational or career progression.
My Lords, pray, permit me to adopt the apposite observation of the erudite Abiru JCA who in Salihu v Gana and Ors (2014) LPELR-23069 (CA) 34-36, stated that “lawyers who misuse their knowledge of the law and legal procedure to stultify the process of administration of justice are a disappointment and constitute a clog to the progress of the legal profession.” Per NWEZE ,J.S.C in IDISI V. ECODRIL (NIG) LTD & ORS (2016) LPELR-40438(SC) (PP. 19-20 PARAS. F)The duty of a mentor, to properly bring up a mentee in the finest tradition of professional ethics was stated by Adetokunbo Ademola JSC (as he then was, later CJF) in LPC V. ABUAH (1962) LPELR-25045(SC) (PP. 8-9 PARAS. C) thus: “Legal Practitioners are officers of the Court. It is our bounden duty to see that officers of the Court are men of integrity who should be trusted not only by the Court but also by the public for whom they act.
We are in this respect carrying out a sacred duty by acting as judges of their conduct. By enrolling them we present them to the public as men the public can with confidence employ to carry out the duties and responsibilities appertaining to their all important office. We theréfore owe it to the public to see that members of the public are not exposed to risks in their dealings with these men. No one is more aware of the fact than this Court that not all cases of misconduct do find their ways to the Legal Practitioners Committee to be dealt with for misconduct, but wherever they are brought to the notice of this Court, we must do our duty. And this is not only in respect of cases like the present where the misconduct had been connected with the profession of the legal practitioner but also in cases where the conduct, though not so connected, is such as to make it obvious to us that the legal practitioner is no longer a fit and proper person and not of sufficient respectability to be entrusted with the duties which the honourable profession demands from its members and with which it enjoins them.”
The pre-eminence of professional integrity over personal occupational and career development so as to defeat deep seated prejudices and age long stereotypes was emphasized by the Court of Appeal Per SAULAWA,J.C.A in NIEMOGHA & ANOR V. ORUBAYI (2015) LPELR-24526(CA) (Pp. 17-19 paras. A-A) “It is trite, that the legal profession to which the advocate belongs occupies an unenviable position of pre-eminence.
All members of the well cherished legal profession – as judges, barristers or solicitors – are uniquely under an onerous duty to exhibit a very reasonable degree of knowledge, skill, courage, resilience, tact, intellect and most importantly an unquestionable integrity of the highest order.
Undoubtedly, the fact that legal practitioners pride themselves as members of the learned and honourable profession, notwithstanding, the truth is that not a few see them in that light. According to Jonathan Swift, in his GULLIVER’S TRAVEL –“A society of men bred up from their youth in the art of proving by words multiplied for the purpose that white is black and that black is white according as they are paid.”
The prejudice against the legal profession is undoubtedly age-long. Recall, the ever echoing dialogue between Jesus Christ and the Pharisees:
Woe to you Pharisees because, you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the market places.
Woe to you because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.
One of the experts in the law answered him; “Teacher when you say these things you insult us also”.
Jesus replied: And you experts in the law woe to you, because you load people with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
