• Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Chinyere Okorocha, celebrating decades of unparalleled success in jurisprudence

Chinyere Okorocha, celebrating decades of unparalleled success in jurisprudence

Chinyere Okorocha serves as a Partner at the distinguished Law Firm of Jackson, Etti & Edu, a leading establishment headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria. With an extensive practical experience spanning over 32 years, she has demonstrated expertise in various legal domains. Notably, her expertise lies in Intellectual Property (IP) law, where she is renowned as an authority and expert.

Additionally, Chinyere is a proficient medico-legal practitioner and holds the leadership position of heading the firm’s Health & Pharmaceutical practice.

Chinyere is highly esteemed in the legal profession, with a track record of noteworthy industry appointments. Presently, she holds the position of Chairperson of the Nigerian Bar Association Women Forum, an arm of the largest bar in Africa, where she has responsibility for leading the association and empowering the Nigerian female lawyer for success.

She has previously served as a council member and treasurer of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Section on Business Law (SBL).
Furthermore, she has earned the distinction of being an “IP Star” in Managing IP’s prestigious guide to Leading IP Lawyers from 2014 to 2023 in the UK. Her exceptional contributions are affirmed by her consistent ranking as a Leading Individual in IP in Nigeria in Chambers Global listings from 2016 to 2023. Chinyere’s expertise has also been recognised in the Who’s Who Legal Nigeria publication from 2017 to 2023.

Driven by a fervent desire to empower young individuals in reaching their full potential, particularly within the workplace, Okorocha initiated the Heels & Ladders Career Mentorship Club. Through this platform, she imparts inspiring guidance and motivational tips for career advancement to female professionals ascending the corporate ladder.

What is Chinyere’s story?

Born of very humble beginnings to hardworking parents, in the UK, my early education was all done in the UK. My family returned to Nigeria when I was about 8 years old and my early memories were that of attempting to adjust to the Nigerian system, both in terms of the society in general, learning the Igbo language and also attempting to fit into the school system and make new friends. I went through the whole “JJC Syndrome” (Johnny Just Come), of being laughed at for speaking with an accent and looking different, awkward and so on. Upon my return, I continued my primary education in Aba, Abia State and then went on to secondary school in the prestigious Federal Government Girls College Onitsha, Anambra State. For my university education, I studied Law at the then Imo State University and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. My classmates form a part of my most cherished networks today, as technology has made it possible for everyone to kept in touch with each other, irrespective of location.

My parents were hard workers, and this has had a huge influence on my trajectory, generally and in my career in particular. My mum was in the educational system and rose to become the principal of a number of secondary schools, whilst my dad was a well-recognised lawyer and public prosecutor in Imo State. Although my family was not rich in the true sense of the word, in my family, we grew up with a sense of love for each other in a great family with Christian values, and all this made me who I am today.

Tell us about being a partner at Jackson, Etti & Edu, why them?

My journey with Jackson, Etti & Edu (JEE), started on 1996, when the founding Partners asked me to join them in setting up what has become one of Nigeria’s leading law firms, and I am proud to say that I am a founding member of the firm. From our humble beginnings at the home of our Senior Partner in Surulere, to choice offices in Victoria Island, our journey has been one of resilience, hard work and teamwork. Today, we are a full service, sector-focused law-firm, with branches across the continent, servicing a wide range of local and international clients. From 4 Partners and just 2 lawyers when we started in 1996, the firm has grown to 14 Partners and over 50 lawyers and our combined experience is over four decades strong. JEE as we are fondly referred to as, is one of the few top tier law firms in Nigeria, that have an equal number of male and female Partners and I can boldly say that as a woman, the environment has been very conducive for a proper integration of my professional and personal life.

This of course impacted my journey to partnership, and I learnt very early, that in order to progress as a successful female lawyer and indeed as a wife and a mother, I needed to be exceptionally good at my job and stand out from the crowd. I therefore gave it my all and emulated successful female lawyers who were somewhat mentors from afar. I was also opportune to travel abroad for work in my niche area, intellectual property law and this exposed me to different cultures and work environments where women were able to excel. JEE continues to provide me with an enabling environment to express myself in various ways and to be the best possible version of myself. I am very grateful for this, as I believe it’s fundamental for every woman who wants to thrive and achieve success.

Share with us about being a medico-legal practitioner holding the leadership position of heading the firm’s Health and Pharmaceutical Practice. Why Medico-legal?

A few years ago, when my firm Jackson, Etti & Edu decided to differentiate itself from the crowd, by adopting a sector focused approach to the delivery of legal services, the health and pharmaceutical sector was one of the 6 sectors of interest to the firm, and I was asked to take up the leadership of this specialist practice group. The thinking was that in order to effectively service our clients, we needed to not only have the requisite legal expertise to provide solutions to their problems, but to also have a good understanding of the nuances in the sector or industries where they operate. This has enabled me to provide bespoke advice to my clients within the sector, such that we are trusted advisors, hand-holding clients along the way. From advice on the regulatory complexities within the health and pharmaceutical industry, to raising capital for huge infrastructural projects, to resolution of disputes around medical negligence and so on, my team and I are able to assist the clients expertly navigating this highly regulated arena. Our aim is to help our clients not only survive the Nigerian business environment, but to also thrive.

