When on January 2 2020 a former classmate, friend and colleague posted a publication on our class WhatsApp group, an article titled “Building Professional Capacity and Expanding the Frontiers of Law Practice: Friends of Olumide Akpata (“FoOA”) to Sponsor up to 30 Delegates for the Practice Preparation Course 2020”, I got interested. I got even more interested when I read through the publication and discovered that there would be over 20 sessions on various areas of commercial law such as Taxation, Intellectual Property, Capital Markets, Mergers and Acquisitions, Banking, Energy and so on. To be included in the Course were introductory sessions on topics such as Emerging Areas of Law Practice, Law Practice as a Business and Preparing for the Future of Law and Expanding the Scope of Legal Practice.
I was amused when the publication stated further that the sponsorship would be all-expenses paid covering course fees, travel expenses to and from Lagos, accommodation within Lagos for the duration of the course, feeding, course materials and other associated costs and logistics. And please pardon my surprise because in this clime, this seemed too good to be true. To the best of my knowledge, I had not heard or read of an initiative of this magnitude , one where this number of young lawyers who are not under the direct employment of the sponsors and who have no prior affiliation with the sponsors would be availed of such a highly reputed training at no cost!
Well, I decided to give the application a try after all—I run my own practice and can manage the timing of my deliverables to clients. More so, the topics are very relevant to the owner of a start-up law firm like me. I definitely wanted to learn more about emerging areas of law, how to run my law practice as a business, amongst other interesting topics on offer. Although I worked for some years in law firms including an internationally ranked one, I did not have the opportunity to be directly involved in some of the areas to be covered in the training. This was going to be an opportunity to acquire skills which may be of benefit to my clients, I thought to myself.
The deadline for the submission of the application was 11:59pm, Monday January 6, 2020. I had my doubts and this delayed my application to an extent. I wondered if the sponsors would not eventually ask applicants to pay part of the expenses. I imagined that there would be so many applications, and my chances of being selected were very slim. And finally, I wondered whether the sponsorship was not a scheme intended to achieve political gains.
Well, with all these questions raging on my mind, I still applied. After all, if I did not, these questions would remain unanswered. I submitted my application at 11:56pm—this confirms how doubtful I was. On January 9, 2020, I received an e-mail responding to my application stating that I had been selected as one of the successful candidates for the programme!
I was super happy to have been selected and I informed my wife of the good news. We agreed that I was not taking the offer of accommodation (which was available to everyone including Lagos residents) as I was not ready to leave her for two whole weeks, since we live in Lagos and the training would take place in Lagos.
Delegates were expected to arrive from various parts of Nigeria on Saturday 11 January 2020 ahead of the introductory sessions scheduled for Sunday 12 January 2020. The training itself was to commence on 13 January 2020.
The introductory sessions featured very insightful discourses on entertainment, fintech, taxation and other emerging areas of law. At this stage, the delegates met one another, and I immediately noted another benefit of the training: networking with lawyers from other parts of the country. The delegates were from Aba, Abuja, Asaba, Benin, Calabar, Enugu, Ibadan, Ikeja, Jos, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Makurdi, Onitsha, Osogbo, Owerri, Port-harcourt, Uyo and Warri. The training helped me to increase my professional network such that if I have legal matters in Kano or Onitsha and their environs today, I can easily reach out to a colleague in active practice in the relevant jurisdiction. For me, this is an asset.
Praise must also be given to the Legally Engaged team led by Yimika Adesola (Founder, Legally Engaged), for doing a great job. It is said that there are almost 40 internationally ranked law firms in Nigeria and most of the facilitators were drawn from these top firms. It was such a privilege to have participated in the sessions facilitated by top lawyers such as Dr. Adeoye Adefolu, Stella Duru, Zelda Akindele, Azeezah Muse-Sadiq, Chinyere Okorocha, Ayodeji Oyetunde and several other highly distinguished practitioners too numerous to mention.
The training covered such topics as Business Establishment, Regulatory Compliance, Taxation, Overview of Natural Resources, Projects and Infrastructure, Financing Overview, Facility Agreement, Securitization (taking security), Security Documentation & Perfection, Corporate Due Diligence, Overview of Nigerian Capital Markets, Capital Market Transactions, Bonds, Capital Market Documentation, Mergers and Acquisitions, Other Forms of Business Restructuring, Legal Due Diligence on Target Entities, Regulatory Authorities, Overview of Intellectual Property Law, Legal Research, Legal Writing and Drafting, Soft Skills for Lawyers There was also a panel discussion.
