I have been blessed to be in the right environment – Dolapo Kukoyi
Dolapo Kukoyi is the Managing Partner at Detail Commercial Solicitors and leads the firm’s Energy, Infrastructure & Power practice. She is one of the leading lawyers in Nigeria’s power sector with extensive experience advising clients in the private sector, government agencies and regulators on a wide range of complex transactions. Kukoyi combines her strong legal background and industry knowledge to add value to each transaction. Her attention to the intricacies of every brief sets her apart as a pillar of support to clients.
With over 15 years’ experience, Kukoyi is an avid speaker and thought leader, passionate about increasing energy access in Nigeria and across Africa by leveraging private finance with the use of viable business and project models. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music, singing, and playing golf.
Q: In a society plagued with gender bias and discrimination in the workplace with particular reference to the legal profession, you’ve risen to become Managing Partner of one of Nigeria’s foremost (if not only) non-courtroom practice. How did you achieve this feat?
DK: I would say that I have been blessed to be in the right environment with the right support that has brought me this far. DETAIL is designed to be a mentoring environment that enables every lawyer be the best that they can be irrespective of their gender. My Lead Partner (my mentor) encouraged me every step of the way (even when I was kicking and screaming). DETAIL as a firm understands that women come with their unique “blessings” that may make working in a profession and an environment like ours quite challenging, but we ensure that they have all the support that they need to thrive.
Certainly, I cannot discount all the support that I had from my family; my husband who has been very supportive of my career, my parents (who were very supportive with helping with my children in the early years) and my children as well.
To sum it up I would say by the grace of God I’ve been fortunate and blessed.
Briefly describe the path to partnership in a top tier commercial law firm in Nigeria?
Our Path to partnership at DETAIL is transparent and predictable. One of our core values is organic growth and everyone employed at DETAIL is a potential partner at the firm. It’s the reason why we have a unique recruitment process. Once you get into DETAIL you are able to predict your path to partnership as long as you meet the KPIs for each role.
For the benefit of the younger generation of lawyers, could you please briefly share about your journey to the top?
Where do I start, long story…. I started as a solicitor at DETAIL 16 years ago at the time when Ayuli Jemide our Lead Partner had just moved to Lagos and the firm was transitioning from being a full-service firm based in Port Harcourt to a commercial solicitors’ firm with exclusive focus on non-courtroom work in Lagos. I have been fortunate to have been part of the process of building the firm and witnessing what was at the time an ambitious business a plan coming to life. I have also been privileged to witness many of the firm’s milestones.
My journey is one of growth step by step, learning line upon line into ownership. I became a Partner in 2012 and 3 years ago, I started my incubation period as Managing Partner. It’s been a learning journey, building relationships, taking opportunities, standing courageously and breasting fierce winds. Albeit it’s been a very interesting, impactful and rewarding journey. All glory to God!
The global spread of COVID-19 has continued to impact all sectors, industries and markets. How in your opinion, have legal businesses been impacted by the pandemic?
Legal businesses have been impacted by the pandemic because our clients have also been impacted but it’s interesting to note that the legal business in Nigeria and I would say across the world too actually started to have challenges at least two-three years before the pandemic. Specifically speaking for Nigeria, remember that we had a recession prior to the pandemic and we were already seeing in Nigeria a legal market where there was fierce competition, under-pricing, increasingly sophisticated clients who wanted more work for less money. A number of commercial firms were already considering their options on how they could innovate and get bigger pieces of the pie in terms of legal work. From a national perspective we have also seen an increase in insecurity and issues around poverty and crime that has impacted on business and movement of goods and services.
Coming back to the pandemic I would say that it has also has its bright sides; one being the value and utility of technology in the legal business, communicating with clients and the delivery of legal services is unprecedented. In addition, on the business side a lot of clients who value legal services have had to lean heavily on law firms to navigate them through restructuring they require in these times. It’s been challenging but we are grateful at DETAIL to have been able to support our clients as we keep growing, evolving, and innovating to meet their needs.
