Book Review: Trajectory Of Excellence In Legal Practice: Insights From Legal Experts by Mike Igbokwe


REVIEW OF ‘THE TRAJECTORY OF EXCELLENCE IN LEGAL PRACTICE: INSIGHTS FROM LEGAL EXPERTS’ BY AND IN HONOUR OF MIKE IGBOKWE, SAN, WITH A FOREWORD BY: CHIEF FOLAKE SOLANKE SAN, CON

I will start off by agreeing with Chief Folake Solanke SAN’s statements in the foreword that ‘[this] book offers a superb opportunity to learn from the staggering exploits of masters of the profession, and that the unstated purpose of the book is to leave a reference point for the younger generation of lawyers in their pursuit of excellence in the practice of law. She quoted Mahatma Gandhi saying that “The ultimate essence of a lawyer is to help the society demand from the law what every citizen deserves from justice.”

No doubt, this book is a compendium of practical life experiences of the best, the successful and excellent performers in the legal profession in Nigeria. The word trajectory means a route, course, flight path, line, arc, curve, trail etc. Excellence means finesse, brilliance, superiority, distinction, premium quality etc. So TRAJECTORY OF EXCELLENCE, should mean a flight path or pathway to brilliant, superior, distinctive, classic and premium quality LEGAL PRACTICE.

The book under review is published by CLDS Publishing, a foremost Nigerian legal works publisher. They have published my works and I can attest to their very high and ethical standards of publishing. The book consists of seventeen Chapters, with contributions from thirty-nine (39) Senior Advocates of Nigeria, on various practice areas. Learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Babatunde Raji Fashola, Minister of Works and Housing Federal Republic of Nigeria, wrote the Prologue to the book under review.

CHAPTER 1: CORPORATE INSOLVENCY
Chapter one focuses on Corporate Insolvency, drawing from the wealth of experience of two foremost senior advocates of Nigeria: Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN and Akintunde Ayodele, SAN.
In his “The Road to Success in Legal Practice – Key Indicators,” Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN digs into what is best described as an inestimable gift from a senior member of the Bar to the young generation, by going down memory lane and tracing how, together with the author, he cut his teeth with Mr. H.A. Lardner, SAN. He emphasized the place of hard work, astuteness and discipline.

CHAPTER 2: POWER & ENERGY
Chapters Two opens us to the remarkable experience of some of the finest members of the bar: J.K. Gadzama, SAN and A.B. Mahmoud, SAN under the heading “Power & Energy.”

In his contribution titled “Gleaning from my Experience in the Power & Energy Law”, Gadzama, SAN shares with his insatiable thirst to break new grounds and in, his words, his dream to bequeath a legacy as he delved into one of the novel areas of law – energy and power. I believe to a very large extent; every lawyer must be curious, as curiosity has been identified as the motivating factor behind most innovations.
Explaining how his curious mind helped as he navigated into the Energy sector, the Learned Senior Advocate’s words at page 27 are apt:

…the question that troubles me constantly is; what exactly goes on in the power and energy industries? I was very keen to know the law and jurisprudence in the sector. I wanted to know why Nigerians are still suffering from epileptic power supply despite having all these natural endowments; what are the liabilities of these power generating and distributing agencies? What is the current position of the law, and the pronouncements of courts relating to energy and power in Nigeria? The gritty and unrelenting search for answers to these questions inspired my drive into the power and energy law…”

A.B. Mahmoud, SAN “In Pursuit of Excellence in My Legal Career” commenced on a reluctance (which I have no doubt is shared by all contributors) to dive into an account of his experience for fear of such a noble cause being passed off as self-aggrandizement. The Learned Silk went memory lane into his days at FGC Sokoto and narrated a particular event where he had led a cause leading to “sweeping changes in the running of the college....” He shares with other contributors the principle that success is not short-term. Starting out at the Ministry of Justice, Kano. The Contributor shares with the readers the defining moments of his career.

