Law Student of the Week — Adekunle Abiona
We recently had a chat with the current President of the International Law Students Association (ILSA), Obafemi Awolowo Chapter; on various topics including leadership experience, securing funds for competitions and programs, internships and lots more. Follow the full conversation below.
Can we meet you?
My name is Adekunle Abiona and I am a final year student at the Faculty of Law, Obafemi Awolowo University. I am the current President of the International Law Students Association, OAU Chapter
Honestly, I never imagined being a lawyer at any point growing up. I was excited about computers and mobile phones so my I had this dream of becoming a Computer Engineer. However, mathematics happened! I wasn’t so good at Mathematics so I ended up at Arts Class and when the time came to pick a course of study, Law seemed like the only interesting option.
However, it’s safe to say I have grown to love this profession and everything about it
Do run us through your leadership experience as an undergraduate. How have these shaped your person?
I started taking on leadership positions in my third year of school when I was made Secretary of the Planning team for the first ever International Women in Leadership Conference (IWLC) at the Obafemi Awolowo University. This particular experience shaped me and paved the way for other important roles.
I’ve been privileged to serve as Secretary General of ILSA OAU & now President, Head of the Team that planned the Energy Project 2018, Co-Head of the Intellectual Property Masterclass 2.0, Head of the Planning Team for the International Career & Exhibition Fair amongst others.
For me, being a leader isn’t a simple task in any way. It requires a lot of strength, hard work and patience! Most of the opportunities I’ve had in my life all came as a result of the lessons I learnt coming through the ranks.
You have also been involved in a couple of local and international law competitions; most recently the 2019 Herbert Smith Freehills International Commercial Negotiation Competition. Tell us about some others and the importance of such activities for law students.
In September, I was on the team that represented West Africa at the 2019 International Negotiation Competition organized by Herbert Smith Freehills and the National Law University, Delhi. I also participated at the 2019 African Moot Competition which held at the University of Botswana. Without any doubt, both competitions are best experience as an undergraduate.
Both competitions widened my educational and social horizons. They provided an opportunity to compete and learn from students from all over the world. Competing in a truly diverse environment meant meeting my peers in the best Universities, with the best lecturers and the best resources. Each time we had to go the extra mile to make sure we stood a chance.
Also, and more interestingly, the opportunity to meet students from various cultures and backgrounds is something everyone should try to experience. Most of our legal systems are shaped by the culture so it felt really enlightening to learn about the laws of other countries as well as their food, music, fashion etc.
At the end of the day, it’s all about creating a network of friends who will be with you for a very long time. Recently, I sent an article link on “How Technology can improve Access to Justice” to our African Moot WhatsApp Page. Last week, I just heard Rachael from the University of Nairobi won the Competition and she only got to know about it through the link I sent. This and many more are the advantages of participating in Competitions whether local or international.
Whether it’s planning an event or going for a competition, one thing is common; securing funds! How do you go about getting sponsorships for these activities you get involved in?
The problem of the African Youth is not a lack of ideas but the lack of funds to carry out his ideas – OJ Ayansola
Funding is the live wire of most of our activities as students – planning an event or participating in competitions. Usually they usually run into millions of naira and more often than not students get denied the opportunity to travel for competitions after months of preparation due to lack of funding. To be honest, it’s never an easy ride. I’ll however share tips that have worked for me.
Firstly, I think the major element is timing. No matter what you’re raising funds for, you must also start fundraising a long time ahead. It takes time to raise money!
Secondly, identify people INTERESTED in what you are doing. For example, if you’re planning a Conference on Energy Law in Nigeria, you’ll most likely not be successful if you go to a Law firm whose main practice area is Capital Markets. You must therefore look for firms with a proven interest in Energy Law who will be more interested in what you’re doing as it is something, they are directly interested in. It’s basic human nature to give time and attention to those things that interest and excite us.
Thirdly, be specific in your request. For example, when we preparing for our trip to India, we had a budget of over 1 million Naira. We adopted the strategy of telling our targets what we wanted exactly from them. So, for example, break down your budget in the most possible way. Then in your letter of request, ask for something specific such as sponsoring a plane ticket, or the visa fees or the price of souvenirs for your event. This sounds more reasonable than tabling the entire budget before the person from whom you’re requesting sponsorship.
Also, make some progress. When raising money for our trip to Botswana for the African Moot, I and my partner met with the Managing Partner and Practice Manager of a top-tier law firm. He was impressed with the fact that we had secured funding for our visas and accommodation. He immediately wrote us a cheque for a plane ticket. There is a saying that heaven helps those who help themselves – it applies to people also!
Lastly, look outside the box. A lot of the top firms in Nigeria now are suffering from what is known as donor fatigue. However, there are some low-key firms who students rarely approach. Checking directories like Who is Who Legal, Chambers & Global, IFLR Rankings will provide you with more options in your fundraising.
What are major challenges faced by the average Nigerian law student? What’s the way forward?
For me, I think the major challenge faced by law students in Nigeria has to be little exposure to the global legal marketplace. Over the years, we keep doing the same courses that were done 35 years ago. There is a need for reform. What is taught has to be a reflection of current trends in the legal sphere. Emerging areas of law are what students need to be taught now so as to catch up with the fast-changing face of the legal profession.
There is also a need for commercial awareness. I watched a short video by the Careers department of global law firm, White & Case, where they spoke about employing young lawyers who have a real intellectual curiosity about the world. Law is beyond the books and cases now; law firms are looking for individuals who will provide creative and innovative solutions to the problem of their clients. Students must follow platforms that improve their knowledge on happenings around the world such as Commercially Aware, Quartz, The Economist etc.
What area(s) of law do you intend to specialize in?
I am very interested in International Law, Energy Law and Intellectual Property Law.
Tell us about your role model, if any. And why?
My role model has to be Mr. Gbenga Oyebode MFR, the Chairman of Aluko & Oyebode.
I like him a lot because of the perspective he brings to issues and matters. Mr Oyebode is not a just lawyer now but also an investor. According to him, what sets him apart life from his peers is his ability to bring a legal and economic perspective to the needs of his clients. Over the years he has built Aluko & Oyebode into the biggest law firm in Nigeria.
Mr Oyebode is everywhere! He’s in the banking industry, the hospitality industry, the oil industry and so many others. He is also a sought-after speaker and mentor.
What other interests do you have aside the Law?
I am very interested in Events Planning, Media and Strategy and I’m actively pursuing opportunities in these areas.
With respect to having the best internship experience, what advice do you have for students?
I think the best thing anyone can do during an internship is to actually do the internship and not just see it as something to add to the CV. It is important to actively ask for tasks to be assigned to you and ask for feedback. An internship provides students with the opportunity to see law as it is so the opportunity must be utilized. It is also important to build relationships during your time at the firm as it will come in handy eventually.
Any final words?
Build relationships, use LinkedIn, travel, meet new people, be curious about the world. Join an organization, plot scenarios and outcomes and maybe fall in love during your university days. Thank you!