#MyBarFinalsTestimony is brought to you by the MCQ APP in conjunction with Ekaete Hunter.
Name: Atatigho Jessica Ejaita
Campus: Kano Campus (First Class), Director General’s Prize for First Class Students; Mr Bello Mohammed Adoke CFR., SAN’s Prize for the Second Best Student in Professional Ethics and Skills
University: University of Benin, Second Class Honours, Upper Division (2.1)
About: Jessica Atatigho was born in the mid-90s to Mr & Mrs A.T Usio of Okpe descent. She is the last of 4children and hails from Delta state. She graduated from the University of Benin with a Second Class Honours (Upper Division) in 2015, and immediately after, proceeded to the Nigerian Law School, Kano Campus, where she graduated with a First Class Honours. Jessica was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2016. She currently resides in Lagos State, Nigeria where she works as an Associate at the law firm of G.Elias & Co. She can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE DIARY OF A LAWSCHOOLITE
Hi. My name is Jessica Atatigho. I finished from the Nigerian Law School, Kano campus in 2016, with a First Class Honours. This is my law school story, well not everything, just a part of it. This isn’t me telling you do this or that, no. This is me telling you what I did. I really do hope something here could inspire or help someone out there, whether you are my colleague or not.
I remember the day I saw my posting for the law school programme. Honestly, I thought it was going to change if I kept on reloading the page. Yeah, that was pretty dumb. It was shocking because I wasn’t like most people who chose Lagos or Abuja. My first choice was Bayelsa, next was Enugu, Lagos was third and Abuja was last. Somehow the universe thought Kano would be a good fit for me. To make it worse, my best friend was posted to Yola. We thought to ourselves, if you want us in the North, pick one state, but keep us together. Don’t ruin a five-year relationship in a second.
Like any parent at the time, my parents were not cool with my posting because of the Boko Haram epidemic in the country, and of course they did what most parents would (y’all know what I am talking about), it didn’t work out and now looking back, I’m glad it didn’t work out.
I guess the major setback for me at this point was money. I thought I’d miss out on law school last year. Of course God had plans for me and somehow my parents were able to get me the needed cash. That money didn’t come free. Everything has a price. The more reason why I have never taken my education for granted, because of all the sacrifices I’ve had the family make. Yeah, never forget where you come from, no matter what. I never have. Now I wonder, what if I hadn’t gone in my time, would I have excelled?
Now back to Kano, I am the usual routine kind of girl. Everything is already planned out, so obviously I hate change. I hate starting new. I was scared to start this new phase of my life, and then to make it worse, I got Kano. It was scarier because it was the North, not necessarily because of the bomb blasts. I was just scared of the North naturally. To my Northern friends reading this, I mean no harm honestly. It was just the whole new culture, dress sense, the weather, the language, obviously different physical features, religion, all that stuff. It wasn’t me.
And oh, I was being thrown here with absolutely no friend. Everyone I knew was elsewhere. The persons here from my school where people I only say hi to, we don’t have conversations. So yeah, I was on an island.
…and then I was in this Sienna space wagon with people who spoke a dialect I didn’t understand, going to a place I had never been to. I don’t even want to start with the long hours I had to travel to get to Kano, or how I had to read every sign board on the road so I’d know when I entered Kano. Now though, I’m glad I traveled by road, it has trained me for long trips. The wind on my face as I boarded a bike to the law school was the best part of the journey, and then I was there, I was home.
I got to my temporary room and I wanted to run back home. It was awful. The moment I regret the most was having my passport taken that day with absolutely no warning. My hair was a disaster, zero makeup, and I looked stressed out. Summary, I looked awful and then my mug shot was taken. Maybe they should have warned me that would be my ID card picture and also the picture in my yearbook. Thanks Kano, thanks so much for that. I looked terrible.
It was cold. I don’t think I have ever been subjected to such extreme temperature in my entire life. It was cold, and dry, and I hate dry. I’m allergic to dryness. The fact that it was super cold at night also affected how long I could stay out to study. I think the weather gave me a fashion boost anyways. The worst part was we weren’t allowed to use water heaters or electric jugs. So yeah, I never looked forward to bathing or washing; anything that would end with my skin being in contact with water.
