LAWYER OF THE MONTH (SEPTEMBER) — VINCENT OKONKWO

Happy Independence Anniversary, Nigeria (we hope we’re not late to the party), and Happy Anniversary to Legal Pages. On the September edition, we speak to Vincent Okonkwo, a Tech Attorney. He gives us his thoughts about judges specialising in niche areas of law, and the achievement fuzz arising from the Covid holidays/work from home period. Enjoy the full interview below.

  1. Hello Vincent. Can we know more about you?

My name is Vincent Chimobi Okonkwo. I am an Associate with Jackson, Etti & Edu, a leading law firm with its head office in Lagos State. I am a practising Lawyer, with diverse experiences cutting Intellectual Property, Commercial Intellectual Property, Corporate Law and Technology Law. I am a very passionate professional, and I like to think of myself as creative and business-minded in my approach to my work. 

Beyond my professional life, I am a fun-loving and relatively extroverted person. I am a pseudo-music-snob with a preeminent taste for indie rock. I write prose and poetry, dabble in fashion, enjoy popular culture, watch loads of anime and enjoy a number of sports (football, basketball, boxing, MMA).

  1. You refer to yourself as the genuine article. You seem to have displayed this in many of your activities (like writing and public speaking) during your university days. How did these activities start for you as an undergraduate?

*Laughs* The genuine article is an expression I’ve always been fascinated by. I came across it when I was much younger, and I liked the concept of it. As I grew older, I came to resonate with my view of self and my personal philosophy. I like the idea of backing up boasts with action – so I do my best to reflect this in my dealings. To the question, I did a lot of mooting, public speaking, writing, and student leadership as an undergraduate. But if I remember correctly, I did not always have it in mind to do these things. They are funny stories about how I got into some of these extracurriculars – particularly mooting. I got into mooting on an invitation and a lie. It was my 3rd year, and I got called up by the then Chairman of the Law Student’s Bar Association who informed me that they were looking for people to try out for the team for a National Competition at OAU. He asked if I had mooted before, and I said: “of course.” The truth was, I had not mooted before, although I had some interest in it. But I practised, went ahead and tried out and ended up leading the Moot team for that competition. Mooting led me to student leadership and public speaking. In terms of writing, I have always dabbled in writing, and I used to have the most fanciful ideas of my writing skill. By late Secondary School, I was putting up for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and Wolf Poetry Prize and falling short. In my 1st year, I joined the Creative Writer Workshop at my University, and in my second year, I joined the Legal Watchmen, a legal writing/student journalism outfit within my Faculty. Funnily enough, my invitation to mooting might have had something to do with my involvement with student journalism.

  1. Given what you know now, is there anything you would’ve changed as an undergraduate?

Well, two things I would change. The first one is personal and comes from a place of pure ambition. For one, I would have tried to make a First Class in the University. It would not have been easy of course as my Faculty is notorious for not giving First Classes, but I would have tried and failed than not tried at all. I came into the Faculty to learn that only one person has made a First Class in over 30 years, and by my 2nd year, I resolved to not bother.

The second thing I would change is my awareness of the job market. For most of my undergraduate days, I had no idea what the legal industry looked like in actuality. I had no commercial awareness, and the skills I built, which came to benefit me in the long run, were mostly unconscious. I would also improve my knowledge of the variety in Legal Practice, and I might have done a little more to figure out my niche of interest even as a student. I am very keen about fast-tracking my career, so that would have given me a boost coming into the market.

  1. You’re a young lawyer and making great strides in your practice. What pieces of advice do you have for new wigs that were called to bar recently?

My advice to them would be to do their best to build genuine competence. It sounds a bit romantic, but nothing is an alternative to competence, not even clout. I would advise them to build skills wherever they find themselves, whether in a top tier Law Firm or in Zamfara. The world is tech-driven, and knowledge is ubiquitous. I would advise them to build skills and improve their knowledge even when it seems like no one cares for it because it counts – it will count. I will also advise them to do their best to determine which area they want to focus on in their practice and put themselves out there. It doesn’t have to be a closed plan, but they need to have a picture of where they want to head so they can drive on at speed.

  1. You founded Millenial Lawyer in 2019. What do you do at the organization, and what was the driving force behind its establishment?

Millennial Lawyer (ML) is an initiative that is very close to my essence as a person. The proposition of the outfit is two-fold. First, we intend to create a single access point to knowledge on ultra-modern areas of law (in the Nigerian context) as they interact with their respective industries. Currently, our target areas are Technology Law, Competition/Antitrust Law, Entertainment & Sports Law and Finance Law. Second, we want to create an aggregator platform for people interested in publishing on these subjects to provide their content to a ready audience. We are looking to provide a bridge for young lawyers and law students interested in building competence in these areas where none existed before and in providing a one-stop platform for online publishing to people within this space who write or create content. The idea behind the outfit came as a result of some of the struggles I had. First, as a young lawyer interested in the tech space, I struggled to find a ready source of broken-down information on technology law. When I did eventually build knowledge, I struggled to find a place to publish my writing on law and technology in a way that was readily available to a wider audience beyond my personal circle and LinkedIn connections.

  1. You are one of the fast-rising tech lawyers in Nigeria. Do you think that judges also need specialization (in areas like tech and IP) as lawyers do? What reason will you give for your response?

It goes without saying that we need Judges who understand the technology ecosystem and who can interpret technology. I believe we have some already, I have read a number of judgements given by judges who I believe are relatively comfortable with incidents of modern technology, but we need more. It really comes down to specialization – I would say we need to have more judges with relevant knowledge of specific modern industries like some of those we target in ML.

  1. Nigeria celebrates 60 years since independence. How do you rate this country? Mainly, what’s your perception of its education, legal and fiscal systems? What do you think the next decade will be like for these aspects of the nation?

*Laughs* If I answered this question yesterday, I would have bashed Nigeria, and it would have been deserved. But I have had cause to rethink very recently, and I am more optimistic in my view right now. I don’t think Nigeria has done great in the last sixty years. Particularly, our educational system continues to worsen, our legal frameworks are decidedly behind the already slow growth in our society, and our fiscal policies do not reflect our national priorities and continue to be limiters. Still, it can’t be taken away that Nigeria has made some progress here and there in this period which can be built on. I think our 60th Independence Day Anniversary calls for introspection as a nation and a reimagined approach towards inward-looking solutions to the problems that plague us as a country. I think that the next decade will be “make or break” for us – we are at the dawn of a new dispensation, one that provides us opportunities through technology and the evolving societal dynamic to upscale, so to speak, as a nation. But then again, time will tell.

  1. There’s the fuzz about coming out the COVID-19 break with “achievements.” How do you make sense of this? What’s your advice to people regarding striking a balance between achieving successes and attaining reasonable personal progress/development?

I remember seeing commentaries about how people are using the Covid-19 ”break” to acquire certificates which they commemorate with cheesy posts on LinkedIn. The truth is, there is no wrong way to grow. My take is, if pursuing MOOC and related certificates helps you grow, go for them. In any case, they are good indicators of personal drive and basic knowledge of the subjects in which they are taken, so I can’t see how having them is a bad idea. Like I would say, better have and not need, than need and not have. I would suggest, though that people become more inward-facing in their approach to learning. The most relevant personal growth metrics are not visible and may not be captured in certificates. In the pursuit of certificates and LinkedIn clout, we must not forget the place of genuine growth.

  1. Any final words?

I am glad to have had this opportunity, and I thank Legal Pages for the remarkable work. Cheers and “Stay Safe in these unprecedented times.”  Thank you for your time.

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