LAWYER OF THE WEEK — GABRIEL NWODO

This week, we feature Gabriel Nwodo, a first class graduate and an Associate at top commercial law firm, ÆLEX. He spoke to Legal Pages about the supposed nexus between remuneration of entry level lawyers and the 2020 NBA Presidential Election, the grading system of the Nigerian Law School and giving back to the society.

Can we meet you?

My name is Gabriel Nwodo. I obtained my Bachelor of Laws degree from Enugu State University (ESUT) in 2015 where I finished top of my class. I also had the honour of delivering the valedictorian speech at my school’s convocation in 2016, having emerged as the overall best graduating student in a cohort of over 5,000. I was admitted to the Nigerian Bar in November 2016 after completing the bar vocational training at the Nigerian Law School (NLS), where I achieved distinctions in four of the five modules on offer. In 2017, I joined ÆLEX, and I am currently an Associate in the Tax, Corporate & Commercial and Dispute Resolution practice groups.

How many years post call experience do you have?

A little above 3 years.

At what point did you decide that you will specialise in your chosen field?

My interest in tax was first piqued in 2014 when I took the course at undergraduate level in ESUT. When I joined the Tax and Corporate & Commercial teams at ÆLEX, headed by the Managing Partner, Mr. Theophilus Emuwa [who, by the way, is arguably Nigeria’s most highly-regarded tax lawyer], I knew I was where I needed to be. My role has included advising local and foreign clients on tax structuring and representing multi-nationals in all sectors before the Tax Appeal Tribunal and superior courts of record in their disputes with federal and state tax authorities. I also routinely draft/review pre and post incorporation documents, including shareholders’ and joint venture agreements. Regarding dispute resolution, my interest started during my undergraduate moot court days. I was a very active member of the students’ bar, and led my team to several national moot competitions. So, I was excited to join the ÆLEX disputes team headed by Mrs. Funke Adekoya, SAN, who is a consummate litigator and very experienced arbitration expert.

Asides from thoroughly enjoying my work, I find being able to solve the problems of my clients extremely fulfilling. This is why I settled for these areas. It has been over two years since I joined the teams, and I have never regretted it. However, as a young professional, I remain open-minded, and am always happy to explore other areas of law, especially those inextricably linked to my current practice.

Gabriel at the 31st Judicial Session of the Administrative Tribunal of the AfDB in Abidjan last year

What has been the major highlight of your career as a lawyer?

Several memorable events have happened so far in my career, but the major ones include being a co-winner of the LCA-YAN International Arbitration Moot (Law Firm Category) in 2018; appearing at the Administrative Tribunal of the African Development Bank in Abidjan last year as co-counsel for the African Legal Support Facility; and recently co-authoring the Nigeria Chapter of Corporate Tax 2020 with Mr. Theophilus Emuwa; Folake Adewusi; and Jibrin Dasun. You may read the chapter here: https://practiceguides.chambers.com/practice-guides/corporate-tax-2020/nigeria.

How important will you rate Community Service as part of a lawyer’s personal and career development?

I strongly believe that lawyers must make a conscious effort to take part in community service, not just for the purpose of building their careers, but also because we have a responsibility to give back to the society. This is why I volunteer for several non-profits, including the Breath of Freedom Foundation, where I support the rehabilitation and re-integration of ex-convicts [https://www.breathoffreedom.com.ng/volunteer/gabriel-nwodo-esq/]; the Legally Engaged Mentorship Programme [https://legallyengaged.com.ng/our-team/gabriel-nwodo/] and Hands & Bridges, where I provide one-on-one career mentorship to law students and younger lawyers.