It’s over a year and a pandemic era and we continue to deal with several fallouts and impact on legal businesses in this climate. As Managing Partner, how are you moving to support the team at DETAIL to cushion the effects of this new reality?
The only constant thing in life as we say at DETAIL is change. The times ahead call for constant introspection, innovation in our business and constantly providing value added client support. It’s also a time to proactively understand all that is going on in our macro environment and assist our clients and stakeholders in responding to the effects of the environment on their businesses.
For us as a team to internally be able to deal with all of the changes stated above and support our business we are constantly building capacity, encouraging and incentivising innovation, supporting each other mentally, emotionally and physically in these times. It’s a time like no other for empathy and inclusiveness and as a leadership a time to constantly engage and listen to the younger generation.
Regardless of outcomes, it is believed that situations such as the pandemic we’re in today, could present opportunities for positive change. What sort of the opportunity are you optimistic about as we emerge from this?
Like the proverbial saying under every cloud there is a silver lining and it always depends on us having the right perspective, I think that the pandemic presents an opportunity for us to push boundaries and create disruptions. For instance, no one would have thought that remote working or schooling would become a way of life with people remote working across countries and continents and physical boundaries becoming smaller. It’s also an opportunity to leverage technology in different economic sectors and also find avenues to make sustainable impact on our environment and communities that we live and do business in.
The pandemic has also afforded the opportunities for businesses to reassess their business models and how they reach their clients, customers and stakeholders. It has also birthed a lot of business ideas. I was reading an article in Forbes the other day and it reports that in 2020 more than 4.3 million people registered new business applications (US Census Bureau) this is more than 25% increase in 2019 numbers and a stark difference compared to the 2008 credit crisis which only saw an 8% drop in company applications. By February 2021 the registration of new business has increased by another 40%. Implication being that people are seeing opportunities for new ventures and technology is reducing the barriers to entry for businesses. In Nigeria we are seeing a lot of funding coming into the Fintech industry and a lot of players becoming unicorns. A report by the Fintech Association of Nigeria and Ernst and Young estimates that the Fintech Sector raised about $439 million USD in 2020 alone which represents 20% of capital raised by all African Start tech start-ups.
The pandemic has also presented the opportunity for us to also reassess what is most important to us as individuals in terms of health and mental wellbeing, family and life priorities generally and how we want to leave a legacy for the future.
As a business law expert, how do you think Nigeria’s administration of justice system affects local businesses and foreign investments today and how in your opinion can we get the best out of the system?
Administration of justice is critical for local businesses and foreign investments because it’s meant to be a basis for confidence that if and when transactions run into disputes or things go wrong the disputes can be resolved fairly and transparently within reasonable time. However, where you have a failing justice system or one that doesn’t provide for the confidence required, you find people looking for alternatives such as provisions for foreign dispute resolution or in some extreme cases you will find clients who would rather not do any business at all.
In terms of how we can get the best out of the system, I would say we at DETAIL have chosen to stay proactive such that in structuring client transactions, projects and contractual arrangements, we are able to spot potential disputes and risks ahead, advice on risk mitigation and keep our clients from getting into disputes.
On a final note, where do you see legal practice in Nigeria in another 10 years?
The Nigerian legal market is one of the most sophisticated and competitive markets across Africa maybe apart from South Africa and a few other countries. I think that we will see commercial law practice evolve with the use of technology and artificial intelligence. I still think that having specialist practice areas will still be important as clients get more sophisticated and deal with sundry legal issues internally or outsource at least cost. We are likely to see law firms evolve and innovate as client’s needs and requirements also evolve.
We are also likely to see more collaborations and mergers with international law firms as long as Nigeria remains an investment destination of choice. A lot of the growth in legal practice at least on the commercial side will be determined on what progress is made as a nation in terms of leadership, economic development, political structure, administration of and enabling business environment to mention a few. I would say that lawyers in Nigeria have a vested interest in ensuring that Nigeria thrives and succeeds.