Read also: Adedoyin Segun-Noibi – GM Operations, Strategy & Performance, Quomodo Systems Africa

In what ways are you responsible for formulation and execution of strategic direction of the firm, to ensure longevity and sustainability?

As a founding member of the firm and one of the more senior Partners, I am part of management and have at various times held strategic leadership positions all aimed at ensuring the growth, longevity and sustainability of the firm. This is particularly important when you consider the changing face of the legal profession, the evolution of law into business and a multitude of significant and ongoing transformations and developments that are occurring within the field of law.

From the technological advancements taking place and the integration of technology, such as AI, automation, and legal software, every modern law firm must keep abreast of the changes that enhance service delivery. Clients’ expectations have also changed and require a much more client-centric approach to the provision of legal services. The alternative legal service providers like the big 4 consulting firms, have also changed the competitive landscape, along with globalisation necessitating cross-border collaboration with legal professionals from different jurisdictions. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote work in the legal field and this has us adapting to new ways of working, in order to retain the workforce. Finally, the exodus of the Nigerian workforce to greener pastures remains a threat and we are constantly looking for innovative ways to retain our staff and provide the career fulfillment they desire to ensure the sustainability of the firm as a whole.

All these, along with ensuring that we develop and maintain a strong online presence and effective marketing strategies to reach a wider audience, are just a few of the strategic decisions which I am privileged to be a part of, to ensure that Jackson, Etti & Edu remains at the top of its game in servicing it numerous clientele across the globe, keeps abreast of international best practices, retains its staff, whilst remaining effective and relevant in serving our clients.

As Chairperson of the Nigerian Bar Association Women Forum, what are your responsibilities and how are you carrying them out?
I have always been an advocate for the female professionals and over my 32year career as a legal practitioner, I have had a passion for helping women find their voices, speak their truth and become the best possible version of themselves in life, including in their chosen careers, which in this case is the legal profession. This philosophy falls in line with that of the Nigerian Bar Association Women Forum (NBAWF), which is a not-for-profit arm of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), constitutionally established to address matters affecting the well-being of the Nigerian female lawyer. The aim is to empower female lawyers for success, by identifying and providing innovative solutions to key issues that affect them, both professionally and personally. This mandate is achieved, through advocacy, mentorship, organising workshops and conferences on gender issues, leadership, personal development, career growth, work life integration and the formation of networking and educational events and so on, all targeted at fostering female lawyers’ professional growth. We also run campaigns where we share the experiences and celebrate the achievements of successful Nigerian female lawyers in the world today.

In addition, the forum is keen to collaborate, engage and network with sister associations both locally and internationally, by exchanging ideas, holding joint programmes, all aimed at empowering the female lawyer for success. To this end, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the New York State Bar, Women-In-Law Section (NYSBA-WILS), where we undertake joint initiatives to advance and empower women in the legal profession for success. In addition, we also recently collaborated with the Institute of African Women in Law (IAWL) on a research project tagged “A report on Women in Law & Leadership”, whose aim was to determine the representation of women in the Nigerian legal system, at the Bar, the Bench, and the Legal Academia. The reports, under IAWL’s Strategic Initiative, provide an up-to-date, comprehensive analysis of the current state of women in law.

In an attempt to achieve national spread, and reach the grassroot level across the country, the forum appointed a State Lead in each of the 36 states of Nigeria and a Branch Facilitator, in each of the 125 NBA Branches. Our NBAWF state and branches constantly hold programmes nationwide, in line with our terms of reference, from workshops to radio and TV programmes, to trainings, symposiums and sports activities, all aimed at empowering the Nigerian female lawyer for success.

As the Chairperson of the forum, I hold the privileged position of steering the ship. Along with my executive committee and council, I provide the strategic direction for the forum to ensure our objectives are achieved and our structures are sustainable.

You are an “IP Star” in Managing Intellectual Property’s prestigious guide to Leading IP Lawyers from 2014 to 2023 in the UK, share about this with us

My journey into Intellectual Property (IP) started not because of any passion or yearning for that area of the law, but due to the law firm where I did my law office attachment, which was one of the then leading IP firms in the country. It was here that I had my very first introduction to this specialist area of the law and it was really love at first sight from there on. Another factor was that I had earlier on tried my hand at litigation but got so frustrated at the slow pace of the cases and the constant adjournment of matters, without consideration for the time and effort that lawyers put in, before appearing in court, only to be told that the court would not sit.

I found IP very intriguing and a breath of fresh air. It was interesting that you could think up an idea or a name of a product and the law would grant you ownership, protection from infringement, as well as have a monetary benefit attached to it. I was also always so chuffed, whilst driving along the road and seeing the billboards of my firm’s various multinationals clients and feeling a sense of ownership of the brands too. I was proud that in my little corner in Nigeria, I was part of that global multinational brand’s business plan and was helping them protect their IP assets in Nigeria, as part of their overall success story.

