If you are considering a career in the legal field, whether as an attorney, paralegal, intake specialist, or contract administrator, then you should have a general idea of what it is like to work around attorneys.
The practice of law is generally quite serious, and may even involve matters of life and death, depending on the type of legal practice you go into. In addition to being serious business, the profession is also extremely interesting, important, and impactful.
Below are 10 interesting facts about lawyers and the practice of law in Nigeria and the US:
Fact No. 1 – No Shortage of Lawyers
There are more than 1.3 million lawyers practicing in jurisdictions across the United States. When you consider the population of America is more than 327 million, that means there is around one attorney per every 240 people in the U.S.
Does this fact hold true for Nigeria? It certainly does not. Even as the population of Nigeria is not really ascertained by 2020, the usually peddled figure of 180 million does not have enough lawyers to cater for them. The number of lawyers in Nigeria is still not known with certainty, despite the verification process their umbrella body started few years ago.
Fact No. 2 – Six-Figure Salary Not Always the Case When Practicing Law
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median pay for an attorney practicing in the U.S. is around $115,000 per year. The hourly pay translated to about $55 per hour. Though, the hourly rate varies widely based on jurisdiction, years of experience, and type of law.
The highest wages for lawyers are earned in California, New York, and Washington, D.C. In these jurisdictions, the average salary for an attorney is nearly $170,000 per year. The lowest wages for attorneys are in Montana, where the average salary for an attorney is around $83,000 per year.
In Nigeria, six-figure salary is almost out of the question for most lawyers. Of course, there are a few very exclusive law firms that pay their lawyers substantial salary, but they are far and wide. Individual and private law practices are more prevalent in Nigeria, and there are a number of very senior lawyers who earn in millions in Nigeria. Some even own private jets.
Fact No. 3 – Most Lawyers Do Not Work at Big Law Firms
There is a misconception that attorneys work in giant, highly influential law firms. In reality, most lawyers work at mid-size and boutique firms or other areas of the law. According to the National Association of Law Placement, approximately 83 percent of all attorneys who work in private practice are employed by relatively small firms comprised of 50 or less attorneys.
This holds true for Nigeria too, except that small and medium firms do not have as much as 50 lawyers in most cases. A 50-lawyer firm in Nigeria could easily be seen as a big law firm.
Fact No. 4 – Halls of Congress Occupied by Large Percentage of Attorneys?
Historically, the halls of Congress have been occupied by attorneys. This includes both elected representatives and their aides. The prevalence of attorneys working in Congress is largely due to the need to have a strong grasp of public policy and legislative language to draft new laws.
This is different in Nigeria where you find very few lawyers in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Even their aides are mostly not lawyers. Perhaps this is why it is easy to realize how unlettered some of their legislative pronouncements are.
Fact No. 5 – Many Lawyers Don’t Actually Practice Law
Practicing law can be quite challenging and the reality is quite different from how the profession is portrayed on television and in movies. This may be why many lawyers leave the profession and spend their careers in other professions. For example, many lawyers can find fulfilling careers in banking, financial services, consulting, business development, education, and so forth.
In Nigeria also, a fair percentage of lawyers do not practice law. They venture into other things to earn a living.
Fact No. 6 – Legal Profession Not Welcoming to Female Attorneys?
The legal profession has historically not been welcoming to female attorneys. For example, the first female attorney in the United States was Arabella Mansfield. She actually had to file a lawsuit against the State Bar of Iowa just to sit for the Bar Exam. Ms. Mansfield passed the bar exam and was admitted to practice law in the state of Iowa in 1869. Fast forward to the present and another female is blazing a trail in the legal profession – Danya Hamad. She practices law in Ohio. Oh yeah, and she is only 15 years old.
In this regard, Nigeria is certainly far more receptive than the US to gender participation in the legal profession. Female lawyers go to court and practice extensively. Some of them are senior advocates and a number of them are judges. Maryam Aloma Mukhtar was once the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Zainab Bulkachuwa is the current president of the Court of Appeal.
Fact No. 7 – Lawyers Are Not Disliked, They are Envied!
There is perception that lawyers are generally disliked by most people. For example, Forbes Magazine released data from Gallup indicating that an attorney is viewed as one of the least trustworthy professionals in America (only lobbyists and business executives had a lower trustworthiness rating). However, a deeper dive into the data reveals that many people do not actually dislike or distrust attorneys, they envy them. One study revealed that the reasons listed by people who dislike lawyers include:
They think they are smarter than everyone else;
They are intimidating and aggressive;
They utilize a complicated language; and
They are really expensive.
As you can see, these responses do not reflect an actual dislike of the people who are in the legal profession. The dislike stems from the perception that attorneys consider themselves to be “superior” to others.
This is equally true in Nigeria where lawyers actually routinely indulge in self-glorifying references as ‘learned profession’, ‘noble profession’ and so on.
Fact No. 8 – Fairness in Practicing Law Varies Widely Based on Jurisdiction
Survey data from the Institute for Legal Reform revealed that the five states ranked as the “most reasonable and fair” for litigators includes: New Hampshire, South Dakota, Minnesota, Vermont, and Idaho. The states viewed as being the least reasonable and fair include the following: Missouri, California, Florida, Illinois, and Louisiana. Interestingly, the survey data showed that the state deemed to be the “most fair” and “most reasonable” for litigators is the state containing the fewest number of practicing lawyers per capita – South Dakota, which has 22.2 lawyers per every 10,000 residents. Only South Carolina and Arizona have fewer attorneys per capita than the Mount Rushmore State.
In Nigeria, where lawyer can move and practice anywhere without restriction, this fact may not hold. Of course, some states could be more lucrative than others in terms of the number of cases that go to courts, the available business and industrial transactions and so on. Surely, safe for the criminal codes that vary from the north to the south, most of the applicable laws are uniform. Rules of courts and practice directions are exclusive to courts even though they have similar provisions.
Fact No. 9 – D.C. Home to Most Attorneys
In stark contrast to South Dakota, the District of Columbia features the highest number of lawyers per capita. Specifically, Washington, D.C. has 788.1 lawyers per 10,000 residents. Yes, you read that number correctly – close to 800 lawyers per 10,000 D.C. residents.
The situation is similar in Nigeria. Lagos, which was Nigeria’s former capital city, attracts the highest number of lawyers. And now Abuja, the present capital, has continued to draw a huge number of lawyers. Like Washington, perhaps it it where lawyers expect to get the so-called fat briefs which emanate either from the government or the multinational companies that have their head offices there.
Fact No. 10 – Many Celebrities Went to Law School
A surprisingly high number of celebrities and prominent individuals attended law school. For example, action movie star Gerard Butler attended law school; along with TV host Jerry Springer, John Cleese (of Monty Python fame), Geraldo Rivera, and economist Ben Stein (of Ferris Bueller fame). Other notable law school graduates include former NBA Commissioner David Stern and former NFL star Steve Young.
In sharp contrast, Nigeria’s celebrities mostly do not even go to school, and those who went either do not finish or did not do well. Some Nollywood actors have what you may consider as passing literacy while their counterparts in Kannywood are mostly unread. A few however really studied law.