On this edition of Lawyer of the Week, Legal Pages had the pleasure of speaking to one of Nigeria’s finest young lawyers. A recipient of the 40 Under 40 Rising Star Award at the recently concluded ESQ Legal Awards, he has consistently built a reputation for himself in the Corporate Law Space. He shared his thoughts on his career, graduate degrees for lawyers and the impact of the novel coronavirus on local and international transactions. Have a wonderful read.
Can we meet you?
My name is Chukwudi Bamidele Ofili and I am currently an Associate Partner at Detail Commercial Solicitors, a commercial law firm operating out of Lagos, Nigeria.
I hold a Bachelor of Laws degree (LL.B.) with first class honours from Babcock University, Nigeria and a Master of Laws degree (LL.M.) with concentration in Business Law and Finance from the University of Georgia School of Law, USA. I am licensed to practice law in Nigeria.
Before joining Detail, I was a Senior Associate within the Corporate, Finance and Securities Practice Group of Bloomfield Law Practice. I started out my legal career as an an associate within the banking and finance team of Aluko & Oyebode, one of Nigeria’s largest integrated commercial law firms. More recently, I was an International Lawyers for Africa (ILFA) secondee where I worked with Trinity International LLP, a niche commercial law firm in London. There, I worked with the Finance and Projects team on a number of international transactions, with focus on power and infrastructure projects across the African continent. I also had a brief stint at the headquarters of The Coca Cola Company, Atlanta, USA where I worked with the legal team on cybersecurity, imports and OFAC compliance issues.
How many years post call experience do you have?
I was called to the Nigerian Bar in November 2012. I have been practicing as a lawyer for a little over 7 years now.
What are your areas of expertise and what piqued your interest in these fields?
The core of my experience centers around banking and finance. I currently advise on a broad range of financing and commercial transactions such as corporate and project finance; project development; public-private partnerships; private equity; derivative transactions; the tax implication of different financing structures and asset holding structures; as well as the tax implication of providing cross border services.
To what factor(s) will you attribute your relatively rapid advancement as a young lawyer?
Hardwork, resilience, quest for excellence, unrelenting desire to keep learning, mentorship, learning to work smart and networking.
What will you consider the most remarkable moment or feat of your legal career till date?
Permit me to mention two. First, receiving the “Nigerian Rising Star Award” as one of the top 40 Nigerian lawyers under the age of 40 at the Esq Nigerian Legal Award 2019 was remarkable. Especially, doing it under the age of 30.
Second, another memorable experience was taking part in the highly selective ILFA 2018 Flagship Secondment Programme (IFSP), an annual international secondment programme where lawyers practicing in various African jurisdictions are selected and sponsored on a secondment at highly reputed international law firms and corporations in London, Dubai and Paris. It was an enriching and exciting experience that included working on international transactions as well as training programs on business development and technical legal skills. The networking events provided an opportunity to meet some of the brightest minds in the international Legal market in diverse practice areas. The networking opportunities on a global scale were immense and may not be replicated on such a scale in the near future.
With regards to graduate degrees, there is an increasing rush towards foreign universities. Does this influence employers?
Not necessarily. I would say the experience, skill set and personality traits of the individual are also very important. There is no doubt that the quality of the school from which the degree is earned is a key factor. However, the individual’s ability to set herself apart from the pack is critical. There is also the factor of being a good cultural fit for an organisation. Most organisations or firms have a distinct culture. I am aware that firms and organisations actively seek to recruit individuals that fit that culture or can be groomed to fit that culture.
There are many reasons to get a graduate degree beyond trying to get a job. I would say that it is important to understand why you want to get a graduate degree and how it ties into your future career or life goals before pursuing one.
Many lawyers have expressed disinterest in Litigation because of its downsides. As an experienced lawyer, what can you say (if any) are the drawbacks to corporate practice and advisory roles as opposed to litigation?
In my view, I believe a foundation in disputes helps to develop logical and critical thinking as well as good writing skills. For example, during my first year as a lawyer, I worked as a member of the dispute resolution practice group in Aluko & Oyebode. As a young lawyer, I represented clients in local, regional and national courts. I also attended arbitration proceedings settling disputes worth millions of U.S. dollars. From this experience, I garnered critical thinking and analytical skills which I transferred into future assignments in corporate and finance transactions. With this foundation, I now advise clients and draft transaction documents with a view to minimising risks of litigation, and in the event of a dispute, to adequately protect the interests of the client.
I would not say there are drawbacks to corporate practice and advisory roles as opposed to litigation. Your choice of practice area more often than not depends on interest, skill set and the opportunities available in the legal market.
What are your perspectives on the effect of COVID-19 on local and international transactions? In the event of a total shutdown, what steps can companies and financial institutions take to secure investments?
Since the COVID-19 coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, China, in December last year, countries around the world have sought to impose travel bans, quarantine citizens and isolate the infected in an attempt to stop the spread of the new virus. The outbreak has developed into a global threat and the World Health Organization declared that the outbreak constitutes a pandemic.
Companies have reported substantial business and operational disruptions, including closures of workplaces and ports, disruptions to supply and distribution channels, shortage of labor and weakened regional demand.
With the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and recent attempts by Chinese companies to invoke Force Majeure (FM) provisions, attention has focused on the possibility that parties to affected commercial contracts may invoke force majeure provisions in those contracts in order to excuse delay or non-performance. Any agreement with a specific force majeure clause may be the subject of a claim. Contracts governed by a civil law framework which grants force majeure remedies, whether or not they are contained in the contract, may also be the subject of the claim. FM is a creation of contract in common law jurisdictions like Nigeria. Generally, FM provisions are interpreted by focusing on the actual language used with the result that each particular case rests on its own contractual language and set of facts.
It is imperative that contracts are drafted to explicitly state that public health events — such as flu, epidemic, serious illness, plagues, disease, emergency or outbreaks — would constitute a force majeure situation. For contractual parties – whether as buyer or seller – who are in existing contractual relationships affected by the outbreak, it is recommended that you review your contracts with particular reference to the governing law and FM provisions, including any time limitations or procedural requirements. You will also need to review the FM clauses to see if they are open or exhaustive enough in relation to FM Events to cover the outbreak or resulting government actions.
If for any reason you could not practice law, what would have been your alternative career choice?
If I had not become a lawyer, I would have studied economics and become an investment banker. Contrary to what people think about lawyers, I was good at and liked mathematics. Interestingly, in secondary school, I also had a lofty dream of being a footballer. It would not have been a bad idea to be a famous footballer probably at Manchester United!
Any last words for law students and young lawyers?
My advice to aspiring lawyers is to understand that the legal profession is very demanding and requires the highest level of dedication. It requires hard work, resilience, integrity and an unwavering desire to achieve excellence at all times. It is important to develop analytical skills, research skills, writing skills, interpersonal skills and effective communication skills. In order to know whether you want to be a lawyer, you need to understand what it is that lawyers do. It is advisable to do internships or shadow programmes in law firms to understand the different areas of law available and the areas of law that will most likely suit your skill set and interests. Law is generally called legal practice because practice and experience on the job eventually helps develop expertise in the chosen field. You cannot jettison the role the first law firm or organization you work for plays in providing the foundation for your career growth. It is, therefore, important that you choose carefully and consider career growth and a strong foundation at the onset and not just the financial benefits (although that is also important). Finally, always remember that law is a business!
Thank you for your time.