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‘Legal Practitioners Act is out of touch with today’s realities’

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Mrs. Soibi Ovia is a partner at Duale, Ovia & Alex-Adedipe (DOA)

Mrs. Soibi Ovia is a partner at Duale, Ovia & Alex-Adedipe (DOA), a multiple award-winning corporate law firm with head office in Lagos. In this chat with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, explained that the Legal Practitioners Act requires amendment to be in tune with the present day realities.

On what it takes to manage a growing legal business in an economy as ours – with peculiar challenges that are slightly different from those of the global legal industry, Ovia said: “As a firm, we have a mission to provide practical legal advice to a diversified client base by leveraging on our local industry knowledge in proffering commercial solutions that are globally acceptable in dealing with client issues and challenges with the aim of becoming the trusted advisor to our clients.

The peculiarity of the Nigerian legal industry makes it expedient for every lawyer and legal industry player to understand and leverage on the local industry knowledge to deliver quality service to clients- locally and internationally.

At Duale, Ovia & Alex-Adedipe, while we take pride in our competence, integrity and responsiveness, we are highly innovative with managing our firm’s business as we effect our distinct understanding and knowledge of the Nigerian market to advise our clients on legal issues. We stay abreast on economic and financial developments as they affect the business of law within Nigeria and Africa as well as globally.”

To guarantee success for law firms, there are structures to put in place. The idea is that it is not a one-size-fit-all approach for all law firms – be it a firm with litigation as key practice or a solely corporate commercial law firm. Ovia agrees that it is important for a proper business structure in a law firm.

Her words: “It assists the firm in achieving its set goals and identifying opportunities. A good business structure involves adopting good corporate governance principles, identifying the vision, mission and goals of the business and adopting suitable administrative and financial structures that will suit the business model of the law firm. I may be wrong but I do not believe that there is a one-size-fit-all structure to be applied to all law firms to ensure success of the firm.

The specific structure to be applied to a law business may be determined by a number of factors which include the vision, mission and core values of the firm, its long-term goals, major practice areas, clientele, business model adopted, location of the firm amongst others.

Another important but often overlooked integral part of the firm’s structure would be the people. AT DOA, we do not take our people for granted, rather, we ensure that we make our place of work as friendly and conducive as possible, thereby allowing all lawyers the ability to thrive and progress within the growth path structure of the firm.”

On whether Legal Practitioners Act as it is today is a suitable guide for the modern-day practitioner and modern-day law firm, she said the laws ought to change with the times. “One of the characteristics of good law is dynamism. Put differently, the law ought to change with the times.

The extant Legal Practitioners Act is 1962 legislation, not much has been done to amend the Act.

A good example of the fact that the Act is out of touch with present day realities is Section 15 of the Act, which prescribes a scale of charges to guide practitioners when billing clients. I believe the Act should be substantially amended to meet the realities of our time,” she stated.

Relying on available data, how competitive is Nigeria’s legal market? Ovia said legal industry has become increasingly competitive.

“Now, statistics may tell a thousand varying stories, but I believe the legal industry has become increasingly competitive as firms are opening new practice areas, mergers and acquisitions among local firms are becoming a recurring trend as firms are scaling up in terms of revenues and network reach.

We are witnessing an increase in the collaboration of local firms with international brands as well as the anticipation of the physical presence of these international brands in Nigeria.

This has led to more cross border transactions and inflow of foreign investment into the economy. I don’t believe the legal market is saturated as there is always an abundance of opportunities for lawyers and law firms to exploit and carve a niche for themselves.

As you know, competition drives innovation. Diversification is the key to growth and expansion in the industry and this has only helped the overall competitiveness of the industry.”

Speaking on how lawyers are positioned to play critical role towards the growth of Telecommunication, Media, Technology (TMT) sectors, to grow the country’s GDP, she pointed out that lawyers are in privileged position to lead transactions in those sectors.

“Our Firm on 8th May hosted its inaugural business series tagged Investment in Nigeria’s Telecommunications Media and Technology (TMT) market, where speakers and panelists highlighted modes of securing investment in the TMT industry in Nigeria.

The aim was to bring together like-minded and spirited individuals to discuss contemporary legal, regulatory and commercial issues across the TMT sector of the Nigerian economy as well as proffer viable solutions to challenges we face and propel opportunities to interested investors being the backbone of Africa’s TMT industry.

Now, promoting local investment and retaining foreign investment is pivotal to the growth of the country’s GDP and lawyers are actually in a privileged position to lead transactions and influence policies in these burgeoning sectors of the economy. I believe that there is a plethora of opportunities for lawyers to be actively involved in these sectors in terms of regulatory framework drafting, financing, policy influencing as well as infrastructural development.

