I decided against asking the vendors, if they knew what “for mention” meant in legal parlance. I reasoned that if I, as a lawyer didn’t know, how could they who were probably not educated know? It was time to go home after I made a few attempts hunting for the wig and gown I conceded that they were right that there wouldn’t be any wig or gown to buy on a Saturday. The vendors advised me to come early Monday morning to buy one.
On my way back home, you guessed right, I was still pondering how to mention these cases and what the approach would be. I soon got home and started “swatting” (reading) my three case files. I made notes as though I was going for an examination. In fact, I was going for an examination. I referred to my Law School notebooks to draw the distinction on how the Judges, Magistrate’s and Customary Court Lay Presidents we’re addressed.
I hadn’t even realized how fast time had passed. My fears were subsiding and the butterflies had perhaps gone to sleep. I realized that the case files made very interesting read.
I read through the Statement of Claims, Defense and Motions. I combed through the files to ensure I fitted all the jig saw together. It hadn’t dawned on me, I hadn’t a meal all day. I wasn’t hungry. The adrenaline in my system had been pumped in and the butterflies dancing all over my tommy made me not hungry. I managed to sleep a wink and I was now waiting with eager anticipation for Monday. “Bring it on”! I screamed. Sunday melted away very quickly and my confidence waned again. I started imagining how the court sitting arrangements would be. Where would I sit? I asked myself. Who was the lawyer on the other side? Was he… maybe she a rookie like me? How would I disguise my first court appearance and make it look like I’ve always been in courts since my call to Bar.
I had a live size mirror in my one bedroom boys quarters. I started rehearsing how I would present my case. I knew the facts of the cases by heart now, but I was mixing up the names of the parties. I watched my apperance before the mirror to ensure I was on point. But I was not going to appear in my pajamas as I now was doing? Should I wear my new lawyer court cloths just to try them on? Or just wait for dawn which was in a few hours. I decided to bid my time.
I slept very little. I woke up a couple of times at night. I checked my clock. It seemed the clock shift ten minutes in like four hours. I peeped through the window for the first sign of dawn. It was still dark night. I must have sat up in bed in the dark like five times that night.
Dawn refused to come. I couldn’t wait anymore I started slowly getting ready for the day. I was ready, early. Dressed. It was only 5am. I stared wondering if this was what I was going to be doing each day.? Wake up by 5am to go mention cases without feeding or sleeping properly the whole weekend?
I had depleted my funds that Saturday, and I still didn’t know how much was a lawyer’s wig or gown. I made our early and got to Broad Street. I was the first customer at the Bank. I needed to withdraw some money from my savings account, just so that the price of the wig and gown wouldn’t take me unawares. I couldn’t give My Lord an excuse for not appearing fully robed like a lawyer that I was!
I went back to the vendors. A few of them remembered me the Saturday before and were already calling me “the law”! “The law”! “The law”! That sort of felt good even though I didn’t know the first thing a lawyer should know – mentioning the cases. I savored the moment. My black shoes were shining. My black pants were glittering. My white shirt was dazzling. So I priced this almighty wig and gown. To my amazement. They were all made locally and cost equivalent of $140. I chose the one I thought was the best. I tried it on. It fitted nicely. Then I heard them call me again “the law”! “The law”. It made me crack a smile and momentarily I forgot about the three Judges, for mention.
I rushed back into the court premises. This time duly robed. I observed that I was the only lawyer without a pilot case briefcase. Some lawyers had this blue sack that contained their wig and gown and sometimes their case files. I was carrying my files in a nylon bag. I chose the best from home. I wrapped it around my new lawyer’s gown and made it look like it was no big deal. I started trying to locate the court room. They were all numbered. But I had to know where each of the three courts were. The court numbers were written on my files. Sometimes, the court numbering may change when a Judge was promoted. So, it was wise to search for the court using the Judges’ name.
I started pacing in front of the court rooms. I was still rehearing how I would introduce myself. From the movies I had watched, lawyers needed to introduce themselves to the court. What was the smartest way to doing that? I hoped my case wouldn’t be the first so I could learn from other lawyers presentations.
Despite all my rehearsals, everything I practiced evaporated like smoke when I heard a loud bang like knock on the door coming from within. It was so loud. It startled just me! Everyone adjusted their wigs. I also adjusted mine. I pulled down my gown properly. Now I was sweating again the Registrar of Court went: “Courrrrrrrrrrrrrttttttttttt”. Everyone rose. I knew that!! We all bowed to the Judge. My wig chose that exact moment to fall off my head !! I observed that others had held their head in their hand over the wig to prevent their wigs from falling.
The court room was intimating. It was built with fine mahogany wood and paneled very brilliantly. The Judge sat high virtually above all of us. It seemed my wig was the whitest and the Judge appeared to be looking straight at me. Or so I thought. The court room was very quiet. The police orderly sat near the door with his gun in place. The senior advocates sat in front. It is called the inner Bar. I noticed they called their cases first. I was almost looking into their mouth to see how they were going to present their own mention!