As my career progressed, I became quite passionate about protecting my clients’ brands. There was a whole unit in the firm where I started my career as a young lawyer, dedicated to that practice area and I was happy to be part of the team. I must have impressed the management of the firm very quickly, and before I knew it, I was nominated to travel abroad for an International IP conference, and this became the trend. This international exposure to the IP world, revealed the multifaceted nature of IP and how broad it actually was. I came to realise that, like most of the lawyers I met internationally, I could actually make a career of IP and it didn’t make me any less of a lawyer. You see, when I started out, there was this tendency to look down on lawyers who were not in the traditional practice areas, like litigation or core commercial law, and there were actually a number of my contemporaries who thought IP was too limiting and they dropped out. For me, I struggled a bit with this, but the international experience, and my interaction with IP practitioners on an international level, really helped me overcome those limitations and fully embrace IP as my niche area.

With this focus, I threw myself into learning everything I could about it and I used this knowledge to service my clients to the best of my ability. I was passionate about protecting my clients’ brands, as well as passionate about our Nigerian IP laws and how best to align it with international best practices. This I believe was the reason I gained the international recognition by Managing Intellectual Property, UK, IP STARS which is the leading specialist guide for companies or individuals looking for experienced legal practitioners to deal with contentious and non-contentious intellectual property issues worldwide.

In addition, my IP recognition was further heightened by my appointment as the inaugural Chairperson of the Intellectual Property Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association, Section on Business Law (NBA, SBL). I served in that capacity for several years and actually won an award for Committee of the Year, for 3 consecutive years – 2007-2009. During my tenure, my team and I set up what has now become one of the most active and impactful committees in the NBA, SBL. I spearheaded many advocacy initiatives to try and improve the administrative aspects of IP, update our IP laws, as well as made recommendations to the then Minister of Trade & Industry on key changes that needed to be made, to ensure an enabling environment for the protection of IP rights in Nigeria, thereby improving foreign direct investment activities into the country.

What is ‘Heels & Ladders Career Mentorship Club’ about?

As a young female professional, starting out in her career, it became very obvious to me that men and women were treated differently in the workplace and a lot of the time, I would have to work twice as hard as my male counterparts to get any reward or recognition for my efforts. This was disheartening to say the least. I was determined to rise to the pinnacle of my career, but if I continued on the current trajectory, it would be near impossible to get to the top. To tackle the problem, I began to do a lot of research about successful female professionals, their characteristics and their life stories. I visited 32 countries in the world, and I also studied the successful women I met on my travels and a pattern began to emerge. I found this fascinating, and I gradually began to imbibe these traits into my professional and personal life and things began to change. I didn’t know it at the time, but these women ended up mentoring me from afar. One female lawyer in particular stood out from the crowd. She was so well put together, tall and beautiful. Her clothes, shoes and bags were always on point, but over and above that, she was intelligent. She would often come for meetings in my office and hold us all spellbound, dissecting the legal ramifications of a certain case we were discussing. I developed a burning desire to ensure that every female professional learns what I did to get to the top in my career and three decades later, with a world of experience, and some formal training on mentoring and coaching, I founded the Heels & Ladders Career Mentorship Club and developed my signature programme, the Career Acceleration Mentorship Course (CAM Course), to help mid-senior level female professionals achieve accelerated career growth, despite the limitations that traditionally hold women back.

The philosophy behind the Heels & Ladders programme is that, despite the stereotypical biases that hold women back, there are things that you can do, and steps that you can take to ensure that you achieve the career success and growth that you desire, all the way to the top.

Why the decision to study law and how has your passion for the legal profession evolved through the years?

To be honest, when I was much younger, my dream was to become a doctor and you’d often find me playing “doctors & nurses”, with siblings, cousins and friends at every opportunity. However, as I grew older, my interests shifted away from that path, mainly because I wasn’t particularly fond of mathematics, and I found myself increasingly drawn to the arts. When the time came to make a career choice, it wasn’t driven by a burning desire to defend people’s rights or advocate for the less fortunate. In fact, I was rather uncertain about my career direction. My primary criterion was to avoid any field that involved mathematics, and I had a preference for pursuing a professional course. Perhaps unconsciously influenced by being a daddy’s girl, the fact that my father was a lawyer made me more comfortable with the idea of a legal profession. So, when the time came to make a choice, it felt like a natural and straightforward decision for me to choose law as my path.

Having practiced law for more than three decades, I can confidently say that choosing this path has been the best decision of my life. It has been an incredibly captivating and rewarding journey, and one that I wouldn’t change for anything else. The field of law has not only facilitated my personal growth but has also empowered me as a woman. It has broadened my perspective across all facets of human endeavors, granting me the privilege of actively participating in the achievements of numerous clients and businesses that I’ve had the honour to represent. Moreover, it has positioned me to make substantial and meaningful contributions to the aspiring young men and women entering the legal profession, who look up to me for guidance and inspiration.

How have you managed to stay updated with the ever changing laws and legal landscape throughout your career?

The legal profession, like the society it serves, is in a constant state of flux. Over my 32-year career as a lawyer, I have witnessed significant transformations in the legal landscape. Staying updated with these changes has been critical to my professional growth and effectiveness, and I have had to adopt various strategies to guide me in navigating the ever-changing face of the legal profession and legal environment.