School was horrible, 9am-4pm or later. It was compulsory to be in class, like you literally cannot go back to the hostel, not for anything in the world. Also our dress code rules were super strict. And then of course, Queries. In Kano, it was normal. I never got though. If you’ve got one already, it’s not the end of the world, the best of us get it. Then came the tasks, and of course the fear of the microphone. I hate speaking in public. The fear of being called out to answer questions in class was the only bad part of being in class, I enjoyed every other bit. So yeah, I was a back bencher, mostly because I didn’t want to have to talk in class, and because I loved being in the shadows. Honestly, the back is just way more fun. And that was when I met her and them, and I found my family. So sitting at the front, middle or back doesn’t guarantee you a ticket to an awesome result. However, it’s easy to be distracted at the back. Just do what works for you. You need not sit with your friends in class. Sitting at the back, however, meant signing out last from class, and that of course was a huge disadvantage for my study time.
I’d just chip this in here. Don’t try to please others in law school. You are there for you, not for anyone. I am not saying you shouldn’t discuss or tutor someone. You can. It’s a really good thing to help out, but never do it to your detriment. Because no matter how much you help, some will never appreciate it, and some will still judge you, so just do you. If you want to go out and read, please do. Ignore what they’d say that you didn’t wait up. It’s not like we aren’t all aware of what law school is about. But always remember to take a chill pill. Life isn’t that serious. I had fun, loads of it. I made a zillion friends. Unizik dudes are the best and the worst. I think I pretty much was friends with all the hot guys. I was a makeup and fashion freak, I had time for my music, for movies, for late night strolls at night, and of course for gossip. I did it all. Yeah, I made sure to give myself time out, or I might have had a break down. Law school was the reason I had an amazing year, and gosh, the Northerners are the best.
I am not going to lie that it was all easy, because it wasn’t. Not in the least bit. I tried different methods to keep up. I tried making notes after class and before class. I tried just reading, I tried typing notes, I tried editing already typed notes, anything to make it easier. I think I just settled with reading before lectures when I could and making the notes after. Even then it was hard to keep up. I was too detailed, too complex, a perfectionist. I needed to know everything. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t kill myself that much. I read outside my curriculum when I should have stuck with it. I didn’t even trust a certain lecturer for a particular course, I’d always call another campus or two or three to hear what they were taught. That’s how much of a perfectionist I was. For instance, for criminal, I had Agaba, I had Osamor, and Hambali. I also had Kenneth and Gabby’s e-note, my class note and of course the Acts. Imagine making your own note from all that, I’d open them; look at this one and then the next, stuff killed me. And that was why at the end of second term, I found out I had made notes for only 12 topics out of 88 topics. My beautiful plan to make all my notes by the end of second term and then study throughout externship was busted. I didn’t even know any drafts, it was that bad.
Truthfully, failure flashed before my eyes. As always, I had to come up with a new plan, because the possibility of failing was a terror, and a nightmare that couldn’t be a reality.
I did my externship in Lagos, and stayed in Lagos law school campus. I made this beautiful timetable where I’d read two topics a day or if it was too broad then a topic. By my time table, I’d be done with the whole curriculum in 8/6weeks and still have enough time to go over the curriculum before third term. Before I knew it, externship was at its end, and guess what, I hadn’t read, I was still making notes. Dumbest thing ever. The only good side to it was while making notes, I was partially reading too, even if I didn’t know it. At my court placement, as soon as proceedings were done, I’d stay back and study what I could until the court closed. Then I’d move to the multipurpose hall of the court to study. There were no seats but I could deal. Externs were not permitted to use the library.
For my law firm externship, I was fortunate to be placed in a firm which gave us time to read. Of course, I felt bad sometimes because I reasoned the lawyers would be like “…this one just came here to read, she doesn’t want to work like the others.” However, I did go to court whenever I was assigned, even went through case files. I was the group leader in our criminal research group, and it was research on a real life case. My team worked really hard on the research and my boss, a SAN, actually took our position and noted it on his case file, along with a supporting case we gave.
