1. Can we meet you?
My name is Damilare Disu, I completed my law degree late last year from the Obafemi Awolowo University, and I am presently awaiting admission into the Nigerian Law School. I am currently an intern with the Legal Policy & Research Unit (Projects Team) of the International Bar Association’s London office.
2. What motivates you to give your best shot at everything you do?
Occasionally, you know what your drive is, but when it is put to you in the form of a question, you have to think about it all over again, and personally, I think it is because I see the world as my oyster. I have always wanted to excel beyond the average, not that I compete with anybody, but I want to be the best I can, so I majorly put in the best because I know the amount of effort my parents have invested, and I do not want to disappoint them.
3. Going by your LinkedIn profile, you participated in many extracurricular activities as an undergraduate, including securing internships in top tier law firms and winning essay competitions. How were you able to balance these activities with your academics?
It is a matter of priority and time management. While at the University, I typically did not take up competitions when they were very close to exams. So most of my competitive engagements were very early in the semester when the academic rigour was not that overwhelming, so I generally planned my time and participated in competitions I was interested in during the first few weeks of resumption. I do not participate in every competition that comes my way; I determine the competitions that align most with my future ambitions and then decide to participate in them. As a rule of thumb, I balance the most by ensuring I participate in competitions early in the semester so that it does not conflict with my academic obligations.
4. How exactly did you get a placement as a legal intern at the International Bar Association (IBA)?
I want to say that the process is straightforward. I heard of the opportunity through Linkedin and a friend who urged me to apply. The process is a four-stage process. Generally, you apply; the application consists of your CV, a cover letter, a copy of your writing work, and any legal writing you have done. Also, you have to submit a reference letter, so you have to meet one of your academic tutors to write you a reference sent to the IBA office in London. Finally, you fill out an application form, and if, of course, you cannot fund your stay in London, you can also apply for the IBA educational trust fund scholarship. That scholarship aims to give you some financial assistance while you are in London, but there is a maximum of 2000 pounds. After the first application, they usually review and shortlist applicants. During my time, we were shortlisted for about 20 candidates. There was another round of review, and this review is to know if you are qualified for the final stage. Only four candidates were chosen from the finalists in the final stage, of which I was part. . This process took about three months. I applied in August, and I received my offer from IBA in November.
5. Will you say that the experience you gathered beforehand contributed to your placement at the International Bar Association?
I am grateful for all the previous experiences I had, especially with several Nigerian law firms and many extracurriculars I have also had to participate in actively. The primary reason is that during various interviews, for instance, it is not uncommon for you to be asked competency-based questions, and during those questions, you find yourself having to make recourse to your past experiences to show them you have demonstrated these skills before and you can also demonstrate it if you are given an opportunity. My previous experiences, internships with Nigerian law firms and various extracurricular activities gave me some leverage during the application process.
6. What is your advice to undergraduates who believe that academic excellence is enough to get one’s dream job?
It is never enough, especially in this generation where there is some grade inflation. I am not saying people should not get the grade they deserve but what I am saying, in essence, is that more people make top grades nowadays, and so it does not give you this different edge it naturally gave you 20 years ago. For instance, we can have like 20 first-class candidates; second class upper could be as many as 100; while these grades are glowing, it does not necessarily give you that edge. About 15 years ago, maybe 1 or 2 persons made a first-class, unlike now, so when you furnish your certificates, people think you are exceptional, and there is this presumption in your favour, but with the way, there are so many top grades, then you have to have something extra. It could be something extracurricular, it could be by writing your thoughts on any legal matter, it could be by taking opportunities and many of those, but let me mention as well that the fact that you want to balance these skills does not mean that you are to jeopardize your academics because I have friends who are just not able to balance these things. After all, they prefer to focus on their academics. So, if you think that is the kind of identity you have, you could focus on your studies while in school, then during the gap year before you proceed to law school, you could engage in some of these extracurricular activities to build your profile. I am not saying the other extracurricular activities do not matter; I am just saying that you need to strike a balance because you go through a university, for instance. You focus extensively on extracurricular activities and then lose the chance of making probably a second class upper degree; you will never get that chance again. However, if, for instance, you obtain a good grade and then if there are still some improvements you need to make on your extracurriculars, there is a chance to do that maybe before law school, maybe during NYSC.
7. How was your social life like at the University?
I am not precisely social in the way which you might intend. However, I had a few friends whose company I thoroughly enjoyed. I was not as social as I wanted, and my social life will be rated 5/10.
8. In terms of parental support, what is your story?
When you asked me a question earlier about what drove me, I did mention that I did not want to disappoint my parents, so while I was a kid, I did not naturally emerge from a very wealthy background. We were not poor in the sense of it, but it was this typical modest Nigerian background, and then you see your parents struggling so much to finance your education and all of those, and my parents gave me incredible support both in my academics and whatever is required or that I wanted to engage in. So, in that sense, I think I had parental support for everything I wanted to do. If I want to do an internship, for instance, and I need financial help, I know my parents will show up. I think that parental influence will determine how often you accomplish your goal. I say this because I think I have been lucky to have parental support, and it is one of the things that majorly motivates me.
9. What is your advice to undergraduate law students who want your kind of success story?
I cannot call myself a success story by any standard, but of course, I understand your question. Maybe you want to take an international internship. My advice to undergraduatelaw students is what I have always told some of my colleagues, just be yourself. Also, if there is anything you like or develop an interest in, always strive for it. For instance, while I was applying for the IBA, many people who had taken the internship had one form of a postgraduate degree or the other. Most of them had high qualifications in their academics, so if I had taken that information and told myself that they do not look for people like me because I probably do not have the credentials like a postgraduate degree, I do not think I would take this risk, I would probably not have gotten the opportunity. So, the advice I will give is to take risks, and if there is something you have an interest in, regardless of what anyone tells you or any obstacles, always go for it.