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NBA section on business law charts path to sustainable, competitive practice

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Pioneer chair of the NBA-SBL, George Etomi, (left); the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and chairman of the NBA-SBL, Olumide Akpata during the just concluded SBL conference in Lagos.

The Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) is very worried about the dwindling fortunes of legal education and practice in Nigeria. The section is not only worried about the situation, but putting measures in place towards building capacity and encouraging specialisation in the legal profession among the young lawyers who are already in the system.

Those issues and many more that affect lawyers were the focus of its 11th yearly conference just concluded last Tuesday in Lagos with the theme “Law and the Changing Face of Legal Practice”.

The chairman of the Section, Mr Olumide Akpata, said his group is working very closely with NBA branches across the country with a view to taken their programmes to those branches with due consideration being given to the comparative advantages that exist in their respective jurisdictions.

Akpata said it has 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 taught in law faculties.

He said: “In addition to the foregoing, and in view of the unfortunate fact that quite a number of the subject matter areas that form the core of commercial law practice today are not being taught in our universities, 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.

“Still on the subject of capacity building, our Council also recognises 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.”

“As a Section, we are committed to the development and progress of our young lawyers and we will definitely be carrying them along in all that we do. As a measure of this commitment, I am pleased to announce that we have sponsored to this Conference, 70 young lawyers from across the country for whom we have provided free registration, hotel accommodation and transportation to and from the Conference venue.

“I must not fail to mention that we are also in the process of designing a Mentorship Programme for young lawyers which will provide for effective and beneficial interaction between young lawyers and selected senior lawyers on a one-on-one basis. Our Vice-Chairman, Mr. Seni Adio (SAN) has been charged with the responsibility of putting this programme together and I have his assurance that we shall be rolling out very soon.”

According to him, SBL has also resolved that it would be fully engaged in facilitating the ease of doing business in Nigeria. This position, he said, is 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 is impeded, there will be little or no work for the business lawyer.

In the course of the event, the Section showcased their strategic collaboration with both the Presidential Ease of Doing Business Council (PEBEC) and the National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable (NASSBER). The objective of both engagements, according to the chairman is to facilitate the ease of doing business through the instrumentality of law reform.

He noted that there are significant progress in this regard. Some of the successes include the recently enacted Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act 2017 and the Credit Reporting Act 2017. “We are optimistic that the new and improved Companies and Allied Matters Act would debut sooner rather than later,” he declared.

The conference examined how well, or if at all, the legal profession in Nigeria is adapting to the changes that have occurred or are imminent in the practice of law globally. Issues such as globalisation and cross-border legal services, the administration of justice, the rules of professional conduct and our 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. There were also a show case session on Entertainment Law moderated by Richard Mofe-Damijo.

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.

The conference was not only about law. There was a session on health and wellness aptly titled: “Dead Lawyers Don’t Work”, social events and lots of entertainments.

The president of the NBA, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN) described the theme of the conference as apt, adding that the core objective of the NBA under his administration is to ride on the four-pronged approach of Regulation, Representation, Re-engineering and Public interest to build a brave new bar for the legal profession in Nigeria.

According to him, it involves building a bar association that is recognised for the skills, competence, professionalism, discipline and integrity of its members.

“It is only with an association this sturdy that we can safely and 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,” he pointed out.

Conference planning committee chairman, Olubunmi Fayokun, quoting Richard Susskind, noted that law firms need to radically rethink their business models in order to compete with emerging competitors.

By 2025, she said, the pre-eminent legal service providers will be those that have outstanding and genuine experts in complex areas of law and also have outstanding technology systems for the routine and repetitive work.

“It is against the backdrop of this prediction that we have chosen as the theme of this year’s conference: ‘law and the changing face of legal practice’.

“The NBA-SBL chose the theme in the light of the 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 globalisation, lawyers and law firms need to make radical changes to ensure that they are able to keep up with competitors and changing client demands,” she declared.

Delivering the keynote address, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki said the National Assembly is leading a new role to use legislative intervention as a mechanism for achieving economic reform.

According to him, while the National Assembly has pursued economic reforms in the past, much of it had not been anchored on a solid legislative reform of the obsolete laws that guide economic exchanges.

“This has been the missing gap to sustaining meaningfully the economic policies of the past including the Vision 2010, 20- 2020. The current 8th National Assembly has placed a premium on creating the right legal framework for empowering entrepreneurial development, building investor confidence on our economy and renewing our infrastructure base across the board.

“On infrastructure alone, experts, including the Minister of Budget and Planning have said that Nigeria will need about USD$3.05 trillion in the next 30 years in order to implement the National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan (NIIMP). With the state of the revenue basket, it is clear that unless we are able to expand the financing base to incorporate other sources of funding and mobilization, we may not be able to meet our infrastructure target and reduce our deficit. Otherwise, health, education, water sanitation, security and other essential public services will continue to suffer,” he stated.

He disclosed that the Senate has a framework for collaboration with the private sector, the civil society and the development partners “where we can share ideas, engage and consult with one another towards innovative ideas that could help us expand the financing model for our infrastructure development and financing.”

“I am here to say that I am proud that the NBA is a major player in this framework and that we are making tremendous progress so far,” he declared.

Professor Jayanth Krishnan of the Indiana University-Bloomington Maurer School of Law whose paper borders on redefining the Provision of Cross-Border Legal Services said both Nigeria and 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.

The Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Economic Summit Group and Chair, National Assembly Business Roundtable (NASSBER) Technical Committee, Mr. Laoye Jaiyeola said it needs greater Advocacy on the Economic Impact of NASSBER Legislations, passage of more NASSBER Legislations as well as engagement with States’ Legislatures among others.

Harry Small, who presented a paper on Africa Technology pointed out that potential obstacles to using new technologies in Africa includes entrenched interests, regulatory opportunism and pace of change in technology.

The conference, which was well attended had in attendance, eminent lawyers and Nigerians, some of who participated at the various sessions as either moderators, co-ordinators, session chairs or panelists.

The governor of Lagos state, Akinwunmi Ambode was represented by his attorney general and commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem.



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