Confronts A Changing World at 2017 Conference in Lagos
Over the years, the NBA-SBL has sought to raise the bar in respect of corporate commercial law practice, an aspiration which has led to the adoption of global standards and best practices within the legal profession through constructive engagement and collaboration with relevant local and international institutions, between Nigerian law firms and their foreign counterparts, among others. Worried about the dwindling fortunes of legal education and practice in Nigeria, the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) has put measures in place towards building capacity and encouraging specialization in the legal profession among young lawyers.
The SBL has achieved this engagement and collaboration through periodic conferences – such as the 2017 edition of its Business Conference which was held from Sunday, 18th June to Tuesday, 20th June 2017 at the Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria. Convened under the theme; ‘Law and the Changing Face of Legal Practice’ the conference explored recent global advances, especially new technological innovations, and future of the legal profession, as well as the impact of disruptive technology on the practice of law.
Distinguished panelists, comprising of knowledgeable speakers, from the worlds of business, the professions and government from within and outside the country brought to bear their wealth of experience in tackling provocative topics centered on the theme of the conference.
In his opening remarks, the chairman of the Section, Mr. Olumide Akpata said it had become imperative to embark on capacity building for young lawyers through the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), considering the fact that some of those courses required to succeed in commercial law are not being taught in law faculties. “In view of the foregoing,” he said, “we have commenced discussions with NIALS with a view to collaborating with that institution on the establishment of a Centre for Commercial Law Studies where some of these subjects would be taught. Our Council also recognizes that on-the-job training is one sure way of building capacity and it stands to reason therefore, that where there is a dearth of legal work, capacity building on the part of the commercial lawyer may not be fully achievable. To this end, Council has resolved that, as a necessary first step, we will engage with all relevant stakeholders with a view to ensuring that where any law places certain categories of legal work within the exclusive purview of Nigerian lawyers, we shall ensure that such laws are fully complied with.”
Akpata said his Section was committed to the development, progress and inclusion of young lawyers and – in light of which the Section sponsored 70 young lawyers from across the country to the 2017 Conference, complete with the provision of free registration, hotel accommodation and transportation to and from the Conference venue. The SBL helmsman also announced a Mentorship Programme – under the direction of the SBL Vice-Chairman, Mr. Seni Adio (SAN) for young lawyers to provide for effective and beneficial interaction between young lawyers and selected senior lawyers on a one-on-one basis. Akpata also revealed that the SBL was also committed fully engaging in facilitating the ease of doing business in Nigeria through the instrumentality of law reform, and through its engagement and strategic collaboration with both the Presidential Ease of Doing Business Council (PEBEC) and the National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable (NASSBER). This position, he said, was informed by Nigeria’s persistently dismal ranking in the World Bank’s Index on Ease of Doing Business, and it is also borne out of enlightened self-interest as that where business was impeded, there would be little or no work for the business lawyer. He noted that there has been significant progress in this regard – which included the recently enacted Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act 2017 and the Credit Reporting Act 2017. He expressed confidence that the new and improved Companies and Allied Matters Act would make its debut before long.
One of the major highlights of the Conference was the session on globalization and the prospects of open borders vis-à-vis the provision of legal services, which considered the rapid pace of change in other legal jurisdictions and examined the state of preparedness of Nigerian lawyers and firms to embrace emerging trends.
Another highlight of the 2017 was the Young Lawyers Forum, in interesting session which deliberated on the efficiency of the current training regime for students at the Nigerian Law School. This intervention became necessary as firms were advised that the present crop of graduates from the law school needed to be retrained by their employers before they could become useful, unlike in the past when graduates from the law school were deemed to have all it took to hit the ground running upon being called to the Bar.
Contributors at one of the conference sessions, tagged, “Developing Skills and Advocacy Capacity: Redefining the Architecture,” urged stakeholders to brainstorm on whether or not the current training architecture at the Nigerian Law School meets the training needs of the Nigerian legal profession today, and whether the law school should be privatised or simply decentralised. The session examined challenges peculiar to Nigerian lawyers in terms of building capacity, and focused on legal education at universities and the law school. The role of CLE programmes and on-the-job training as well as international experiences were also highlighted.