“The Nigerian economy is currently propelled by one product which is crude oil and this over reliance on crude oil is unhealthy for our economy. The various sectors of the economy are currently in dire need of more investment and effective corporate governance policies that would ensure structured investments and institutions.

It is also very germane that the federal government and sub-national level encourage businesses to thrive, particularly in a fast-growing sector as the TMT by providing regulatory framework and support to both local and international companies.

Start-ups and full-grown businesses are important to attract more investments and bring some certainty in this space. Lawyers and investors must collectively address the inhibiting factors to attracting investments into Telecommunications, FinTech, E-commerce and all other sectors of the economy that can help Nigeria realize its full potentials and not just continually depend on oil as the mainstay of the economy,” she said.

Talking about the biggest trends in the global legal industry and how best emerging law firms utilize these to become more efficient and productive in the market, she said: “There is a clamor for more extensive cross border secondment programmes wherein lawyers from various legal jurisdictions and climes are involved in an exchange program that allows participants to gain better outlook and understanding of legal practice in other jurisdictions.These programmes in my opinion are useful and beneficial to participating individuals and firms.

The most important trend is the advent of effective legal technology. Now, I quite understand the fear amongst lawyers about being rendered redundant by technology but this is hardly the case.

Technology has helped mold and grow various industries in Nigerian, especially in the financial services industry and thus, there is no reason why technology cannot take the Nigerian legal industry steps further in advancement and service delivery.

Needless to say that technology will simply assist lawyers do their work more effectively as opposed to the general belief that technology will make lawyers lose their work.

We have seen the development of legal bots and agreement creating software that make legalese simple and concise enough for the understanding of the general public.

There is also the involvement of law firms in socio-economic and cultural activities such as promoting arts and culture, CSR activities, insightful master classes and mentorship initiatives.

It is important for all firms to tap into the realities of the time in other to remain relevant in our terrain and prevent being confined to the very consuming box of ancient legal practice.”

In response to the question on how progressive the legal profession in Nigeria is and what factors could affect its development, Ovia said the profession has experienced significant progress over the last decade.

Her words: “The legal profession has departed from celebrating and emphasizing individual lawyers’ efforts in the profession, and has begun to embrace and encourage team and concerted efforts of groups and organizations within the legal profession.

The profession has also advanced in terms of embracing and leveraging on the relationships with lawyers practicing in-house at various local and global organizations in order to drive the growth and progress of the legal profession in Nigeria.

The progressiveness of the legal profession in Nigeria can be highlighted in the recent alliances between Nigerian law firms and their counterparts in Africa, Europe and America by way of professional body membership as well as professional and corporate alliances.

The legal profession in Nigeria has embraced and adopted technology in the practice of law. Over the last decade, admissibility of electronically generated evidence as well as the electronic voting system within the Nigerian Bar Association has reflected some progress in the profession with relation to technology.

Ovia is seeing a vibrant and expansive industry with novel practice areas coming to the fore in the nearest future. According to her, technology has a big role to play in our industry and welcome the growth of legal technology aimed at making legal services more accessible to the general public.

“I also believe there would be expansion drive by firms; for example, mergers or partnerships, and the aim of all these would be to form a stronger legal industry that is capable of competing with the magic circle firms and other elite global firms in terms of transactions, workforce, quality of work and reach.

Lastly, at DOA, we see more practice areas, massive growth in size and people, involvement in CSR programs, social initiative programmes, and being a string and integral part of the business community in Nigeria while assisting both local and foreign businesses participate in a well-diversified economy,” she stated.

Relishing the fact that their firm was nominated in six categories and eventually won awards in three categories at the recent Law Digest Awards, she said: “I will begin by going down memory lane of three years ago (at the inception of the Firm).

If we had been asked if this would be happening at this time, our answer may not have been in the affirmative.

However, if I may say so myself and on behalf of everyone at DOA, we are highly delighted to have been nominated in six categories of award at the Law Digest Africa Awards 2018. We believe this is a firm acknowledgement of the quality of work and time we put in ensuring our clients are provided with the best legal solution and business experience.

More importantly, we are extremely honored to have been named the Emerging Law Firm of the year 2018 by the Law Digest and also exciting for us as a firm is the award of the Young Managing Partner of the year 2018 (Under 40) and Managing Partner of the Year 2018, which were both won by my partner and managing partner, Adeniyi Duale.

As a firm, we accept the nominations and the victory with utmost humility and encouragement. This will only spur us on to further improve our work and service delivery to ensure that we are globally known for the delivery of contemporary legal services in Nigeria. We do not intend to rest on our laurels but will continue to work harder.”


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