Lawyer of the Month — Chidi Odoemenam
Quite recently, the rate of career mobility has witnessed an exponential rise, especially with more professionals expressing interest in finance and tech roles. Yet, there’s a more nuanced career switch within the legal profession that is quite common but hardly spoken of. We address this issue in our Lawyer of the Month interview with Chidi Odoemenam. He discusses his new engagement, where he contributes to the building of an exciting urban city within Lagos. Amongst other things, he highlights important aspects of career development and social media regulation. You can enjoy the highly insightful interview transcript below.
Hello Chidi. It’s great to have you on this edition. Can we meet you?
Thanks for having me. My name is Chidi Odoemenam and I currently work for Rendeavour as a Nigerian legal counsel. Before joining Rendeavour, I worked for Aluko & Oyebode for four and a half years in the corporate finance department where I specialized in M&A, capital markets, private equity, and tax engagements. During my time at Aluko & Oyebode, I was also seconded to the London offices of Slaughter and May, where I sat in the oil and gas financing and projects department. Since my admission to the bar, my practice has focused on the various spheres of corporate and commercial law, and I have done a bit of everything corporate/commercial law, ranging from corporate finance, tax, insurance, general corporate advisory, and projects/infrastructure. I have also written and published articles and materials on a broad range of issues bordering on corporate and commercial law.
I attended the University of Nigeria Nsukka, where I obtained my law degree in 2015, and thereafter the Nigerian Law School, Lagos where I qualified for a call to the Nigerian bar in 2016.
Let’s have a rundown of the typical workday in the life of Chidi Odoemenam.
I would typically start my day by responding to emails and messages from the night before. Emails will contain requests for contract drafting or review and/or questions about documents I previously drafted. Then I’ll spend time creating the day’s to-do list, noting where meetings are required with team leads/members of other departments. I’ll typically meet with my line manager to discuss the to-do list and agree on how to approach the day’s assignments. Later in the morning and towards early afternoon, I’ll “zone off” with music to focus on tasks for the day, ranging from drafting contracts or preparing legal advice or research work. I’ll typically take a 30-minute break by 1 pm for lunch, after which I’ll attend scheduled calls or meetings on various transactions/assignments. Meetings and calls would usually last well into late afternoon, after which I’ll attend to the action points/to-dos from the meeting or pencil them down as the next day’s work. After my afternoon meetings, I resume attending to the day’s work till about 7.30 pm – 8 pm when I close for the day.
What inspired the switch from a core practice in M&A and Capital Markets to Real Estate, Projects and Infrastructure? What does work in your new field entail?
I had a very fulfilling time doing M&A and capital markets work with some of the best lawyers in Nigeria at Aluko & Oyebode, but when I got the opportunity to join Rendeavour, I couldn’t resist the opportunity of being part of the builders of Nigeria’s next urban community and infrastructure. Rendeavour’s goal of not just alleviating the problem of stifling urban congestion and a dearth of quality housing and commercial property in Africa but helping to create the infrastructure – the living and working spaces, communities, schools and hospitals that will help sustain and accelerate Africa’s economic growth, meet the aspirations of Africa’s burgeoning middle classes, and serve as a catalyst for further urban development, endeared me to the opportunity. Working with Rendeavour to build Alaro City, a live-work-play city in Lagos has shown me that the public-private partnership model can be used to solve some of our critical issues in the areas of housing, technology hubs and infrastructure.
As one of Rendeavour’s Nigerian project counsel, my role currently involves working with experts in the engineering, projects, finance, marketing, utilities and other teams to build and deliver Rendeavour’s flagship development in Nigeria – Alaro City, an integrated, mixed-use city being built in the Lekki Free Zone. On a day-to-day basis, my work focuses on a wide variety of practice areas, ranging from infrastructure (road projects, site clearing, earthworks etc.), power, water, ICT to general corporate advisory and free zone administration.
Just recently, a highly respected learned silk advised younger lawyers to specialize early. Do you agree with this sentiment?