First and foremost, it has been a commitment to continual legal education. The law is not static. It evolves through legislation, court decisions, and societal changes. To remain current, I have consistently pursued opportunities for learning. This includes attending seminars, workshops, and conferences on various legal topics. These events offer valuable insights into recent legal developments, allowing me to adapt my practice accordingly. Next would definitely be subscribing to relevant legal publications and journals. The legal industry is documented meticulously in various publications, journals and case law updates. Reading these sources has been a habit I’ve cultivated since the early days of my career and these publications provide in-depth analysis and commentary on emerging legal trends, enabling me to anticipate changes and offer proactive advice to clients. Joining relevant professional associations and being actively involved in them has also been instrumental to many of my career successes and visibility. These organisations serve as hubs for legal practitioners to exchange knowledge and stay updated. Membership has granted me access to valuable resources, networking opportunities, and discussions on critical legal issues. Engaging with fellow professionals has broadened my perspective and kept me well-informed. I have also gained appointments, recognition and awards which have positioned me for growth and further professional advancement.

In addition, I also aim to collaborate with colleagues and seek out mentors who have played a pivotal role in my quest to remain at the top of my game. Engaging in open dialogues, sharing experiences, and seeking guidance from seasoned lawyers have been invaluable. The legal profession thrives on the transfer of knowledge, and mentorship has been a two-way street, allowing me to learn from the experiences of others, while offering my insights to younger lawyers.

Finally, the integration of technology into the legal industry has been a game-changer for the 21st century lawyer and embracing legal tech tools and software has allowed me to streamline research, document management, and communication. Technology has not only enhanced efficiency but also facilitated real-time updates on legal developments, ensuring I can respond swiftly to changes in the legal landscape.

I believe in the power of creating a niche for oneself as a lawyer, and for me this is a no brainier when striving for excellence and keeping abreast of changes. Focusing on specific areas of law has enabled a deeper understanding of the relevant laws and regulations. It allows me to stay updated in-depth within a particular domain, which is essential for providing clients with expert counsel.

As I reflect on my 32year career in the legal profession, it has become clear to me that staying updated is not just a professional responsibility, it is critical to enable me deliver the best quality of services to clients, whilst standing out from the crowd. The legal landscape will continue to evolve, driven by societal changes, technological advancements, and shifting jurisprudence and my commitment to lifelong learning, supported by a network of colleagues, mentors, and technology, will allow me to not only navigate this ever-changing terrain but also to thrive in it.

Read also: Tumi Sekhukhune – Group Executive, Enterprise Business Unit at MTN Group

What memorable challenge/s have you encountered in your career and how did you handle it/them?

Very early in my career, I recognised that men and women were treated differently in the work-place and I understood that in order to excel and indeed move quickly up the career ladder, I would need to do things differently, perhaps work twice as hard as my male counterparts, and find a way to stand out from the crowd, despite the stereotypical biases and negative gender nuances.

I also found it difficult transitioning from being a single, female professional, to being married with children, and still having to perform optimally in the workplace. The constant juggling with different aspects of my life, whilst striving for the right work/life balance, was as real then, as it is today. I recall a particularly difficult decision I had to take after the birth of my first child, where I had to take very drastic measures, to ensure I wasn’t passed over for a professional opportunity. I had just returned to work from my maternity leave and my baby was about 4 and a half months old. I was still breast feeding at the time when an opportunity to represent the firm in the UK at an international conference and also attend client meetings arose. At the time, the “6 months breast milk only”, fad was all the range and I didn’t want my daughter to miss out on this. I was also determined not to miss an opportunity to represent the firm abroad.

Suffice it to say that I ended up bringing my mum down to stay with my baby, and expressing milk in bottles for my baby to take when I travelled. I then travelled with my breast pump and continued to express the milk whilst on the trip, to maintain the flow. To the glory of God, I came back after about a week and was able to continue breast feeding way passed the 6month period. It sounds really crazy when you think about it today and I definitely wouldn’t go to such an extreme length today. Having said that, success for women takes determination, hard work and resilience. We need to learn to think outside the box and device ways to overcome the stereotypical biases that hold women back.

Unfortunately, gender issues and inequality abound in most professional environments the world over and the legal profession is no exception. This is no doubt deeply rooted in culture and although there has been some improvement over the years, progress is slow and women continue to be marginalised, victimised and passed over, even when they are more qualified for the job.

Some other coping mechanisms included studying and emulating women who I felt had achieved the heights or level of success that I wanted. We call them mentors today, but at the time I was just looking for answers. I also cultivated a group of female friends who were also professionals, and we would exchange stories and coping mechanisms, whilst offering support to one another.

How do you manage the demands of your profession with your personal life and well-being?

I truly believe that life is a balancing act and in order to live a truly fulfilled life, we must necessarily create a balance between our personal and professional lives. This is particularly true for women, who, apart from being professionals, have the added responsibility of being wives and mothers and the demands from all these different areas can become overwhelming. With over three decades of experience building what I can with every sense of humility call a successful career, 27 years as a wife and 26 years as a mother, I have had a first-hand experience, navigating the difficulty surrounding being a female professional, a wife and a mother, without letting the ball drop on any of these roles. Here are my top ten tips for navigating the demands of my professional and personal life:

1. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done. If you can achieve 70-80% success in any one area, then you have to live with that. I am yet to find a successful woman who has achieved 100% in all areas of her life.

