Working as a young lawyer in a commercial law firm in Nigeria, I noticed that many young lawyers struggle to secure a promotion in their early years of practice.

One of the major reasons for this problem is the lack of transparency and structure in most law firms in Nigeria. As a result of this, young lawyers are left clueless as to how to secure a promotion.

This usually results in young lawyers engaging in hard work which involves; keeping late nights, spending weekends at the office, taking more responsibilities than they can handle regularly, which ends up leaving young lawyers feeling overwhelmed from the stress and constant negative feedback.

How can this issue be resolved? How can young practicing lawyers secure a promotion in their early years of practice?

In answering this question, the saying “you have to work smart and not hard to succeed” comes to mind. This basically means that in order to secure a promotion, a young lawyer has to initiate ways to maximize his productivity level.

It goes beyond spending late nights in the office on weekdays and weekends, there are some extra steps that need to be taken to ensure that you are headed in the right direction and considered for promotion.

The steps are: ask the right questions, know when to ask these questions, volunteer for extra activities and learn how to satisfy your boss/supervisor.

Ask the right questions

As basic as this may sound, the first step in securing a promotion as a young lawyer is to ask your bosses/supervisors the right questions.

Examples of these questions are:

  • How am I fairing with work?
  • Am I performing at the level expected of me?
  • Is my performance at the level where my boss can give me additional responsibilities?

These questions will proffer feedback that a young lawyer can develop or work with to better their skills and knowledge in the practice of law. The feedback given will provide guidance and direction to a young lawyer seeking to secure a promotion.

If the feedback is negative, the next question that should be asked is, what can I do to improve?

When the answer is given, you now have the responsibility of putting the feedback into effect in a way that’s demonstrable, by ensuring you deliver good legal work.

This can be achieved by seeking help from your colleagues or immediate bosses, reading widely, asking questions to obtain clarity on a subject matter etc.

This shows seriousness, resilience, and determination to succeed, which every employer loves to see in his employee and will definitely give a young lawyer an edge over his peers at the next quarter when promotions are being considered.

If the feedback is positive, ensure that you maintain that level of excellence and even thrive to do better. Most people become comfortable when they get to certain levels in their career where they believe they are performing well. However, this can be dangerous as too much comfort breeds mediocrity.

Know when to ask the right questions?

The next step is realizing when to ask the questions and to achieve the best results from the question mentioned above. These questions have to be asked at the right time, which is usually at least 6 months before the next promotion quarter.

For example, appraisals in your law firm are usually done in December and promotion lists released in January. A young lawyer should ask the above-mentioned questions in June/July of that year. This will afford the young lawyer ample time to improve his skills and work on the feedback received from their boss or supervisor before the next promotion quarter.

Most young associates or lawyers tend to ask those questions after seeing the results of their yearly appraisals.  Usually, this is too late because there is not enough time before the promotion list is released to improve your skills.

If you have just secured a job in a law firm, you should be asking the above-mentioned questions after the first quarter or the first half of the year.

Volunteer for extra responsibilities at work

It is advised that young lawyers volunteer for extra responsibilities at work that will help showcase other skills a young lawyer may possess i.e. organizational skills, management skills.

However, this should not be done to the detriment of your legal work at the office. Therefore, time management has to be applied to enable a proper balance between participating in extra activities and the ability to deliver legal work.

It should also be noted that as a junior associate, the bulk of the work is your responsibility and as such your legal work should always be your primary responsibility.

Learn how to satisfy your boss/supervisor

I was once reprimanded by a Partner in my office for neglecting to keep him informed on every step I took while communicating with a Client on a particular matter, leaving him out of the loop.

The thing about this was that I did not think it was necessary to inform him because nothing major had happened, however, the partner I was dealing with was particular about knowing everything that happens in this case.

After reprimanding me he told me something that has stuck with me: “figure out the little things your boss likes, the way he likes his things done and ensure you do it that way”. He said that this little act goes a long way and will leave a lasting impression on your boss.

My point is that as a young lawyer you are encouraged to study your boss to know his likes and dislikes with respect to work and do everything with enthusiasm to satisfy him with your delivery.

These little acts can make you become one of your boss’s favorite and as a result, he may overlook your mistakes and also put in a good word for you when certain names are being considered for promotion.


Are you a young professional who has a lesson to share?  Let us know here.
No more articles