I think specialization is a sensitive subject which when discussed, must be contextualized within the confines of the nature of Nigeria’s legal industry and the Nigerian economy as a whole. The conversation would be different if say, for instance, it was being had in relation to bigger legal markets in the UK, US, or Europe, where the economies are much more developed and where there are significant and consistent deal/workflow across a wide range of practice areas. In Nigeria, the economy isn’t as big, and as such, the deal/workflow only remains consistent across a few practice areas, so specializing early may turn out to be career suicide for lawyers. This is not to say that specialization wouldn’t yield career benefits.
For lawyers who have the opportunity of starting their careers in law firms or companies where they are able to segment their portfolio and focus on building capacity on specific areas of law, I typically advise in favour of sector specialization or specialization on two or three related practice areas. For instance, instead of only specializing in capital markets which would usually experience low deal flow when the market, in general, slows down, I’ll advise for specialization on a broad range of practice areas that form the corporate finance practice group, such as M&A, general lending/finance, private equity and corporate restructuring. This will give the lawyer the skills required to adapt to Nigeria’s legal market when there is a lull in deal flow for a number of practice areas. The same applies to disputes lawyers, who can also focus on doing commercial ADR work instead of only traditional litigation work.
Also, what, in your opinion, is the most challenging part of carving a niche as a young legal professional in Nigeria?
I would say the benefit and opportunity of quality legal training in the first one to three years of practice. While the training at the Nigerian Law School develops significantly from that at the various law faculties of Nigerian universities, I still think that the training does not do enough to prepare lawyers for actual law practice. This deficiency can only then be cured by rigorous and focused training from experienced lawyers who are willing to take out the time and patience to teach young lawyers. The teaching would also involve giving the young lawyer the opportunity to work on significant assignments/cases (albeit with supervision and guidance), make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. A young lawyer wishing to carve a niche for him/herself must be willing to learn, take correction and feedback and put in the work towards self-development.
Many young lawyers seem to favour a few years of law firm practice before going in-house, joining a startup, or venturing to academia. From your experience, do you think this pattern provides anyone an edge?
There is really no template or one-size-fits-all approach to this, as I have seen lawyers that started their careers from academia or in-house go on to achieve amazing feats. From my own experience, however, I would always recommend training at a busy law firm with experienced lawyers for the first one to two years of one’s legal career. I have found that the training a lawyer can get while doing day in, day out legal work with fellow lawyers in a law firm setting will prove invaluable in the long run. In a busy law firm, you will have the opportunity of honing the key skills required of a lawyer, be it legal writing, research, analysis, work ethic, people and client management, and commercial awareness. When you start your career in-house or in academia, you may not be afforded the benefit of the patience and teaching available in a law firm, as these organisations are more focused on achieving their business objectives and meeting their bottom line.
What are your other interests outside your work as a lawyer?
In my spare time, I follow music and lifestyle business, most especially afrobeat and other upcoming genres of Nigerian music – artiste and brand management, the industry deals/endorsements, the shows and events, and generally how people make money from music and lifestyle. I also recently enjoy trying out new restaurants. I would spend most Saturdays watching football and hoping Arsenal don’t lose to relegation-fighting teams.
You are quite an avid social media user and over the past months, there have been different events leading up to a call for social media regulation. Do you think social media should be regulated? (Why? And if yes, to what extent and by who?)
My view is that calls for social media regulation would only be valid if the objective is not to stifle voices of dissent or put in place measures of internet censorship. I believe we have sufficient laws on libel, slander and prosecution of people who share harmful or violent content, or even what we now call fake news. These provisions are in the Cybercrime Act, Evidence Act and our criminal laws. If the current laws are insufficient to address the government’s concerns, the government should, as an act of good faith liaise with industry experts, including the social media companies on how best to work out a better approach to protect the public from harmful content. The government should also consider investing in digital literacy to enlighten social media users on how verify the content they see on social media.
Any final words for young lawyers?
I’ll repeat the advice I’ve gotten from my mentors and senior colleagues in the profession.
Build capacity in the emerging areas of law – while this may not be your core practice today, you will be prepared when these practice areas go mainstream.
Develop relationships with your peers in other professions no matter how low their positions may be in their organisations today – those will be your clients when they rise to the higher positions in their organizations.
As a lawyer, also learn and build business development skills – you will need these when you start your firm, make partner, go in-house, or switch careers.
Lastly, be open to learning, feedback and corrections from seniors. The feedback may not always be communicated in a sweet manner, but focus on the message.