It wasn’t all books every time. The lawyers in my firm, especially the men were awesome. We talked about Game of Thrones, and a lot of other series. We had a television in our library, we watched Sound City and of course were given tasks to help us with our bar finals.
The court and law firm placement really helped me because I saw things I had only read, in action, and it’s hard to forget things you witnessed. Aside from the perks of staying in a school environment, externship in Lagos and Abuja gives you an opportunity to witness proceedings that will help you in your civil exams, because civil litigation is limited to Lagos and Abuja.
At the end of the externship program, I still had about 30 topics/notes unmade, meaning I had literally not read them at all. It was scary because MCQ (Multiple Choice Questions) was right around the corner. Good thing I had gone through MCQ past questions during the externship. However, I hadn’t studied bar part II past questions yet because I wasn’t done reading.
Just before we were to resume, we were told that our MCQ had been brought forward. It was supposed to be a Monday, so I would have had a weekend to prepare, and then it was brought forward to Friday. That’s the thing about law school; you have to be ready for surprises. As long as law school is done with its lecture weeks, they can switch up the time table if they want to. My advice, try to be ready at the end of externship, because when you get back, you wouldn’t have ample time.
As an aside, try not to miss revision classes, they are quite helpful.
Personally, I would say, don’t be scared of MCQ. I think it’s the easiest exam I have had to write in my life. Try to practice your time management. It’s an hour exam but it might be minutes for y’all. You never know. I wouldn’t advise anyone to skip any question, shade an option first then you can asterisk it on your question paper; this is because you might not have the time to go back. It’s better to have shaded something that might end up being correct than leaving it blank. Also, sometimes they give bonuses where the question wasn’t straight forward, if you didn’t shade, u wouldn’t get the bonus mark.
Never become too confident and say, “Oh, I can finish MCQ in 30 minutes” because during your practice sessions you did. Under exam conditions, you suddenly realize that this is it, a defining moment. Next thing you know, its 55 minutes and you are not close to finish. Also, when you write your MCQ, if you didn’t do so well, please don’t despair. There are many people who missed their MCQ, or scored only 5, or sometimes missed up the courses (that is answering civil in criminal and vice versa, so yeah be very careful), they still made really good grades. And there are those who excelled in their MCQ and did not make good grades in the end. It’s really all the grace of God.
Another important thing is this, never presume for law school. Never try to think for them. If there is a question, and you as an intelligent person actually know there is a mistake, don’t tell yourself that law school would correct it when they want to mark, and then answer it the way it is meant to be answered. No. Answer it as it is. Answer it exactly the way you see it, because automatically that becomes your question. Don’t be too intelligent and then be a smarty-pants. For instance, don’t say law school made a mistake, there is supposed to be a decimal point here, and so you calculate with a decimal point. No, answer it without the decimal unless y’all are corrected.
Sometimes, the true answer might not even be there, but one answer would be more correct than others. Oh and when going through your MCQ past questions, don’t rely on the answers in those books, use your textbooks as your answer guide or ask someone who you know would know the right answer.
Also, try to trust yourself. Sometimes the true answer might not be among the options, so you would have to pick the closest thing. Other times, there are two answers that are actually correct and you can only pick one. In the end, it comes down to you following your instinct and actually trying to think of the direction law school is driving at. Which of them is more correct in this situation? Sometimes you might not know or be sure of an answer; you can try the elimination method. Eliminate the options you know cannot be the answer, and voila the answer might just present itself.
Above all, PRAY. At the time I wrote my MCQ, I wouldn’t say I had read because I was still making notes, the only knowledge I had was that I gained while making notes. I hadn’t even touched some topics and that cost me. There were some questions I would have answered correctly if only I had read those topics. So try your best to cover everything, even if you have to read a summary note, please do. Make sure you are familiar with all your topics.
