Solanke, Olanipekun, Ajayi chart success path for young lawyers

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Solanke, Olanipekun, Ajayi chart success path for young lawyers

Oladimeji Ramon

L-r Pro- Chancellor and Chairman Governing Council University of Lagos Dr Wale Babalakin (SAN),Sir Remi Omotoso, the Celebrate Mr Dele Adesina, his wife Mrs. Bola Adesina, Chief (Mrs.) Folake Solanke (SAN) former Minister of Health and Social Services, Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, during the Celebration of Dele Adesina 10 years of Conferment with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) ,25 years of Firm’s Establishment ,and 35 years as a Legal practitioner held in Lagos on 22/2/2018 PHOTO CHINYERE IKEANYI .

Last week Thursday at Muson Centre, Lagos Island, octogenarian lawyer and first female Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief ‘Folake Solanke, led a pack of leading lights in the Nigerian legal circle to brainstorm on the current state of the profession and its future, particularly as it relates to the survival of the younger generation.

The occasion was the 35th anniversary of the call to Bar of Mr. Dele Adesina (SAN).

Besides publicly presenting a book titled, “New Developments in Law and Practice in Nigeria,” Adesina was also celebrating the 25 years of the establishment of his law firm, Dele Adesina LP, and 10 years of his being conferred with the SAN rank.

The law firm used the occasion to inaugurate its annual public lecture, the maiden edition of which was with the theme, “Building a Successful Legal Career/Practice.”

85-year-old Solanke was the chairman on the occasion, while Prof. Kayinsola Ajayi (SAN) delivered the lecture.

On the panel were Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), Prof. Fabian Ajogwu (SAN), Mr. Osaro Eghobamien (SAN), Mrs. Abimbola Akeredolu (SAN ) and Mrs. Christine Sijuwade of Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie law firm.

The audience was populated by a host of respected lawyers, including Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) and Prof. Ernest Ojukwu (SAN).

Solanke, in her opening remarks, set the tone of the discussion by decrying the erosion of professional ethics, poor remuneration of young lawyers, corruption and trial of judges and other malaise plaguing the legal profession.

In a solemn voice, Solanke, who had spent 54 years practising as a lawyer, 36 of which she has been a SAN, called on her junior colleagues to let us “engage in soul-searching and self-examination.”

She seized the occasion to further her long-running campaign for pupillage of young lawyers, as a way of addressing falling standards.

Recalling how after being called to the Bar, she undertook pupillage with “my late brother-in-law —  the brilliant Honourable Justice M.A. Odesanya, for one year in Lagos and the iconic Chief F.R.A. Williams (SAN), for one year in Ibadan,” Solanke said, “It is my humble view that pupillage is imperative for a new wig, for one or two years.”

She, however, stressed that senior lawyers should not take the liberty of the pupillage to enslave the young lawyers by not paying them well.

“Lawyers are paid by their clients, so, lawyers in pupillage should be paid. New lawyers incur expenses during pupillage, to wit: for rent, food, transportation, books, apparel, etc.

“In defence of lawyers in pupillage, I declare that lawyers are not slaves. Only slaves work for no pay because a slave is the legal property of the slaver. A lawyer is certainly not the property of a learned senior or any other person,” she said.

She, however, pleaded with young lawyers “not to go to war with your learned seniors, but to politely apply for remuneration for your services.”

L-r Chief Wole Olanipekun,(SAN) Pro- Chancellor and Chairman Governing Council University of Lagos Dr Wale Babalakin (SAN) the Celebrate Mr Dele Adesina, and Vice-Chancellor of Ekiti State University (EKSU), Professor Samuel Oye Bandele ,during the Celebration of Dele Adesina 10 years of Conferment with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) ,25 years of Firm’s Establishment ,and 35 years as a Legal practitioner held in Lagos on 22/2/2018 PHOTO CHINYERE IKEANYI .

While expressing her regret about the allegations of corruption flying around about judges and lawyers, Solanke said, it must be understood that “there are judges and lawyers who are above board and practise Law  according to the tenets of the profession and their oaths of office.”

In his lecture, Ajayi charged young lawyers to be bold rather than succumb to fear of making mistakes or taking risks.

He said, “The road is rough, the nights are long, the pay may not be competitive but the reward is great for all those who are able to tarry and be faithful to the vision of success, casting away dreams of ease.

“You must understand that success requires sacrifice.  Thus, like an ant, be bold and courageous, do not look back, cast that hook and do not be afraid.

“Additionally, let me underscore this, ‘do not let anyone disqualify you’ from a successful career, or building a successful practice. Let no one despise your little beginnings but learn from the ant the benefit of team work, by way of partnerships as a means to institution building.”

He noted that dearth of mentorship was one of the major challenges confronting young lawyers, but encouraged them to never shy away from taking reasonable risks.

Ajayi added, “To fully embrace life as a lawyer, you have to be willing to take risks; to be uncomfortable and to be bold.

“However, taking a risk means that you also have to be willing to be wrong and make mistakes – for that is life. I understand that most young lawyers are petrified at the thought of making mistakes. It is important to know that mistakes are the portals of discovery, as a person who does not make mistakes is unlikely to be great at anything.