See the Holy Bible: St. Luke Chapter XI Verses 43 – 46; The Hon. Justice MMA Akanbi (PCA, Rtd): THE JUDICIARY AND THE CHALLENGES OF JUSTICE, 1996 @ 71 – 72.
As aptly counselled by the Hon. Justice Akanbi, that erudite and incorruptible erstwhile President of the Court of Appeal, industry, perseverance, assiduity, and application are fundamental requirements for achieving success at the Bar land Bench alike]. Thus, the legal profession demands that an advocate should be a man of learning not only in his field but in other disciplines too. As much as is humanely possible, he must try to know very well his immediate environment and beyond and show great understanding of human nature – their strength, their weaknesses and their foibles.”
I must say with all sense of modesty and honesty that in my short stint in Practice spanning over three decades, I have seen that lawyers vt of devote themselves to making integrity and profession ethics as the pivot of their practice last longer in the practice and leave behind a better legacy and name to be emulated than those who come into practice with the sole aim of making a living through fast bucks, Examples abound. You can look around town and find many examples yourself.
Perhaps, one of the reasons why money should not be the priority of a legal practitioner, apart from the tendency to jettison ethics in pursuit of money, is that focusing on money making relegates to the background the function of the law to help make the society a better place for everyone, the common man, the poor, the rich and the elite. A properly mentored lawyer knows that his primary duty to his client and the society to pursue and obtain justice supersedes the quest for money. See the dictum of EDOZIE ,J.S.C IN BUHARI & ORS V. OBASANJO & ORS (2003) LPELR-813(SC) (PP. 68 PARAS. C) “The beauty of law in a civilized society is that it owes its respect and due observance to the society.
It should be progressive and act as a catalyst to social engineering. Where it relies on mere technicality or out-moded or incomprehensible procedures and immerses itself in a jacket of hotchpotch legalism that is not in tune with the times, it becomes anachronistic and it destroys or desecrates the temple of justice it stands.”
ADI, J.CA, put this more elaborately and succinctly  in the case of MBAS MOTEL LTD V. WEMA BANK PLC (2013) LPELR-20736(CA) (PP. 26-27 PARAS. E), where he stated: “We must never lose sight of the fact that justice is rooted in public confidence and it is essential to social order and security. It is the bond of society and the cornerstone of human togetherness. Justice is the condition in which the individual is able to identify with society, feel at one with it and accept its rulings. The moment members of the society lose confidence in the system of administration of justice, a descent to anarchy begins. Lawyers as operators of the administration of justice system owe a duty, to the society that nurtured them and made them what they are, to ensure that they conduct their activities in a manner that edifies and brings honor, respect and belief to the justice system. They should not allow themselves to be used by litigants to bring the justice system into disrepute. It is pertinent that this Court reminds Counsel of the eternal words of a great jurist J Wesley McWilliams who writing in an American Bar Association Journal in January 1955 (41 ABA 18) wrote in an article he titled “The Law as a Dynamic Profession” thus: “We belong to an ancient, to a great, to an honored profession. The practice of Law is a worthy calling.
It has rewarded us with financial success and with prestige and leadership in our communities. It has given us much happiness and the good life. From it we have received the gratitude and respect of our friends and neighbors wimp we have served.