After the MCQ, I think we had just a couple weeks before exam, and still I was making notes (which meant I had not read a number of topics, at all). One day I got so frustrated, I stopped. I was like “Jess, you have exams in 2weeks, what are you doing? What’s the point in making all these notes, if you wouldn’t even have the time to read them?” So instead I printed Kenneth’s e-notes for those topics, and in truth, I never even got a chance to read some of those notes before exam. (Yes, I know I am the slowest person on earth. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when it comes to book stuff).
(Moot and Mock)
The week prior to, and week of Moot and Mock was pretty much the worst two weeks of my law school stay. It was compulsory for everyone to participate in my campus, and somehow I found myself the group leader for the defence final address research team for criminal litigation. (Believe me, I never want these things, I somehow end up as a leader). No offence to my group members, but a lot of them didn’t help. I can’t blame them though; they were more concerned about reading for exams, like I didn’t have exams to write myself. A few contributed, however, I needed more. Don’t give me cases from Agaba’s textbook; if that was all, I wouldn’t need you. Go to the library, carry out a little research, get me the name of the judge whose principle you are quoting, I need the page number, the paragraph, principles, just do something. Act like this is a real life case in your law firm and your continued stay at that firm depended on what you can give; act like someone’s life depended on it. You have to understand, I hate losing.
Eventually I realized I was in it alone. It wasn’t easy, especially since the prosecution team kept on modifying their story after each rehearsal. I’d start from scratch again, find new loopholes and do some research on it, and then type it out again and again for the final address counsel team. It was awful. I had to listen attentively at rehearsals for anything in prosecution’s case and testimony that could be of help to the defence team. Most of my group members were busy reading their books during rehearsals, I didn’t have that luxury. We had about 2 or 3 rehearsals, before the final presentation in front of a live judge. So I had to keep listening and I had to keep thinking up ways to help the accused and destroy the prosecution’s case. Worst of all, the defence counsel team was dead, like literally. Hey, no offence to you guys, we can all agree on that. Watching defence counsel team present was always the highlight of my day, because all I did was laugh at how we were killing our case with our hands. Who does that?
So for the entire 2 weeks, I didn’t open my notes, I didn’t even read a line, and I had only a week left to read for exams. Do you know what that can do to your soul? I think I died and woke up. I remember typing the final draft for the final address from early evening one day till dawn. Mosquitoes finished me. It was cold, it was dark, my laptop screen was attracting insects and people around me where studying for exams, and here I was killing myself for something that wasn’t real, that wouldn’t add any marks to my final result, nor would I get any recognition for.
I had this Discussion group thing with my friends where we answered past questions and discussed at least a topic from a course each day. I wouldn’t lie, I am a one-man soldier but the group really helped me. There’s something about discussing as against just reading. You would remember the weather, how a person sounded, how another interrupted, the jokes cracked, the mistakes made, the corrections, everything. We all talked and argued. Frankly, I wish I had maybe agreed to do that in 2nd term instead of 3rd term, because the busy schedule in 3rd term isn’t right for it. It still worked out though, and I am entirely grateful to them.
I, however, couldn’t keep up with the group because I hadn’t read and I needed to. Many people, if not everyone, never believed me when I’d say I had not read. Why? Because they always saw me with books. I’d try to explain that I was merely making notes, they wouldn’t have it. The week before exams, which was my first free week, I left school. I needed my space and time. I needed to study. I don’t know how to read with people around me, and people would always come with a question or be discussing/arguing right in front of me, and I can’t tell them to shut it. Everyone is allowed to be mad during exams. I didn’t need that. This wasn’t the time to be a Good Samaritan and teach others when I couldn’t even take care of me. So I moved out of school and stayed in a hotel for the private revision week. It was worth it. No, I still didn’t finish studying but I know I read more than I would have if I had stayed behind in school.
I have never been more grateful to write an exam at 3pm. It gives you ample time to revise before exams. The exam week was horrendous, tearful and emotional. When you are in the exam hall, you suddenly realise, this isn’t a joke, this is real, this is a defining moment, it’s the make it or break it of law school. Property law was my first. I stared at number one question for about 20 minutes. It’s not like I didn’t know what to write, it was more of, was my answer what law school wanted, because there actually can be more than one answer to a question.