The panel discussion which had Yimika, Oyeyemi Aderibigbe (Senior Associate at Templars, columnist at BusinessDay Legal and Vice-Chairman Young Lawyers’ Forum NBA-Section on Business Law), Abiola Olaseide (former Company Secretary and General Counsel at PZ Cussons), and Muyiwa Atoyebi SAN (the youngest Nigerian lawyer to become a SAN) was eye opening and inspiring. Mr. Atoyebi spoke of his determination to attain the rank at the earliest possible age, even to the extent of rejecting scholarships for postgraduate studies abroad. I was particularly stunned when he said he had more than 10 mentors to whom he usually reached out for guidance when the need arose. Abiola Olaseinde then took it to another level when she said she had more than 20 mentors. Indeed, this is a great lesson for us young lawyers and indeed every young person regarding the need to identify and connect with the people who are more experienced. As young people, we should not seek out mentors primarily for financial benefits but rely on them to gain wisdom and experience. Also, mentorship can be indirect in the sense that where direct access is difficult or impossible, we can study the lives of the people that motivate us and strive to emulate them. Overall, the said session was really educative.
Another major highlight of the training for me was having the chance to meet with the former Chairman of the NBA Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL), Mr. Olumide Akpata. He was very approachable and cordial, and could recall our names at the first meeting. The way he mixed with us, you would think that he had known us forever. In my view, Mr. Akpata easily cuts the picture of one who loves to empower young people, and I recall that it was during his tenure as the Chairman of the NBA-SBL that the Young Lawyers’ Forum of the SBL was established and that Business Law Clubs were established in universities across Nigeria. That forum and those clubs are today the voice of young lawyers (who have recently graduated) at the NBA-SBL. I am also aware that he gave interested delegates textbooks on medical law practice, which is another emerging area of law. Also, at the recent launch of the 2nd edition of the book “The Nigerian Arbitration Law in Focus” authored by the late Hon. Justice Ephraim Akpata, JSC, edited by Mrs. Obosa Akpata and Mr. Olusola Adegbonmire, Mr. Olumide Akpata along with two other senior lawyers bought 300 copies of the book for young members of the NBA-SBL.
Regarding my doubts prior to applying for the FoOA scholarship, I can confidently say that all of them were cleared. Delegates were lodged in a hotel in Victoria Island (apart from those, like me, who chose alternative accommodation). We all received a re-imbursement to cover the cost of transportation to and from our various jurisdictions. A dedicated coaster bus was provided to move the delegates from the hotel to the venue of the training at the Lagos Court of Arbitration in Lekki and back. Adequate arrangements were also made for meals on each day. Overall, I would say that FoOA fulfilled all the promises they made regarding accommodation, transportation, feeding, course fees and materials beyond my expectations! This event is one which I will always remember fondly.
The place of Continuing Professional Development for lawyers cannot be overemphasised. Considering that legal education in Nigeria today is far behind, it is important for the legal profession to find ways to regularly train lawyers to become fit for practice in the 21st Century. Mr. Akpata himself acknowledged this much during one of his engagements with us, where he opined that one-way forward is to engage policy makers with a view to reviewing the curricula across the legal education value chain. Imagine lawyers being constantly exposed to capacity building opportunities like the Legally Engaged training under reference. The Nigerian society and economy would be the better for it. Delegates to the said training from other parts of the country complained that Lagos-based lawyers are usually engaged for complex transactions domiciled in other jurisdictions, because the lawyers in those places do not have the technical expertise required to execute them. If these lawyers had the required technical expertise, they would be engaged to provide services to the clients around them, especially ordinary citizens and small businesses. This will in turn create jobs for lawyers and improve their living standards.
Before I close, it is important to state that from the introductory sessions, we were informed that the sponsorship by FoOA was not aimed at raising a campaign team or “campaign managers” for anyone. This dispelled all my reservations about the motive behind the initiative. In fact, I found that amongst some of the sponsors were die-hard supporters of the other candidates who are running for the same office as Olumide Akpata and they were not treated any differently from those who were naturally predisposed to Olumide Akpata’s candidacy. For me, this shows integrity and sincerity of purpose of the part of FoOA. I am still amazed at this, hence the inspiration to share my experience, and it is my hope that others can emulate FoOA by giving back to the legal profession without any strings attached.
May I thank Friends of Olumide Akpata for this initiative and for their passion for young lawyers. My sincere appreciation also goes to Mr. Olumide Akpata for inspiring this kind and unprecedented gesture. It is my hope and prayer that people like Mr. Akpata who have a track record of excellence in leadership be given the opportunity and platform to spearhead reforms in the legal profession, key amongst which are capacity building and improving the welfare of lawyers. I wish FoOA and Mr. Akpata the best in their future endeavours.
Mr. Tunde Akinbobola is a Lagos-based legal practitioner. He can be reached via [email protected]