2. Asking for help is not a crime and communicate your needs. No one is a mind reader. Who do you have as a support system? No man is an island, be sure to ask for or even hire personnel to help you along the way. They include nanny’s, cooks, househelp, drivers, a sister or your mum or mum-in-law and so on.

3. Set boundaries at work and stick with them. Learn how to say no to some things. Don’t be available for everything that comes your way. Cut out the things that give you stress, have a discussion with your bosses at work and let them know the boundaries which cannot be crossed. Closing late from work, working over the weekend, attending children’s school functions and so on. Negotiate flexi working hours, if possible.

4. Prioritise your time effectively and avoid distractions. Create a to do list and stick to it. Use the hours that you have more effectively so that you can get more done. Do an assessment of your day and determine when you are most and least productive. Cut out the time wasters. You can’t do big things, if you are constantly distracted by little things. Stop checking emails, social media, surfing the internet, interruptions from colleagues, gossiping and so on. Distractions decreases productivity.

5. Automate, outsource and delegate. Don’t try and do everything yourself, allow others to try a hand at it and make their own mistakes.

With 29 years to her credit, building a successful career, 24 years as a wife and 23 years as a mum of 3 young adults, Chinyere has had a first hand experience, navigating the difficulty surrounding being a female professional, a wife and a mother, without letting the ball drop on any of these roles.

6. Create a to do list of everything you need to do. Usually about 4-6 items in order of priority. Where however the list is much longer, then create categories along with the list. Choose a time to work on each item daily. Focus your energy on the important things and block out the distractions. Identify your most productive hours and utilise it accordingly. Schedule your most difficult or challenging tasks to your most productive hours.

7. Create a conducive workspace. Our environment can affect us mentally, physically or otherwise, so it’s important to take time and create a conducive environment for work. This helps to declutter your mind. Makes you more productive whilst working. A scattered workspace can adversely affect your productivity.

8. Make time for you. Spend time on the things you love. If you don’t spend time on you, then you won’t be able to spend time on others. Spend time on the things you love to recharge your body, spirit and soul. Read, paint, sing, listen to music, watch movies, go to the beach, relax.

9. Take short breaks or holidays. Unplug and get close to nature, all work and no play, makes Jill a dull girl. Take time out for a break from it all to refresh, renew your mind, replenish and rejuvenate. It can be a short break to a hotel for the weekend or a relation’s house where you will be waited on, hand and foot. Read a book, watch a movie, pray, meditate. Schedule your unplug time. Tech is good but don’t get too addicted.

10. Stop multitasking contrary to popular belief, focusing on one task at a time can improve productivity and concentration. Multitasking often leads to reduced efficiency and increased stress. So, it’s a good idea to stop multitasking and prioritise single-tasking for better results.

Striving for a good work/life balance is very important to achieve any sustainable success in life and we must necessarily take adequate steps to ensure that we give adequate attention to all areas of our life. Failure to do this leads to an imbalance that will ultimately negatively affect our success.

Don’t sacrifice one for the other. Life is a balancing act.

How do you approach ethical dilemmas or challenging moral situations within the legal profession?

The legal profession is inherently complex, and it operates on the fundamental principle that every individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This, along with the overarching desire to successfully represent your client or win every case, inevitably leads lawyers to find themselves confronted with scenarios that can give rise to profound moral and ethical quandaries while advocating for their clients.

Navigating moral and ethical dilemmas in the legal profession is certainly worth a mention here, but one must always be guided by an overwhelming commitment to uphold justice and the rule of law. As a seasoned legal practitioner, I come from a standpoint that these moral and ethical dilemmas are an inherent part of the landscape, and this enables me approach such situations with greater awareness and preparedness.

Having a strong legal education serves as a strong foundation and equips lawyers with an understanding of the ethical principles and codes of conduct governing the profession. These are clearly set out in the Nigerian rules of professional conduct and being well-versed in these guidelines provides a moral compass for ethical decision-making. It’s also always a good decision to actively consult or seek the counsel of colleagues, mentors, and senior lawyers when confronted with moral dilemmas. Collaborative discussions often yield valuable insights and alternative perspectives. This has certainly helped me when faced with such difficulties.

In addition to the above, I’ve found that it’s important to maintain an open and honest communication with your client. Never promise more than you can give. Lawyers should explain ethical boundaries and potential consequences to their clients ahead of time, as this will foster a transparent relationship that aligns client expectations with ethical boundaries. The place of assessing one’s own personal values and beliefs can also help lawyers make ethical decisions aligned with their moral compass. Understanding one’s own ethical boundaries is key.

On a final note, as a lawyer, you must learn to balance your duty to provide zealous representation to your client, with your professional obligations. Advocating vigorously for a client can coexist with respectful and good ethical conduct. Lawyers can successfully navigate any dilemma by combining a strong legal education, adherence to ethical codes, consultation with peers and mentors, and a strong commitment to transparent client communication. The ultimate goal is to uphold justice while maintaining the ethical integrity of the profession.

What are some skills or qualities that you believe are essential for success in the legal field?