First thing I always did, was pray; next I’d read all the exam questions (scenarios) and skim through their accompanying questions, to be familiar with everything, and pick the ones I could answer best. I always tried to start with my compulsory questions, which carry more marks and could take longer to answer. Try not to dwell too long on a number, if it’s taking your time, move on and come back to it if you can. We were apportioned three hours (180 minutes). I gave myself 10 minutes for reading through questions, 50 minutes each for my compulsory questions and 35 minutes each for my elective questions. It depends on how broken a question is, I’d further divide the time. We weren’t allowed watches in the hall, so I had to deal with the class clock. Oh and please try to read the instructions, especially the fact that Section A & B are to be answered in separate booklets, and that you are to answer only two questions per section. That’s really important. If you end up answering three questions per booklet, don’t cancel the third unless you are certain you’d have time to start it over in the appropriate booklet.
I wouldn’t talk about the exam stuff in detail, if you need help, you could always send a mail and I’d reply when I can. What I’d say is I cried each day after my exams because I believed I had failed. (P.S: Everyone has their own definition of what failure means) You’d hear your colleagues analysing a question and then you’ll start thinking to yourself, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God, what have I done?’ Don’t beat yourself up. After my criminal litigation exam, I cried because I thought my charge was the worst thing on earth. I couldn’t even tell my friends what I wrote, because I was embarrassed. Their answer suddenly made more sense than mine, I cried thinking I had lost about 18 marks out of 25 marks, and that was just No.1, it’s not like I aced my other questions. The worst of them was Corporate Law, I didn’t cry, I wept. It was a black Wednesday for me. I saw No. 4a, and I was completely blank. That was a compulsory question and I had no answer because I hadn’t read that topic as a result of time. Because I knew I couldn’t go through the whole curriculum, I pretty much focused on some topics that always came out, and BEHOLD, it was different this year. Don’t make that mistake. Then there was 4(b)-(e). That was a marks question and Jessica knew nothing. I had an idea for each of the other questions but not enough. So I left it because I was angry, I don’t know if the anger was at NLS or me. By the time I was done with my other questions, I had barely 12 minutes left. If you know what to do, 12 minutes is actually a long time. Somehow I managed to read through 4(a) – (e), still had a little time to think, and still managed to write something in 4(b)- (e). I didn’t bother writing 4(a) on my script because I was blank for that one. That was 5marks lost already. I left that exam hall defeated, a failure. Mum’s phone call was what helped me that day.
The thing about law school is the grading system. When you remember that you are scored by your lowest, it kills you. That night I watched a 2hours movie (Brooklyn) and I had Civil Litigation the next day. I literally stopped caring. I was done. I was tired of the pressure. Everyone always taunted me with the first class dream, my parents, my friends, my senior and junior colleagues and my own colleagues. So it was like I had failed them and failed myself. I really just wanted to be done and go hide myself in shame.
Sincerely, the dejection you might feel after an exam might make you want to quit. You reason, what’s the point, you’ve already failed this course, and the others are doomed. I wrote my remaining courses, Civil Litigation and Professional Ethics, nonchalantly. I wanted to be done. I needed to breathe and get out already. And then on September 2nd, it was over. The torture, the migraine, the nightmares, the depression, the constant turmoil, the crazy weight on my shoulders, everything was gone. And while my confreres were busy calling each other Barrister this and that, I was crying. I had my catharsis. I just needed to let go, I couldn’t believe I was free. I had a grip on my life again. After the tears, I was pissed off at everyone and at NLS. I don’t know why, I was just mad. For some of us, the whole experience is quite the emotional journey.
