‘A SAN paid me N10,000 monthly salary’ – The Nation Newspaper - Freelance Rack

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Monday, July 6, 2020

‘A SAN paid me N10,000 monthly salary’ – The Nation Newspaper

Agboeze Ugochukwu brought his family joy when, in 2018, he became the first lawyer in his clan. But after being laid off from a N30,000 monthly job because of COVID-19, the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) alumni is finding the legal terrain a difficult one to navigate. He shares his story with ROBERT EGBE

My family and I

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My name is Agboeze Ugochukwu alias Asykobi. I’m a legal practitioner with two years post-call qualification experience. I am from Nru-Nsukka in Nsukka Local Government Area, Enugu State.

I am the third in a family of six children, five males and one amazing elder sister. We were all born in Enugu State to very industrious parents: Simon and Patience Agboeze. Whereas my dad has retired as a civil servant, my mum is still in active service in the civil service.

First lawyer in my clan

I am an alumnus of Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) from October 2012 to August 2017. After my LLB programme, I attended the Lagos Campus of the Nigerian Law School and was called to the Bar on November 29, 2018.

By divine providence Iam becoming the first lawyer in my clan. My parents were drawn to the legal profession because as I was told, I had always fancied advocative writing right from childhood. My grades were never good in science subjects.

I’m one of the many Nigerian kids whose parents dictated what they thought was best for their children. In this instance, my parents weren’t wrong.

I almost quit Law School

My pre-Law school experience wasn’t all that rosy. I was laughed at by my younger colleagues still in the varsity for trading my Law School chances with playing school politics.

I was made to sit out the first term of Law School despite not having any failed grades in my undergraduate years. God eventually made it possible for me to join my colleagues at Law School in January 2018.

I had a lot of topics to cover. For the first two weeks at the Law School, I was lost in class. I didn’t understand legal jargon. I was almost tempted to call it quits.

First solo court appearance

My principal instructed me to go and move an application in court. On getting to court, my case was mentioned. After both parties announced appearance, I stood up to move my motion, only to be told by the defence lawyer that the motion I wanted to move had been overrun by events.

I was shocked because what we originally prepared and practiced for was just to move a motion and probably take a date for adjournment. The judge instructed that the matter should continue for hearing of the substantive suit.

A case I wasn’t even given the case file! A female colleague seated beside me was just muttering the words “Relax, take it easy bro, comport yourself. She was consoling me like one who was mourning the loss of a loved one. (Laughs).

Her words helped in calming my nerves. How I managed to escape being asked to pay cost and got a date for adjournment from the fierce looking High Court Judge remains a mystery.

Since that experience, I have learnt never to attempt standing before a judge without knowing aforehand what the case was all about.

Relationship with principals

The first law firm I worked for was owned by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). He was a former NBA Chairman in Abuja and had over 10 lawyers in his employ.

He was handling a case for my family and my uncle whom I was staying with then felt I could do my pupillage with him. I joined his firm in January 2019 where I was paid N10,000 as salary. We reported for work before 7am and closed by 8pm.

We were only entitled to 30 minutes break in a day. I was steadfast at the firm till my fourth month. During the Easter break, my boss granted me two weeks leave to go visit my parents; My dad was sick. On my return, he said I was not eligible to be paid my monthly salary having been absent for two weeks.

His refusal to even pay me half of the month’s salary was just about the last straw that propelled me to quit. I eventually joined another law firm where I was paid N20,000  monthly.

This firm afforded me the time to source for freelance jobs to support my salary. Due to my hunger for more practice experience, I got yet another law firm where I was paid N30,000, working under the same conditions as the SAN. This was where I was growing as a young litigator until COVID-19 happened.

How I was laid off because of COVID-19

My immediate former principal is a good man. Aside him, I was the only lawyer in his firm. This provided me with the opportunity to handle some cases in court.

He was tolerable and forgave the mistakes I committed while practicing Law. He afforded me the opportunity to grow as a young lawyer and I was enjoying the cruise.

The only thing I never enjoyed while at his office was my salary at the end of the month which was N30,000. He promised to review my salary based on my performance evaluation at the end of each month.

The cruise was going great until the covid-19 pandemic happened which affected his business. He called me to his office when the lockdown was relaxed and gave me a cheque of N15,000 and told me he could no longer afford my services. He cited COVID-19 as reasons for his decisions to let me go.

Although he promised to contact me if things got any better for his firm. I have been at home since my release date in May 2020 without a contact from him.

Audio assistance from lawyers

After I made my lack of employment situation public on a lawyers’ Forum on Facebook, I have been contacted by some Lawyers who I think felt sorry for my situation and offered to help.

However, most of the online ‘audio’ helps promised haven’t materialized into any viable job offer. I’m still hopeful that a life changing job offer would come in the nearest future.

I’m only but a young lawyer who is seeking for a place where I will be wholeheartedly accepted and given an opportunity to thrive. Not every lawyer is a street lawyer you know.

WHAT I WOULD CHANGE IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION IF I COULD?

Prior to my Law school enrollment, I wrote an article titled (THE NIGHTMARES OF A YOUNG

LAWYER, a passionate appeal to our old guards. 21st June, 2018) which depicts the fate of many young lawyers in Nigeria.

This article was published on my official Facebook page (MENTALLY REFRESH) and was well received by my readers. Little did I know this fate would eventually befall me. Over 60 out of 100 Young Lawyers in the labor market are struggling to foot their bills.

The worst part is that some senior Members of the Bar have the impression that one must pass through this harsh predicament before you can succeed in this profession.

I understand Law is a private business, but the giants in the profession should at least help the young ones grow. How can one be expected to survive under the current economic tide where an adult is paid N10,000 as monthly salary? It is a sad reality to know that N-POWER beneficiaries earn more than 50% of young lawyers in Nigeria. NYSC members earn more than many young lawyers.

MENTORS

I draw my strength from young Lawyers my age who legitimately make a living and celebrate their little successes. Lawyers that are born warriors in battle with no wealth to inherit.

All we have is grace. I also draw strength from a Lawyer, Folarin Falana better known by his stage name as Falz, Who through his songs advocates for change that will leave indelible imprints upon the sands of time.

THE FUTURE

I Just want to keep learning and developing myself as much as I can. At the moment, I am keen on deepening my knowledge in Legal Technology and entertainment Law.

I also love corporate and Commercial law. I want to develop myself until I become one of the notable go-to persons in the world in my areas of specialty.



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