Success in the legal field requires a combination of skills, qualities, and attributes that go beyond just legal knowledge and unfortunately, many of these skills are not taught in law school. The truth of the matter is that law is a business and the sooner we come to terms with that realisation, the more able we will recognise where exactly the knowledge gaps are and quickly draw up a plan to fill them.

Even though law is regarded as a noble profession, it is a for profit business, and without revenue or income, a law firm cannot survive, irrespective of how proficient and knowledgeable the lawyers may be. So, no matter how talented you are as a lawyer, every firm must have at its heart a business development strategy that involves building, maintaining and growing a healthy client base. This is critical to the suitability of the firm. Legal knowledge is therefore no longer the sole element involved in the delivery of legal services.

Also, worthy of mention is the important difference between the practice of law and the provision of legal services. These two concepts are different and a clear understanding of these differences will go a long way in helping identify knowledge gaps that need to be filled. The practice of law can be defined as giving legal advice to clients, drafting legal documents, representing clients in legal negotiations and in court proceedings. This is always undertaken by a person who has been trained both at university level, as well as one who has graduated from the Nigeria law school. You cannot practice law if you do not have this training. The provision of legal services on the other hand, refers to the business side of the law and involves not only trained lawyers, but many other echo systems and legal industry stakeholders involving a multi-disciplinary global industry.

Professional service firms Deloitte, Ernst & Young, PWC & KPMG (the big 4), have long since cast their eyes on the legal service industry and the only reason they are making their incursions are because they are businessmen first, and they understand what it means to provide service to a client. Law practice has metamorphosed from a lawyer centric to a customer centric marketplace. There is therefore an urgent need to rethink the practice industry we are adopting to cater for this new reality, and I dare say the best place to start is indeed with the law school syllabus.

Being a successful lawyer is no longer just about knowing the law, it’s about having the business skills that any service provider should have to be successful, no matter the industry. The delivery of legal services involves a tech enabled, process and data driven multidisciplinary global industry (M.Cohen). What this also means for a lawyer in the changing face of legal practice, is that there are now multiple choices of careers available to lawyers and the performance metrics, the key performance indicators, the assessments and indeed the skills required to succeed are also changing. Legal practice has evolved, and the focus now is on delivering legal services to clients in a most efficient and timely manner, using different matrix and a tech driven, business orientation.

Roles like Global Head of Legal Operations, overseeing strategies for pricing, legal project management and other business of law functions, Director of Legal Project Management and Director of Pricing Strategy, promptly come to mind.

So, the question then becomes, what are the key business skills that a lawyer needs to be successful as a lawyer?

Here are some essential ones:

1. Critical Thinking

2. Problem Solving

3. Emotional Intelligence

4. Communication Skills

5. Business Development

7. Sales & Marketing

8. Basic tech / digital skills

9. Leadership

10. Project Management

11. Risk Management

Success in the legal field is multifaceted, requiring a combination of legal knowledge, interpersonal skills, and the ability to adapt to a dynamic environment. Lawyers who continually develop and enhance these skills and qualities are well-positioned for a fulfilling and successful career.

How do you stay motivated and inspired in your work after many years of practice?

Sustaining a long and fulfilling career in the legal profession has been a journey marked by hard work, dedication and perseverance. I have found that for female professionals, this path can be especially challenging due to the numerous hurdles, stereotypes, and gender biases that persist in the field. Despite these obstacles, surviving and thriving in the legal profession is not only possible but also achievable and I am living proof of this. I will like to share some of the strategies I have deployed to stay motivated and inspired even as I navigated the career ladder.

1. Create a Distinct Personal Brand: To stand out and gain recognition in a competitive environment, it is crucial to intentionally craft a personal brand that sets you apart. A distinctive identity can help you rise above the crowd.

2. Harness the Power of Networking: Successful legal professionals know the importance of networking. Establish connections both within and outside your organisation, and collaborate across teams and departments. This approach not only expands your skill set but also introduces you to a broader network of colleagues and mentors.

3. Develop Expertise in a Niche. Becoming an industry expert or the go-to person in a specific area of law can significantly boost your professional standing. Specialisation can set you on a path to leadership roles.

4. Gender-Neutral Excellence: In the quest for success, leave gender biases behind and focus on excelling in your role. Let your competence speak louder than any preconceived notions, fostering a culture of gender-blind recognition.

5. Embrace Flexibility and Mobility. Be open to diverse roles, even if they take you outside your usual jurisdiction. Embracing flexibility and mobility can lead to opportunities that serve as stepping-stones to leadership positions.

6. Strengthen Relationships with your Boss. Build strong working relationships with your superiors. Demonstrate your value without causing them to feel threatened by your ambitions. Making your boss look good can be beneficial to your career.

7. Pursue Opportunities Boldly. Don’t always wait for opportunities to come to you, be proactive and ask for high-profile assignments and projects that can accelerate your career.

8. Volunteer and Acknowledge Colleagues: Volunteer to represent your team and commend your colleagues when their contributions warrant recognition. Taking on firm-wide responsibilities ensures that decision-makers recognise your capabilities.

9. Pay Attention to Your Appearance: Dress for the role you aspire to attain, not the one you currently hold. A distinctive appearance that sets you apart can enhance your professional image and make you memorable.

