‘As economy gets more sophisticated, work of legal professionals will get more complex’
There is no doubt that globalisation has caught up with the practice of law. The legal world is becoming increasingly interconnected as a result of massively increased trade and cultural exchanges. Lawyers believe that the practice of law is also changing in response to global demands. In order to be relevant in the coming years as lawyers, experts say Nigeria and indeed African legal practitioners need to update their skills. Dr. Adeoye Adefulu, the chairman of the training committee of the Nigeria Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) and the chair of its 2017 conference programme subcommittee, in this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, agreed that lawyers need to develop in line with the needs of their clients.
As legal systems and the practice of law continue to evolve globally, what sort of growth opportunities should lawyers be looking at, after skill enhancing engagements and a discourse expected at this years conference? The legal scholar, in response said there are a few areas of growth, which lawyers should expect to see over the next few years.
His words: “Firstly, as the Nigerian economy gets more sophisticated, the nature of the work requested of legal professionals will get more complex. Such complex work will not remain the reserve of just a few firms and there will be demand from a much wider circle. This requires smaller firms to develop a broader set of skills and the capacity to handle these transactions.Secondly, we also see growth in terms of numbers. As the economy grows, we expect much more work for Nigerian lawyers.Thirdly, the export of Nigerian goods and services to other parts of Africa will require Nigerian law firms to support their clients in these countries.”
Asked to express his view on whether legal practice in Nigeria is indeed changing in line with global demands, going by the theme of the conference, which is ‘Law and the Changing Face of Legal Practice’, Adefulu said lawyers need to develop with their clients.He said: “As lawyers, we need to develop with our clients and their needs. Legal practice in Nigeria is responding to the development of the Nigerian economy. As the Nigerian economy continues to diversify into sectors such as entertainment and information technology, the nature of our practice will also evolve. Additionally, the needs of our traditional clients are also changing and they are in turn looking for a more dynamic response from law firms.”
Speaking from the perspective of a legal expert, how does Adefulu think the development of Nigeria’s legal sector will impact on local businesses and foreign investments? He said: “The relationship between the law and the wider economy is a symbiotic one. Economic growth provides increased opportunities for the legal sector and the development of the legal sector helps to deepen the quality of services offered to local businesses and foreign investors. From a practical point of view, as the profession continues to develop, we expect investors to be less reliant on counsel from their home countries in terms of legal work in Nigeria.”
About the NBA-SBL conferences, are the chosen themes for each year a direct fallout of the last conference or essentially topical to current realities? He said the themes usually address important and topical legal issues but that that of this year seeks to focus on how to build the future of the profession. “Typically, the themes for NBA-SBL conferences address important and current topical issues. This year however, our approach is different. Our focus is on an overarching theme, that provides the foundation for us to build for the future as a profession.”
Responding on how the SBL promote the delivery of qualitative business services to the public directly or indirectly, Adefulu noted that the section focuses on how to train and develop the skill of its members. “The NBA-SBL focuses on developing the skills of our members through training. We run year-round training courses for our members as well as other lawyers and also encourage others to develop training programmes, which we share with our database. Our training programmes focus on various areas of the law as well as the development of skills that help to support a well rounded lawyer.”
In choosing the theme for this year, is there a deliberate attempt to connect it with the country’s economic development, he was asked? He responded thus: “When you look at the global landscape of legal practice over the last twenty-five years, you will observe that there has been a massive change. Large law firms with global offices across Europe, America and Asia, the abandonment of the partnership as the only model for organizing legal services, and investment of non-lawyers into legal services are some of the trends noted. Whilst the nature of practice in Nigeria has not changed dramatically over that period, we are beginning to see small changes, which we expect to be more dramatic in the near future. In developing our theme for this year’s conference, our focus was to draw up a vision of what legal practice is expected to look like in the future and to help develop strategies to shape that future. As I mentioned earlier, by developing ourselves, the legal profession is in a better position to make a better contribution to the Nigerian economy.”
On how the chosen theme for each year drive participation, trying to figure out whether participants are largely the same every year or the audience is driven either by the theme, the sub-topics or the selected panel at each conference, he answered in the affirmative. His words: “All of the above! The NBA-SBL conference has become one of the highlights of the legal calendar. The participants trust us to put together an engaging theme presented by an excellent panel. This year we are confident that our participants would be very excited by the conference programme.”
It is also observed that the NBA-SBL has re-introduced the Health and Wellness segment of its conferences. What informed this move back to the old? The lawyer said: “Health and wellness has always been important to us at the NBA-SBL. This year, we felt that the reintroduction of this session was in line with our desire to look inwards as a profession. We want our lawyers to be more conscious of their physical and mental wellbeing and hope that the session would spur a change in the profession.”
When asked of the details of some of the speakers, panelists, guests and session chairs at conference, Adefulu said the conference panel will be exciting. “We have a very exciting conference panel this year. They comprise senior lawyers both in Nigeria and from abroad and because we understand that our profession does not stand alone, we have also invited a number of speakers from other sectors. We also have a great group of young lawyers taking a lead in shaping the future of Nigerian legal practice,” he stated.
Adeoye is a partner in the law firm of Odujinrin and Adefulu with almost 20 years’ professional experience spanning the fields of petroleum law & policy, electricity law and policy, environmental law, corporate and project finance. He obtained his law degree from the University of Lagos and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1998. He also holds a Masters and Doctorate degree from the Centre for Energy Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy (CEPMLP) Scotland. He has acquired significant experience through his involvement in various projects for public and private sector clients and has advised on a number of Nigerian energy reform initiative programmes.
Through his research work and professional experience, Adeoye Adefulu has developed a keen understanding of the policy, legal and regulatory frameworks for the Nigerian energy industry. He takes a particular interest in oil and gas regulatory reform, gas utilisation, energy reform, renewable energy and environmental law issues. Adeoye has published extensively on his research interests and regularly speaks at local and international fora on Nigerian energy matters. He is the Managing Editor of petroleumindustrybill.com, the only website dedicated to providing up to date news, information andanalysis of Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Bill.