“On this journey, you will face mediocre moments and make some outright blunders. You are going to be frustrated at your performance at many points particularly when you operate in a highly competitive environment, but embrace it. Give yourself the space to accommodate it, own it and learn from it, for it is only from doing so, you will be empowered.”

Asked by the moderator, Mr. Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), the secret of his success, Olanipekun, who opened the discussion after Ajayi’s lecture, said the secret of his success were hard work, diligence and consistency, stressing that he never combined anything with legal practice.

“I see Law as a very jealous profession; God says I am a jealous God. This is a jealous profession, I don’t combine anything with Law — it is Law in the morning, Law at noon, Law at night. Don’t allow the noise in the marketplace to distract you.”

Olanipekun said young lawyers must “know that Rome was not built in a day.”

“You must learn how to steal from your colleagues. If I go to court, I want to learn from my colleagues. If I have a matter with Femi (Falana), unfortunately, I know it’s going to be a legal war, but I will steal from him; tomorrow I will plagiarise him; this is permissible plagiarism because I know that where my own Law ends, that of Femi Falana begins,” Olanipekun said.

Taking the microphone, Eghobamien lamented that the Supreme Court had lost focus of its role as a policy court, as it was being bogged down with too many cases.

He said, “The Supreme Court is a policy court. And so when the Supreme Court bogs itself down with considering whether or not we sign our processes, the Supreme Court has stopped performing the function for which it was created.

“I handled a case at the Supreme Court, on that day, in seven cases, judgments were delivered. All seven but one succeeded, it succeeded on account of the fact that the lawyer didn’t sign his name.

“On one day, the Supreme Court handled nine cases; nowhere in the world will that happen. There is no way the Supreme Court could have appreciated any of the issues that they had attempted; attempted, I say, because at the Supreme Court, they say adopt your brief — at the Supreme Court, where you are supposed to be discussing and developing the law! A policy court!

“Someone takes a case to a lawyer 25 years ago and his case is decided not on the merit at the Supreme Court level; I think the level of injustice is astonishing!

“My advocacy is, therefore, so that the Supreme Court should not just simply be affirming what happens at the Court of Appeal, maybe we should consider dropping the Supreme Court.”

Also speaking, Ajogwu made a case for the welfare of young lawyers, saying any firm which neglected it was shooting itself in the foot.

The don said, “I am not of the school of thought that beg people to pay young lawyers very well because it’s self-corrective —  if you don’t pay them well, you will just become an unconscious training ground where the better-paying people will poach them and bring them into better ground. So, it’s in everyone’s interest strategically to reward hard work and excellence in order to retain the best brains.”

He said young lawyers, from the outset, must decide the kind of lawyers they want to be and the area of Law where they want to build strength and be known.

He said, “One thing is important to drive the profession forward, one needs to determine what kind of lawyer are you. You should not be everything to everybody. It is important that as practitioners we define what type of lawyer we want to be, what type of Law practice we want to have.”

He said the real yardstick for measuring success should be about what contribution one has made to the profession, rather than how much money an individual has made.

“There is something about measuring your success by what you have produced, not just the income into your pocket. Earlier on, I had congratulated Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), you’ve become a maker of SANs. It speaks volumes that you are not only successful but you have helped to create successes. The same goes to the guest speaker (Ajayi) who has produced a brilliant judge, a PhD holder.

“The point is you have to take a look to the left and say ‘what has the profession done for me?’ It has merely given you fame, glory, maybe, income, wealth but the bigger question is: what have you done for the profession? What Bar centre did you empower, what endowment did you put in place? How many times did you take time to do pro bono work?”

Also speaking, Babalakin stressed the need for judges to be well paid, adding that the judiciary must fix its own problems, rather than blame others for its woes.

Babalakin said, “The legal profession must heal itself. We can’t come here and continue to say that we are not happy with the profession, when we have not actively participated in changing the course of the profession.

“The profession today, sadly, is incongruous. I see senior lawyers who are blessed but their audience is the court. It is very anomalous to have criteria that make it more beautiful to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria than to be a high court judge. We, senior advocates, go to the high court judges to make our cases. If the audience is not better than you, you are wasting your time.”

On her own part, Sijuwade said enduring law firms can only be built on meritocracy and a fair system of rewarding hard work and excellence.

“If you want to institutionalise a law firm, you must practise meritocracy. You must reward diligence and hard work.

“When an employee stays up at 3am, the employee should have at the back of their mind that they will be rewarded. That’s the best way to retain great talents, and that’s the biggest thing to do to institutionalise a law firm.”

She added that law firms must not be rigid but should be open to new ideas.

“It’s also important to be open to new ideas. Even if your firm starts as primarily an Oil and Gas firm or primarily litigation-focused, you need to be open to new ideas. If you feel that Nigeria is moving towards agriculture for example or manufacturing is becoming of increasing interest to investors, you need to be open to those new areas of law and develop your lawyers and skill sets in those areas so you are able to compete,” Sijuwade said.

Earlier in his remarks, the celebrant, Adesina, noted that the legal profession “is strategic to our nation. Our profession is an indispensable tool for nation building.”


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