Our word affords intellectual pleasure with dignity and independence, in competition with our fellow Lawyers with whom we have cemented warm friendships and enjoyed happy companionships. For these blessings, we cannot but have a sense of gratitude and of obligation. The most productive, unselfish and wholly satisfying repayment of the obligation is constructive work to increase the effectiveness of our judicial system and the welfare or the profession. ”
How many times have you heard, “I am looking for a lawyer who will not be compromised”? Whenever you hear this, know that there is a case in which the stakes are high and money and integrity are also at stake and the person seeking for legal representation is concerned that his opponent could use money to buy off his lawyer. Blessed is that lawyer, before whom this statement is made, and who is identified as that lawyer. I have heard this many times in my legal practice. And with all sense of modesty,
I am always blessed and delighted when the speaker adds that I was chosen because I am such a lawyer. It is interesting to note that most times those seeking the services of a lawyer who cannot be compromised are themselves adepts at compromising lawyers and therefore, know all the lawyers that can be compromised.
Therefore, when you compromise your integrity and the case of your client for quick and illicit money, your reputation as a good lawyer is gradually eroded and you, in return, build a reputation as a corrupt and rotten lawyer. What follows is mistrust by declining patronage because people are discouraged from engaging you. Whatever money or wealth you have made will dissipate and, in the word of the Holy Bible, so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth and thy want like an armed man.”
Most often, a poorly mentored lawyer fails to look at the larger picture-when conducting his case is fixated on winning the case by all means and throws decorum to the wind, adopting a combative approach towards everyone that seems to stand in his way of getting the victory he so desperately seeks, including the opposing counsel, the opposing party, the witnesses and even the judge. It is important to bear in mind that clients come and go, but the temple of justice where a lawyer is called to serve as a minister remains and outlives his professional career. How he conducts himself in the hallowed temple determines whether he will succeed and the success will endure as long as he lives and practices.
A mentee must remember that as long as he remains in practice, he would have to repeatedly appear before judges and do cases with or against lawyers within and outside jurisdiction. He must not allow emotions and sentiments to overwhelm him and create a bad impression on the mind of a judge before whom he is bound to appear every now and again because of a single incidence or a singular matter.
In the case of BEMDOO MINDI V. THE STATE (2020) LPELR-52897(SC) (Pp. 52-53 paras. C), Eko JSC forcefully brought home the need for Counsel to respect the integrity of the Courts and judges: “The Appellant’s Counsel, Mr. Okoro, seems, in his bloated ego that he possesses omniscience, to have a rude and unethical alibi for this novelty. In paragraph 4.08 of the Appellant’s Brief, Counsel contumaciously argued that the reasoning of the trial court was ridiculously affirmed by the Court of Appeal. He further argued that the “the lower Courts failed to appreciate the law that the burden of proving the voluntariness of extra judicial statement of a suspect lies on the prosecution squarely which must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.” Mr. Okoro of counsel of the Appellant has crossed the line. 31(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007 provides: A lawyer shall always treat the Court with respect, dignity and honour. It is unethical, professionally, for a lawyer or Counsel to use the occasion or an opportunity of an appeal to insult, denigrate or deride the integrity or intellectual ability or capacity of the Judges/Justices of the Courts below. ”
Mentoring teaches a mentee ethical practices that truly makes the legal profession a learned profession, things that are neither taught at the university, Law School or even in Court. I will list just a few of these practice that are only learnt from interacting with more experienced lawyers, some of which are gradually fizzling out due to lack of proper mentoring.
Seniors, whether SANs or not, are entitled to sit in the front row at the Bar, and younger lawyers behind and when the seating. arrangement is insufficient, the juniors must surrender their seats to the seniors.
When you offer your colleague a lift, no matter his age, you are obligated to take him to his destination if it is possible and when you can’t for whatever reason, explain to him.
When a senior lawyer and a junior lawyer find themselves in a restaurant, professional courtesy demands that the senior pays the bill, and where he is cash-strapped he must explain so to the younger one. Also, a junior lawyer must seek leave of the senior lawyer, if he feels that he can foot the bill, before footing the bill.
Never address a judge in the first person “You”, it is offensive.
If you have to turn your back on the court when leaving the court hall, you must, before the final exit turn a bow deeply.
You don’t honk within or near the court premises.

When in court, all comments, complaints, observations, questions and answers must be directed to the Judge except during taking of witnesses on no account should lawyers exchange words at the Bar.
When seeking permission to call any matte out of turn, take permission from all the seniors in court, not just the most senior.
You can actually create unexpected wealth through your ingenuity and legal skills for an indigent client but not a single kobo of that windfall belongs to you. It is poisoned money, unless offered by the client.
Your social, spiritual and professional life has to be skillfully balanced so that none ruins the others.

The legal profession is like a fruit tree or a vine to its practitioner. It must be industriously nurtured, painstakingly groomed, meticulously pruned to maturity before its fruits can be harvested in and out of season. This can only be done through the refining process of mentoring. You cannot get the seed fruits and expect them to germinate, take roots, blossom and mature into fruit yielding tree. Equally you cannot harvest unripe fruit and enjoy them; you will only end of wasting them. It takes patience, endurance and perseverance to go through the furnace of mentorship.
Like James the brother of our Lord Jesus and the leader of the early Church
wrote:  “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and later rain.” (James 5:7).
Thanks for listening.
God Bless Your Professional Hustle.

Terhemen Oscar Aorabe, Esq. (Managing Counsel, Elohim Chambers.)

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