POST LAWSCHOOL (Results/The Wait)
…and then the wait started. I marked my questions myself left, right and forward. I kept on arguing on the phone with my friends about answers. Everyone had an answer as per their campus. Until my result came out, I never truly lived. I thought the time in school was the heartache, it’s not. It is the wait after the exams. Not knowing if you are going to do it all again, not knowing if you’d come out with a good grade, especially when everyone expects you to come out excellently. Imagine coming out as the best graduating student from your school, and then graduating with a Pass from law school. That can kill you, I swear. Don’t let it. You might have had a Pass but be smarter than that person who came out with a Second Class Upper (2.1). All you need for a 2.1 is straight B+, or have that as your least grade. Someone else could have 4As and a C in a course, only because he couldn’t finish, or he misunderstood the question, or didn’t answer a part of the question because he didn’t see it, or answered a question in a wrong booklet, or didn’t read that topic, anything. And it could be just a mark that brought u down to a C. I think for those with a Pass, it helps when they see their transcript and realize they actually did well except for that one course. Sometimes it’s the course you least expect to bring you down.
For those with awful handwriting, don’t be scared. I have one of the worst hand writings in human history, nevertheless, I made it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t work on it, please do, but don’t work yourself over it.
Until the results came out, I never slept well. I went to bed sad and woke up sad. I had nightmares where I was still trying to correct my wrongs in the exam hall. In my dreams, I was still stuck in Kano trying to have a redo. I cried myself to sleep most nights. And then on that fateful October morning (15th), it was out. I had so many calls that day, I didn’t answer any. I was so scared of knowing the result was ready and that it was but a click away. I didn’t want to be told that. I wanted to stay in my imaginary world where the result wasn’t ready because I knew in that click, a lot would change, in seconds, everything could change. It sure did. Someone actually sent me a congratulatory message and it only made me feel worse because I didn’t want to have to disappoint him. Truth is, everyone knew but me.
I finally answered calls and all I heard was PASS PASS PASS. I think only a few told me Second Class Lower, it made it scarier. They were all prompting me to go check and I refused. Then I heard only one girl had a first class from Kano, it made it worse for me because I never imagined that girl could be little me. I never believed in myself enough, even though my parents did. And then one of my best friends called me and she told me I had a first class, she had checked for me (yeah, she’s a snitch. Don’t let your friend know your exam number). Gosh, she was so happy for me. She’s like, ‘Goat you made a first class, go and check.’ I swear if she had been lying, I would have killed her, because she had given me Dutch courage. It was that moment Airtel chose to be crafty. Then the page opened and I saw it. That is/was THE BEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE. I cried for like 40 minutes. I have never seen my parents that happy. The result wasn’t for me. It was for them. It was for all I had put them through, the sacrifices made, I had made them proud, I had added meaning to who and what they are, I had made my surname stand for something else aside from its literal meaning. Believe me, seeing that look on your parent’s face, seeing your phone ring endlessly, getting phone calls from law firms (well you have to apply first), being suddenly important and recognized and acknowledged, it’s awesome. Oh and I got to take a picture with O.A. Onadeko, Y.Y. Dadem, Yemi Bhadmus, Obi Okoye, for me that’s huge. Yes, sometimes it was super stressful and I wished I could go back to my old life but 95% of the times, I am so grateful to Jehovah, I can’t thank Him enough.
Oh, and I kept opening the result page for close to a month, just in case the result changed and NLS had made a mistake. Funny thing is, anytime I opened the page, there’s this crazy fear that it had changed and I’ll start thinking that all the happiness and excitement would have been for nothing.
So yeah, this is my story, or a part of it. Of course I can’t remember every little challenge I had to go through. I do hope this bit can help someone out there. I know I would have had a better result than I came out with if I had studied as much as I wanted. I couldn’t because I didn’t know how to manage my time properly and so ended up reading just once in the entire law school program. I can’t even remember when I learnt my drafts, probably weeks before exam and that was bad on my part. So don’t make my mistake so you wouldn’t be left with regrets. Yes, I made a first class but I know that wasn’t my best, however, it could have been worse. Also remember, do what works for you. Just because someone reads 10 hours every day doesn’t mean you should, just because your friends are staying behind to read in the library doesn’t mean you must, just because your roommates are going for night class doesn’t mean you must, just because people are making notes doesn’t mean you must. Just DO YOU.
If you want to contact me, just send a mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Have an amazing law school year, and never forget the Gentleman’s Quarterly guys, they made law school worth it for me. Thank you beard gang. Don’t mind me, I’m only fooling around.