We prepare for the future by investing in our people
We are preparing for the future by investing in our people. Training our lawyers is the firm’s first, second and third priority.
In this interview, Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor, Financial Nigeria, discusses the landscape of legal practice in Nigeria with Dan Agbor, Senior Partner, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie law firm.
Jide Akintunde (JA): Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie law firm has consistently ranked among the top five firms on the “Banking & Finance” and “Corporate/Commercial” indexes of Chambers Global rankings of the best law firms for Nigeria. What underpins this performance and the elite status of the firm?
Dan Agbor (DA): We are a team. Right at the heart of Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie’s ethos is the fact that we are a team. It is this sense of being a team that has influenced how the firm is set up, with various practice areas that work together seamlessly in order to deliver the highest quality of service to our clients. We think it is this that accounts for Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie’s consistent ranking.
JA: The individual rankings in these two categories have, in actual fact, consistently ranked you, the senior partner, topmost. More broadly, however, what is the role of leadership in the firm’s overall strategy?
DA: The rankings are just a reflection of our teamwork. While several partners in the firm are consistently ranked in the manner that you have described, in a number of independent rankings publications, this is not just as a result of the individual efforts of the partners in question but it is also because of the teams that work behind and alongside each of such partners.
We also believe that clients are entitled to a service that is not wholly dependent on the presence of any individual member of the team, and so the firm’s practice has always been to have staff at multiple levels that a client can call on, who are all involved in delivering a consistently seamless service to the client. We describe it as the ‘drop-dead principle’; the principle being that a client must always have someone, several people, that he or she can call upon if the person principally responsible for delivering the service “drops dead”.
JA: We may be able to understand the outlook of the Nigerian banking and finance sector by understanding the pattern of the deals in the sector. From your vantage position, and from the involvement of the firm in the dealmaking, what is the state of Nigeria’s banking and finance?
DA: Nigeria’s banking and finance sector has developed beyond recognition. The older partners in the firm will remember a time when the largest syndication that had been done in the Nigerian market was the N60 million financing of the Mobil Oil head office building. Today, domestic financings are in numbers that exceed $2 billion - all raised locally. This has changed the banking and finance landscape beyond recognition.
In addition, one of the things that has influenced the current state of the Nigerian banking and finance sector is the increasing connection between Nigeria and the wider global economy. Nigeria – as a result of technology and as shown by capital flows – is inextricably linked to that global economy. That connection will only get stronger as time progresses, and it is that connection that is going to increase the complexity, diversity and size of the kinds of transactions that are entered into locally.
JA: The Nigerian economy experienced a severe recession in 2016. Economic growth in 2017 and last year were way below the trend-growth rate of average 6 percent a decade before 2015. How did the last three years impact corporate and commercial law in Nigeria and what is your outlook for the next three years?
DA: The last three years were very, very, difficult for the Nigerian economy generally, and for commercial law practice more specifically. It is probably a statement of the obvious that commercial law practice feeds off the needs of the economy and of its clients and so where your clients are struggling, you as a commercial lawyer supporting those clients are probably going to struggle as well.
The Nigerian economy contracted in the last three years, as did opportunities for commercial law firms. Having said that, we think that the Nigerian economy has probably turned the corner, and Nigeria has come out of recession, even though growth remains modest. Once we get past the elections, and if crude oil prices remain at about $60 per barrel, we think that the Nigerian economy will expand, and that with such expansion and political stability will come increasing opportunities for Nigerian law firms.
JA: The administration of justice in the country has recently been in turmoil, and calls for housekeeping or reform in the Judiciary are being made. What are your recommendations for improving the public image of the Judiciary and administration of justice in the country?
DA: Justice and the proper administration of justice are essential for the continuance of any democracy. That is a statement of the obvious. In order to have justice, however, the people whose interests justice upholds must be willing to make the required investment. Unfortunately, that investment has not been made in the Nigerian judiciary or, perhaps more accurately, has not been made to the extent and in the amounts required. In our opinion, therefore, the very first thing that must be done is to invest time and money in the improvement of the Nigerian judiciary. Money in terms of improving the facilities that are available to judges and money in terms of improving the level of compensation that the Nigerian judiciary enjoys.
Money does not solve every problem, but a greater financial investment in the Nigerian judiciary will be the beginning of the solution to its problems. It will help mitigate such corruption as may already exist, as well as the slow progression of cases in the Nigerian court. If these initial steps are taken, we believe that the Nigerian judiciary will be restored to its former glory.
JA: Although Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie has been one of the most prestigious and most successful law firms in Nigeria. How is the firm facing the future, which predictably will see competition intensifying?
DA: We are preparing for the future by investing in our people. Training our lawyers is the firm’s first, second and third priority. It is these people that will ensure that the firm is able to deliver a high and consistent quality of service into the future, in a manner that is appropriately responsive to market developments including in evolving industries such as media and entertainment and Fintech. The firm is also investing in the improvement of its physical infrastructure, including the technology that is available for delivering the best quality of client service. Still, the firm’s major investment, as I have said, is in people. We believe in training, training, and more training. The practice of law is about knowledge. You can only acquire and deliver knowledge through training.