Ihechi walked into the room the receptionist had directed her to. It was a conference room, because there was a huge table made out of mahogany or oak or something as exotic, because the furniture was shiny and huge and handsome. It was surrounded by up to ten chairs. Two men were seated at the table, poring over some documents. One was older than the other, probably the Head of Chamber.
Like she was taught, Ihechi walked toward the table.
“Good day, sirs,” she called out in greeting, while still standing, and waiting for them to ask her to sit.
They both raised their heads, and she immediately recognized the younger man. His name was Kingsley. When had he become a barrister? she wondered with silent incredulity. She had met him exactly once at a birthday party (scratch that, birthday service) of her school fellowship president, Brother Edward. Kingsley had preached in the occasion. Back then, he was yet to get admitted to the Nigerian Law School.
Brother Edward was presently a doctor, working with National Hospital, Abuja. Over the years, he had kept in touch her. He probably was the one who told Kingsley she was still looking for a job.
“Good day, Miss Ihechi, you can have a seat.” This was the older man.
“Thank you, sir,” she replied, smiling in spite of her jumping nerves.
“I will go straight to the point, because I have a lot of people to interview today.”
“And we would like to finish everything about this interview today.”
She nodded again.
“Can we have your CV?” This time, it was Kingsley who spoke to her. His expression was flat and his eyes remote; there was absolutely no flicker of recognition there.
Ihechi shrugged inwardly, not bothered that he wasn’t acting chummy toward her. However, as she passed the document she held ready in her hands across to them, she was unsure whether she should be happy that there was a familiar face on the other side or be miffed that her junior at the bar was interviewing her.
“Tell me about what exactly you did at Agbo SAN,” Mr. Head of Chamber asked, his tone brusque.
“Ok. It was during my service year. I represented clients in court, made court processes and agreements. I also made a lot of legal opinions for my principal–”
“Wait!” Mr. Head of Chamber cut her short. His brows had come down in a furrow as he said, “You haven’t practiced law in over a year?”
“Not really,” Ihechi replied, her heart beating faster, before hurriedly amending, “I haven’t practiced with a law firm, but I have been doing private practice.”
“Like what?” Kingsley asked.
Ihechi suppressed the urge to glare at him. “I did CAC registrations and I manage a property for someone.” This last bit was a part-lie. Her cousin’s friend, who was a landlord, frequently called her to ask for bits of legal advice on his property, and she was certain that he wouldn’t deny her if it came down to verification.
“Oh! That’s nice,” Mr. Head of Chambers said with a placated nod.
But Ihechi wasn’t done. “I have also been going to court. I hold other counsel’s briefs every once in a while. I have also defended someone in a landlord and tenancy case.”
Well, they were not all lies, at least the first part. As for the second part, she did that while she was still serving, but it hadn’t been office work, it was a personal pro bono. But who was checking.
“That’s very nice. You really have been busy,” Mr. Head of Chamber said, nodding his approval. “You know, this law, once you leave it, it leaves you. But you should include all this in your CV. Assuming you applied and submitted CV, I wouldn’t have called you for interview. Your CV suggests someone who is rusty.”
“Alright sir,” she said with a small smile.
“Do you have any other question to ask?” Mr. Head of Chamber said, turning to Kingsley.
“No, sir,” he answered.
He calls him ‘sir’ too, Ihechi thought, feeling a tad better.
“Alright, Counsel. Assuming we employ you, how much would you want to be paid? How much do you think you are worth?” Mr. Head of Chamber asked.
These people have come again! Ihechi thought with some exasperation. Aloud she said, “Sir, I think you should tell me what you are willing to pay.”
“Who knows what you’re worth better than you?” The Head of Chamber returned, sagely.
Help me, Lord. Let me not say the one that will choke him! Ihechi silently prayed, wishing she had asked the talkative Comfort how much the office usually paid their lawyers.
“Fifty Thousand Naira,” she said tentatively, almost uncertain, watching carefully to see the reaction of her interviewers.
They looked at each other and nodded slightly. Ever so slightly, so much so that if she had not been observing them carefully, she would not have noticed the communication.
“That would be all for now, counsel. You can step out now, and wait a little bit in the reception,” the Head of Chamber said.
“Thank you, sir,” Ihechi said, getting up from her seat.
Ihechi has sat in the reception for hours. She watched as others were called in one after the other. Some came out and waited, others came out and left. After everybody had been called in, it remained three persons seated in the reception.
The head of chamber soon came out and declared that he was going out for some meeting, stating that Barrister Kingsley and another of his associates would conduct the second and final interview for ‘you two’. This he said, looking at the three people seated expectantly in the reception.
“Were you three asked to wait?” he queried.
“Yes, sir,” they answered in a discordant chorus.
“No. It was just two persons I asked to wait,” he said, now looking straight at Ihechi.
“You asked me to wait, sir!” Ihechi protested feebly, the fear she felt evident in her voice and eyes. Oh God, this can’t be happening, she thought frantically.
“Sir, what is the matter?” Kingsley said as he walked out of the conference room.
“How many people did we ask to wait?” Mr. Head of Chamber asked, swiveling on his heels to face him.
“Two persons, sir,” Kingsley replied. “Barrister Ihechi and Barrister Ogochukwu.”
“I’m Barrister Ogochukwu,” one of the interviewees said, raising her hand.
“And I am Barrister Ihechi,” Ihechi said, raising her own hand and glaring at the third person, a male.
“Sorry, sir, I thought we were all waiting…” he tried to explain.
“Did I give you specific orders to wait?” The head of chamber asked, obviously pissed, his tone waspish.
“No, sir. I saw some people waiting, so, I decided to wait and see…” he stuttered.
“You can go now,” Kingsley said, dismissing the man before things would get out of hand. “You two can wait in the conference room,” he continued, directing his instruction at Ihechi and Ogochukwu.
Ihechi ignored her growling stomach while she animatedly discussed with Barrister Ogochukwu. She’d taken to calling her Ogoo; hopefully, they would both work here, and so it was better to get to know her. They had waited for more than an hour for Kingsley who had gone out to eat.
Several times, Ogoo had suggested that they go to eat too, but Ihechi was having none of that. She was determined to try her very best to get this job, even if it meant waiting for hours for her junior at the bar with hunger in her bones. She knew that there was a possibility that only one person would be taken, and she wasn’t willing to let some minor thing such as going out to look for food disqualify her.
However, just then, her stomach growled for the umpteenth time, weakening her resolve to stay till she was done with the interview.
“Oya, let us go and find something to eat,” she said to Ogoo.
Just as they were picking up what they needed from their hand bags, the door opened.
“You ladies going somewhere?” Kingsley said, stopping them in their tracks.
Ogoo started, “Yes, we are going –”
“Nowhere!” Ihechi interjected. “We are not going anywhere.”
“Ok then,” Kingsley drawled. “Let’s get this over with.” He drew out one of the chairs and sat down.
Another lawyer, whose name Ihechi would later find out to be Susan, walked into the conference room, and handed them both some plain sheets of paper, before taking a seat beside Kingsley and promptly focusing her attention on her phone.
“Ok,” Kingsley began, “we have a client whose landlord threw out of his house just yesterday. His rent expired last week. On one of the sheets of paper, write the questions you would ask him during the client interview. Then, on another sheet, write how you would proceed in the handling of his case. Then, prepare the required court processes.”
He stopped talking and stared placidly at them, as they stared back.
Seriously?! Ihechi thought wrathfully. This is what happens when you ask a fresh law school graduate to conduct an interview! What is this, another bar finals?!
Written by The Counsel