10. Celebrate Your Achievements: Acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments. It’s essential to take credit for your hard work and stop selling yourself short.

Finally, self-belief and self confidence in your own abilities is a critical success requirement to keep you motivated. If you don’t believe in yourself, why would you expect anyone else to believe in you.

What advice do you have for young lawyers who are just starting their career, for those who have been there for a while and feel stuck and unmotivated, and for those with years of experience like you?

The legal profession is a dynamic and complex one, offering a diverse range of opportunities as well as challenges at every career stage. Whether you’re just starting on your legal journey, feeling stuck and unmotivated, or have years of experience under your belt, there are valuable insights that can guide you towards a fulfilling and successful career.

Starting with the young lawyers just starting their careers, my advice is that you build a strong foundation, focus on honing your fundamental legal skills, including research, writing, and analytical thinking, that will stand you in good stead to develop legal expertise. I’m addition, seek mentorship from experienced lawyers who can provide valuable guidance and career advice. Finally, recognise that your career is like a blank page and the pen is literarily in your own hand. You can decide to be swayed by the wind, or you can take a hold of the pen to create the storyline you desire. Either way, the best way to determine your future is by creating it yourself. Embrace challenging assignments as opportunities for growth and actively network to expand your professional connections. Be open to feedback from superiors and peers to enhance your development.

For those who may currently be feeling stuck and unmotivated, please do not despair. Periods of stagnation or disillusionment are a normal part of career growth, so please do not be weary. I want you to see it as a period to reignite your passion, engage in meaningful self-reflection to identify the source of your dissatisfaction. Re-evaluate your career goals and consider if a shift in focus or further education in areas of interest could renew your motivation. Also seek out mentorship or career coaching to gain insights into your career path. Don’t hesitate to explore alternative legal careers or related fields where your skills can thrive.

Finally, for lawyers with years of experience, we owe it as a duty to pass the knowledge down by mentoring younger colleagues and consider leadership roles within your organisation or legal community at large. Stay updated with legal developments and trends through continued education. Prioritise work-life balance to prevent burnout and consider your professional legacy. Reflect on the impact you want to leave on the legal profession and explore opportunities for pro bono work or philanthropic efforts using your legal skills.

The truth is that, at every stage of a legal career, adaptability and open-mindedness are key to success. One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt in my career is that whatever role or position of responsibility you find yourself in, you must give it your all and do it to the best of your ability. This is my advice to young lawyers. Let your track record of excellence and performance speak for you when you are not in the room. If you follow the trajectory of my career, you will observe that more often than not, the appointments and recognition that I’ve received are due to my previous performances and not because I solicited for the role. Apart from some key strategic moves that I’ve made and how I intentionally position myself to be visible, my track record of success speaks for me and attracts more opportunities and leads to greater success.

What are some of the most significant changes or trends you have observed in the legal industry throughout your career, and how have they influenced your approach to practice?

Africa has increasingly become a focal point for the international community, potential investors, and multinational corporations. Faced with diminishing growth prospects in traditional powerhouses like the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and other emerging markets, attention has shifted to Africa, particularly its largest economy Nigeria. This shift in focus has brought about heightened business activity in the region, sparking a demand for a robust and highly functional legal system that can effectively support and facilitate these ventures. The legal profession plays a pivotal role in facilitating the growth driven by the expanding middle class and the forces of urbanisation. These factors are catalysts for progress across several key sectors, encompassing telecommunications, retail, manufacturing, construction, financial services, and transportation. Within these dynamic industries, the legal profession identifies ample opportunities for engagement and contribution. However, it’s imperative to acknowledge that the landscape of the legal profession is evolving in response to globalisation. In this era of increased interconnectedness, lawyers must adapt to the changing face of their field, acknowledging the global dimensions of their work.

With this in mind, over the course of my long legal career spanning more than three decades, I have witnessed several significant changes and trends in the legal industry. These transformations have had a profound impact on how legal professionals approach their practice.

Some of these trends are listed briefly below:

a) Globalisation of legal services.

Over the past two decades, the African commercial legal landscape has undergone significant changes, notably with the entry of foreign law firms, marking a shift often referred to as “globalisation of legal services.” This shift brings both opportunities and challenges to our legal practice. It fosters increased competitiveness and the adoption of modern business approaches through collaboration with local firms. However, it also raises concerns about potential competition for domestic legal practices.

This transformation is driven by heightened client demands and evolving practices for cross-border legal services, spanning government and private sectors alike. Law firms are now expected to provide expertise in specialised industries such as extractives and large infrastructure projects, expanding beyond traditional roles in response to these evolving demands. With this, the legal industry has become more interconnected as globalisation has increased cross-border legal work. This trend has required legal professionals to have a broader understanding of international law and regulations. My practice has adapted by focusing on international aspects of the law and collaborating with legal experts from around the world.

b) Embracing Technology for Legal Innovation

The evolving landscape of the legal profession is increasingly shaped by technology. As reported by the Financial Times in 2016, a significant shift is anticipated, with over 114,000 jobs in the UK legal sector potentially becoming automated within the next two decades. This transformation is driven by the advancements in technology, the integration of artificial intelligence, and the persistent gap between the skills fostered through education and those demanded by the contemporary workplace.