“With due respect my Lord, Chief O. J. ….SAN, appears for the Plaintiff. With me, My Lord is my learned friend, K. L. …”
The junior lawyer or learned friend rose and took a bow. Both lawyers sat down. The same process was repeated for the other side: “With profound humility My Lord, A. C. …, with me is my learned friend U. K. … for the Defendants”. The junior lawyer rose, took a bow and sat.
I noticed a slight change in the mode of announcing appearance between the two lawyers. The Judge was given sometime to write down all they had said by way of introduction. My heart was racing now because my other two cases may have been on at the same time since the courts all sat at 9:00am. Most of them.
“My Lord the vase is for Mention. Both parties have filed their pleadings. Summons for Direction to issue.” The Judge tapped his pen against the sacred desk and the Registrar opened his diary to suggest a date. “Case is adjourned to 14th September 1995 for trial”. The Judge said.
Oooo! That’s it. You just tell the court “My Lord the case is for mention!!!.” I smiled. So, this was all I was expected to tell the court. And from what I had read, we were also in the same status like the first case. From the cause list, my case was the 10th on the list. I didn’t know the next Senior Advocate was in my case… I didn’t know when I farted when I heard my case out of turn.! I jumped to my feet! “With all due respect My Lord, U. E. Akangson appears for the Plaintiff. “
Not so bad, I thought to myself. I took my seat and waited for the Senior Advocate to do the same. Senior Advocates always appeared with juniors. Juniors appeared alone. “My Lord, the case is for mention, we have filed and served our originating court processes and so have the defendant. If it pleases the court, may I suggest, subject to the court’s convenience, 10th September for trial”. I adjusted my gown and sat down majestically. The fart was still in the air. I was sorry about that. But nothing I could do. I hoped there wouldn’t be any contempt charge. The Senior Advocate said the suggested date was convenient. The case was accordingly adjourned.
I zipped out of the court as fast as I could smiling to myself “the case was for mention.” I adjusted my gown and wig as I nearly sprinted to the next court room. I barged in and saw this pugnacious looking lady on her feet. She was breathing fire.
“My Lord this is their ploy, they have done this before. This isn’t the first time that they’ve not sent a lawyer to court…” It was when she mentioned my Principal’s name that it dawned on me this was my case?! I wasn’t about to contend with this screaming lady. I didn’t even know the basis of her annoyance. She seemed very angry and was taking swipes at my principal. I sat quietly like I was sitting on egg shells. I clutched very tight to my files and didn’t even breathe.
The Judge was pleading on our behalf and asking her to give one more chance to the lawyers on the other side. The lawyer next to me saw the inscription on my Case file and nudged me to say that was my case that I should announce appearance. I said nooo. I was afraid. I told him this was my first day in court and this lady seemed very angry. I had forgotten the nice composure I used to announce my appearance in the other court. The lawyer giggled and covered his mouth. The lady lawyer thought he was laughing at her. She became even angrier.!!! I was done for.! If this lady found out what this lawyer was giggling at, I could be tried for contempt !? I hid my files inside my gown and continued to hold my breathe. I might have held my breathe forever. Finally the lady lawyer spitting fire and brimstone asked for cost of the day which was denied. The case was adjourned to a certain date. I dashed off again to the last court.
I tried to regain my composure. I think my heart was almost busting my rib cage. I wasn’t sure if it was out of panic of what just happens in court or the racing away from harms way to the next court.
It we finally over. I was soaked in sweat at this time and confused. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this everyday. I sat somewhere and made notes on the files like other lawyers had endorsed the three files. I didn’t indicate what happened in the second case. I just wrote the next adjourned date and decided I wasn’t going to mention that case anymore. Someone else would mention that one.
Subsequent days didn’t seem too bad. Indeed after a few weeks I started enjoying it. I met some of my classmates in the dressing room and I recounted to them how I had farted in court when I heard my case announced out of turn. They busted out laughing at me. I didn’t care. I was now mentioning several cases. I was even taking on arguments and all of a sudden, I started making impressive arguments. Judges were becoming impressed at my hard work and industry. I didn’t know they knew my principal and fed him back. I was given an official car. A beetle. I was going from one court room to the other. I knew my files by heart and I knew how I wanted to present my cases.
My confidence level had settled back in and I was doing big time researches in a few years. I didn’t want Saturdays to come. I was getting known in court. I was always punctual. I would change my cloths in the dressing room and listen to other layers argue. I had bought my own pilot case and was also blending with the other lawyers. My opinion started counting. I could present my case to colleagues and my strategy in the case seeking their input. Before long I was on top of my cases.
I won a lot of landmark cases within two years of my first blunder in court. I was taking on arguments at the Court of Appeal. My principal trusted me to argue very sensitive cases and before long new cases were also referred to me.
I had arrived.