NBA-SBL council, CPC outline benefits of 2018 conference to legal industry

As the June 27, 2018 opening date of the 12th Annual Business Law Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) draws close, the organisers are beginning to articulate what lawyers and law firms stand to benefit from the conference as practitioners.

Even though the major discussions at the conference will revolve around intra-Africa trade against the backdrop of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) recently signed by 44 countries, the organisers say it will also be a platform for lawyers and law firms to ruminate on their role in the event of Africa becoming one trading bloc.

AfCFTA is a European Union-like agreement aimed at paving the way for a liberalised market for goods and services across Africa. Nigeria is yet to sign the agreement.

Speaking at a press briefing in Lagos to announce the 2018 conference, Okey Egbuchu, chairman, conference planning committee, informed that a special plenary session, with the topic ‘Law Practice in the Time of the African Continental Free Trade Area: Reimagining African Lawyers’, would be devoted to examining the opportunities available to lawyers when the AfCFTA takes effect.

“This is a law conference, so you will imagine that we must have a session for us as lawyers to examine our position, our prospects and our future under the AfCFTA. How is law practice going to be when this agreement comes into force? What are the barriers that are going to be left? How will we practice law? What are the new areas of law that will develop around the AfCFTA? And what tools do we need to be able to be prepared to benefit fully from it? There is a whole plenary session on the 29th of June which will deal with that,” Egbuchu said.

“Professionally speaking, I think this is going to be the most important session of the conference for us lawyers. We have invited many law societies from across Africa; we have invited the Law Society of England and Wales; we have invited many resource persons from across the world to join us in dissecting the issues,” he said.

Egbuchu said David Ofosu-Dorte, senior partner, AB & David, a home-grown international law firm in Africa, would lead the session and would be joined by many other discussants to give perspectives on the issue.

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Scheduled for June 27-29 at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, the conference has the theme ‘Bringing Down the Barriers: The Law as a Vehicle for Intra-Africa Trade’.

Also speaking, Olumide Akpata, chairman, NBA Section on Business Law, said the conference would provide a platform for lawyers to assess their preparedness for the eventuality of Africa as one trading bloc and for law firms to re-imagine their roles in the new dispensation.

“Questions are already being asked, why are our law firms not extending their tentacles across Africa? Why is it easier for me to call a law firm in Portugal if I want to do business or if I have an issue in Mozambique or in Cape Verde or in Equatorial Guinea? That is the reality today, because with the exception of AB & David, which is a home-grown African law firm that has actually made it a deliberate strategy to expand its footprint on the continent, there are not many African law firms that have that kind of reach,” Akpata said.

“I think this agreement will force our hands to rethink our strategy. Not everybody will be continental, but it will be obvious and indeed there will be gaping holes here and there if African law firms do not rise up to the occasion. And as you know, nature abhors a vacuum, and definitely those spaces will be filled by those who have been waiting in the wings who see opportunities where we don’t seem to see. So, especially for law firms, it is a conversation that we must have,” he said.

But beyond this, Akpata said that another key area of interest to lawyers and law firms would be the session on dispute resolution, which will be chaired by Yemi Candide-Johnson, president, Lagos Court of Arbitration.

“Kudos to those who thought of that session because as you know, if trade or commerce begins to traverse the continent, disputes definitely follow commerce, and so we are trying to understand whether or not we have in place a body of laws or procedure that would regulate the dispute resolution function, and we are trying to understand how it happens in the European Union,” Akpata said.

“We have the ECOWAS Court, we have other courts that deal with non-commercial disputes on the continent, but I am not sure that we have something that will deal with the kind of disputes that will come out of Africa as one trading bloc. So definitely, that is worth looking at,” he said.

Other topics to be discussed at the sessions include ‘Financing Intra-African Trade and Development’, ‘Continental Trade and the Imperative of Unimpeded Movement of Goods, Labour and Services’, ‘Enhancing Transport Connectively in Africa’, ‘Marching in Lockstep – Building Sub-National Competitiveness for Global Investment’, ‘AfCFTA and Transformative Industrialization in Nigeria’, ‘Standardizing Continental Regulations on Consumer Protection and Competition Law’, among others.

The organisers also informed that the conference will also be spiced up with a debate session featuring topics that include ‘Should Nigeria accede to the African Continental Free Trade Area?’; ‘Should Lawyers continue to self-regulate?’; ‘Pupillage in Law: Should it be mandatory?’, and ‘Should there be ‘Ladies’ at the Bar?’.

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