The debate was led by Prof. Kanyinsola Ajayi, SAN, while panelists included Prof. Ernest Ojukwu SAN, Olamide Oladosu, Dr. Mirian Kachikwu and Kenneth Okwor.
A session chaired by the Chairman of the law firm of Aluko & Oyebode, Mr. Gbenga Oyebode deliberated upon the creation of an efficient system of justice delivery in the country, the impact that technology will have on the future of legal practice, the issue of collaboration and alliances. Panelists examined how well, or if at all, the legal profession in Nigeria was adapting to the changes occurring, or are imminent, in the global practice of law. Issues such as globalization and cross-border legal services, the administration of justice, the rules of professional conduct and Nigeria’s system of legal education were extensively discussed and debated. In addition, the conferees also focused on technology both as an enabler (or disrupter) of law practice and as a viable practice area. The conferees deliberated on the global evolution of legal practice, the future of the profession, innovative trends and the impact of disruptive technology on the practice of law.
In his comments, NBA President Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN) described the theme of the conference as apt, adding that the core objective of the NBA under his administration was to deliver on the 4-pronged approach of Regulation, Representation, Re-engineering and Public interest to build a brave new bar for the legal profession in Nigeria, a bar association recognised for the skills, competence, professionalism, discipline and integrity of its members. “It is only with an association this sturdy,” he said, “that we can efficiently achieve our goal of promoting the rule of law, contribute to nation building in general, as well as industry specialisation, practice globalisation, and guarantee client satisfaction in particular.”
Conference planning committee chairman, Olubunmi Fayokunn noted that law firms needed to radically rethink their business models at regular intervals in order to compete with emerging competitors. By 2025, she said, the pre-eminent legal service providers would be those with outstanding and genuine experts in complex areas of law and also have outstanding technology systems for the routine and repetitive work.
“The NBA-SBL chose this year’s conference theme,” she said, “in light of groundbreaking developments in technology, which are affecting the practice of all professions, particularly the legal profession. With the proliferation of social media, the internet and other technological advances which are driving globalization, lawyers and law firms need to make radical changes to ensure that they are able to keep up with competitors and changing client demands.”
Delivering the keynote address, Nigeria’s Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki told the conference that the National Assembly was leading a new role to use legislative intervention as a mechanism for achieving economic reform. While the National Assembly has pursued economic reforms in the past, he admitted, much of it had not been anchored on a solid legislative overhaul of the obsolete laws that still guided economic exchanges – which he called ‘the missing gap’ to sustaining the economic policies of the past, including the Vision 2010 and 20-2020. He assured conference delegates that the current 8th National Assembly under his leadership has placed a premium on creating the right legal framework for empowering entrepreneurial development, building investor confidence in the Nigerian economy and renewing the country’s infrastructure base across the board.
Professor Jayanth Krishnan of the Indiana University-Bloomington Maurer School of Law presented a paper on redefining the provision of cross-border legal services, in which he held the view that both Nigeria and his country of origin, India currently do not allow foreign law firms to set up independent offices in their countries. He, therefore, proposed that both countries could adopt a Foreign Legal Consultant model, which currently does not exist in either country.
In his presentation, the Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Economic Summit Group and Chair, National Assembly Business Roundtable (NASSBER) Technical Committee, Mr. Laoye Jaiyeola called for greater advocacy on the economic impact of NASSBER Legislations, passage of more NASSBER Legislations as well as engagement with state legislatures.
In his presentation, the American business consultant Harry Small, who is a partner in the IT/Commercial Department of Baker McKenzie’s London office and handles all aspects of information technology and communications law, presented a paper on African technology pointed out that potential obstacles to using new technologies in Africa included entrenched interests, regulatory opportunism and the sheer pace of change in technologic advances.
The well attended and well-organized conference was graced by eminent lawyers and Nigerians, some of who participated at the various sessions as moderators, coordinators, session chairs or panelists.
The Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode was represented at the conference by his Attorney-General and commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem.
All in all, the Conference not only provided attendees with a practical template on surmounting the challenges of the future, but also on maximizing emerging opportunities and practice areas. More importantly, it provided an opportunity for lawyers, general counsel, policy formulators, regulators and other stakeholders to network, acquire knowledge and deliberate on issues affecting the development of the legal profession and its affiliates.