In response, lawyers must cultivate a more versatile skill set to navigate these changes effectively. Embracing information technology becomes paramount, not only as a means of adapting, but also as a tool for enhancing legal practice and operational efficiency. Initiatives like remote working, aimed at reducing overhead costs, are part of this forward-looking approach to harnessing technology for the benefit of the legal profession. The advent of technology, particularly the widespread use of computers and the internet, has transformed the legal landscape. Research, document drafting, and communication with clients are now more efficient and accessible. As a result, my approach to practice has become increasingly tech-savvy, embracing legal tech tools to streamline processes and enhance client service.

c) Specialisation and legal Niches are also on the rise. The legal profession has witnessed a growing trend toward specialisation. Clients often seek highly specialised expertise for their legal needs. Consequently, I have honed my skills in specific areas of law to meet the demand for specialised services and provide clients with tailored solutions.

d) Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods, such as mediation and arbitration have also gained popularity as alternatives to lengthy court proceedings. My law firm has incorporated ADR into our practice offerings, to offer clients faster and more cost-effective resolution options.

e) Remote Work and Flexibility. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote work in the legal profession. This shift has highlighted the importance of adaptability and the ability to deliver legal services effectively in a virtual environment.

f) Data Privacy and Cybersecurity. With the increasing volume of digital information, data privacy and cybersecurity have become paramount concerns. My practice now places a strong emphasis on safeguarding client data and complying with data protection regulations.

In summary, the legal industry has experienced profound changes and trends throughout my career. These shifts have encouraged me to adapt and evolve my approach to practice to better serve clients, stay current with legal developments, and uphold the highest ethical standards. It’s essential for legal professionals to remain flexible, continuously learn, and embrace innovation to thrive in this dynamic field.

Read also: Njideka Jack – Senior Manager, Innovation, MTN Nigeria

What changes do you hope to see in Nigeria’s legal system?

There are a number of areas that I would like to see change in the Nigerian legal system, but I will just highlight just two of them here.

1. Optimising Legal Education for the Modern World. The evolution of technology has transformed the legal landscape, demanding a shift in the skill set required by today’s lawyers. Nigeria’s legal education system, largely rooted in colonial-era curricula, needs substantial reform to address this shift adequately. Despite commendable progress, critical contemporary legal subjects such as project finance, capital markets, competition law, arbitration, and the intricacies of extractives industries and infrastructure projects remain conspicuously absent from the curriculum. Moreover, legal education should not only emphasize technical expertise but also foster a culture of business professionalism. International legal firms’ success often hinges on their adept management as businesses. Therefore, legal education must incorporate both technical and non-technical facets to empower Nigerian lawyers to effectively oversee and navigate key projects across diverse sectors.

2. Improved participation of women in leadership positions. Unfortunately, gender issues abound in most professional environments the world over and the the Nigerian legal profession is no exception. There is no doubt a history of gender inequality in the legal profession and whilst there has been a lot of improvement over the years, women continue to be marginalised, victimised and passed over, even when they are more qualified for the job. The problem can be traced back to the origin of the profession in Nigeria, which has its roots in the English legal system, where women were initially not allowed to practice law and were not even accorded legal status.

In Nigeria, statistics have it that on a yearly basis, an equal number of both male and female students pass through the law school, however when you examine the statistics regarding women in leadership positions, be it on the bench, partners in law firms or even Senior Advocates of Nigeria, a dismal pattern begins to emerge. Men continue to dominate in numbers. Why is this so? What happens post-graduation from the law school that has the statistics so skewed in one direction? My belief is that culture plays a huge role. Women were initially meant to be seen and not heard, talk less of being advocates, their place originally seen as one of household chores and keeping a home. Indeed, women were not even sent to school in the olden days, as they were soon to be married off and answer another man’s name. Fast forward to modern day practice, female lawyers still carry this age long stigma and have more difficulty achieving the work life balance. Long hours sometimes required at work are difficult to achieve, with a husband and children to look after, maternity leave is a necessity and women continuously have to work twice as hard to receive the recognition they deserve. Issues like sexual harassment, being unfairly victimised due to gender continue to abide. I will therefore like to see a change in these statistics and perhaps one day see another female President of the Nigerian Bar Association.

Concluding words

In closing, it is with immense gratitude and a deep sense of fulfillment that I reflect on my 32-year journey in the legal profession and as a female professional. This remarkable voyage, filled with challenges, triumphs, and invaluable experiences, has been nothing short of extraordinary. As a female lawyer, I have witnessed the legal landscape undergo profound transformations over the years, opening doors that were once firmly shut and breaking down barriers that seemed insurmountable. The legal profession has evolved, and with it, so have the opportunities and responsibilities that come with it.

My final message to fellow lawyers, particularly aspiring female legal professionals, is this: Never underestimate the impact you can have. The legal profession is a realm of endless possibilities, and each of us holds the power to shape it positively. Embrace challenges as opportunities, cultivate resilience, and let your passion for justice guide your path.

Here’s to the next chapter, filled with promise and purpose, as we continue our collective journey in the pursuit of a just and equitable society.