In July 2019, with support from my friends, I convened the maiden edition of the Academic and Career Advancement Symposium (ACAS) which had over 400 law undergraduates from 5 Nigerian universities converging on my alma mater. The speakers at this event included top professors of law from Nigeria and overseas, partners in magic circle Nigerian law firms, and illustrious alumni members. The motivation to organise ACAS was fuelled by a desire to provide Nigeria’s future lawyers with the guidance needed at an early stage to make informed decisions regarding their careers. The personal feedbacks I have received on my social media handles have been heart-warming. Recently, one of the participants informed me that he secured a graduate internship at Oando PLC by applying what he learnt at ACAS.

I was a Panelist at the Future Lawyer Series which held at Ebonyi State University in November 2019. FLS is the brain child of Desmond Ogba [a partner at Templars], and, like ACAS, is designed to give back to the legal profession by significantly investing in developing the capacity of law students and young lawyers in order to make them relevant for the dynamic labour market of the 21st Century.

Gabriel at a business networking seminar organised by the Nigeria South Africa Business Network, where he made a presentation on the legal requirements for carrying on business in Nigeria

There was a report circulated by the ICiR on the Nigerian Law School’s failure to keep to its promise of changing the grade system. What do you make of this?

If this report is true, then I expect the management of the Nigerian Law School to explain the basis for the sudden volte-face. It has always been my view that it is unfair to determine a candidate’s overall performance based on their least grade in one paper. I expressed this view publicly in my interview with the Nation Newspaper as far back as 2017. You may read it here: https://thenationonlineng.net/dad-wanted-doctor/.

It is therefore my hope that the NLS will keep its promise and do away with the least grading system which I consider outmoded.

Many young lawyers on social media have expressed the salary paid to entry level lawyers as the decisive factor in the 2020 NBA Elections. Generally, do you think Lawyers these days are still poorly remunerated? If Yes, what solutions can you proffer to this menace?

I completely agree that lawyers’ remuneration will be an important issue at the 2020 NBA elections. This is why there is an ongoing conversation on social media regarding the pay packages offered by the leading candidates. The feedback you could easily gather from this conversation is that young lawyers will massively support the candidate with the best pay and welfare package for members of his staff. I have done my research in this regard, and one candidate stands out for me because his law firm offers one of the most competitive emoluments in Nigeria, and he has personally shown a consistent commitment to empowering young lawyers through capacity building and career mentoring.

It is a fact that Nigerian lawyers are poorly remunerated, and there are many reasons for this. Most law firms have failed to diversify their practice and this has limited their revenue streams. It has been argued that the pay package offered by a law firm is a function of its turnover. Whilst this may be true, it is important to emphasise that a law firm should only hire as many lawyers as it is able to properly remunerate. By proper remuneration, especially for entry level hires, I mean a decent living wage. It is so pathetic that some young lawyers do not even earn a salary in their work places, whilst others are paid a pittance. There is a popular saying that enjoins everyone to cut their coats according to their clothes. I highly recommend it to all employers of labour.

Are you affected by the Lagos Motorcycle and Tricycle Ban. Do you consider the ban appropriate?

Everyone in Lagos is affected in one way or the other by the ban. I believe that the purpose of the ban is well-intentioned, but I sincerely do not think that its implementation was carefully thought out. The Lagos State Government ought to have put safety nets in place before proceeding with a decision with such far-reaching implications. I am a big fan of Governor Babajide Sanwoolu, but I believe that the ban on motor cycles and tricycles is ill-advised. Given the hardship that Lagosians have had to suffer on account of this ban, I expect that our amiable Governor would have a second look at this issue.

Gabriel being presented with an award at the EBSU Future Lawyer Series where he was a panelist

What’s your advice to law students on the competitiveness of the corporate law employment market?

The world is evolving daily, and everyone [law students and lawyers alike] must keep pace with it. The labour market has become fiercely competitive. Only professionals who possess the requisite academic qualifications and both hard and soft skills will be able to compete. So, whilst it is important to graduate with fantastic grades, you must know that today’s employers of labour are looking for much more than that.

Any final words?

Thank you for having me. It has been a pleasure to share my thoughts on your platform.

Thank you for your time.

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