CHAPTERS 3: ADMINISTRATIVE AND CONSTITUTIONAL LAW
Chapters 3 of the book in on “Administrative and Constitutional Law”. Dr Alex Izinyon, SAN laid down one of the fundamental secrets of success as a legal practitioner – focus and determination. He also emphasised the importance of an unquenchable thirst for not just a little learning but deep learning on the law.
Chief Omotayo Oyetibo SAN, while recounting his personal experiences emphasised that the five first years of practice is the foundation years of the path to success in the legal profession. He also noted the need for Counsel to arm themselves in the knowledge of the principles of law.

Mr. Omoruyi Omonuwa, SAN highlighted the four principles which he considered as the pathway to success as a legal practitioner namely: personal integrity, gaining a thorough understanding of the law, being a person of great comportment and setting goals, being courageous and finding role models.
Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN had laid down the 5 keys to his success as a legal practitioner namely: being studious, never being scared or ashamed of failing, being assertive, not aggressive, the need to be dutiful and the need to have a vision.

CHAPTER 4: BANKING AND FINANCE
Chapter 4 of the book is on “Banking and Finance”. Osaro Eghobamien, SAN emphasized the importance of continuing legal professional development. He had admonished legal practitioners to follow the advice of those who have passed through the path ahead of them.
Mr. Oluwakemi Pinheiro, SAN had explained how he had to discover himself in law. He explained that self- discipline and development were indispensable to his story to success in the legal profession. The key areas also highlighted by the learned Senior Advocates to his attaining excellence in the legal profession were: vision, goal setting, focus, persistence, mind-set, learning from the best, zeal, humility, making the best of opportunities, personal accountability, innovation, knowledge, taking a step in a day, modifying your network and paying your dues.
Dr Oladapo Olanipekun, SAN explained that a legal practitioner who sets out to succeed in the legal profession must first understand the sphere within which success is to be attained. He underscored the need for lawyers to combine both excellence and ingenuity in their practice. In relation to banking, he explained the various opportunities that young legal practitioners may explore. He also honed the core skills that define a lawyer – research, writing, presentation, hard work, diligence, ingenuity and integrity.

CHAPTER 5: ENVIRONMENTAL LAW
Chapter 5 of the book is on “Environmental Law”. Mrs. Miannaya Essien SAN explained that hard work and excellence were correlatives. She distinguished between success and excellence. While success was achieving one’s set goal, excellence was giving one’s best in achieving that set goal. She also explained that excellence cannot be achieved alone. Assistance from others is pivotal to being excellent. She also explained the need for a legal practitioner to have a balance life.

CHAPTER 6: HUMAN RIGHTS
The Chapter is on Human Rights has one contributor. Mr.Femi Falana, SAN.
In discussing the topic “My Foray into Human Rights Field”, the Learned Senior Advocate extensively discussed his travails and journey as a human right activist and what every human right lawyer should expect. He noted in on 137 that although he completed the youth service without any hitch, his Discharge Certificate was not released by the NYSC management on the grounds that he had embarrassed two agencies of the federal government to wit: - the Nigeria Police Force and the University of Ibadan. However, instead of discouraging him the action of the NYSC management reinforced his commitment to use the instrumentality of the law to fight human rights abuse and other forms of institutionalized injustice in the society. I advised that you take time to read and appreciate it.

CHAPTER 7: LITIGATION
Chapter 7 is on Litigation and has six contributors. Mallam Yusuf Ali, SAN in discussing the subject “Attaining Excellence in the Legal Profession: Criminal Litigation Perspective” made a powerful statement on page 147 and I quote “It is also important to understand the snags of building a successful career and how to surmount them. The first crucial lesson is that leaders are not born but made. Obviously there has to be some inborn natural ability - coordination, flexibility, anatomical and physiological capacity. However, the real key to sustained excellence is the development of mental toughness”. The above statement is a tip of the ice berg on the elucidations made my Yusuf Ali, SAN on this subject and I strongly recommend that you read through the entire work.

The second contributor is Deacon Dele Adesina, SAN, FCIArb., who discussed the topic “Your Picture Determines Your Future.” In page 159, he stated that:

“Hard work is a non-negotiable factor in the school of success, particularly in legal practice. There is little or nothing that prayer or luck can achieve without hard work”. The Further buttress the above point he stated in page 161 that “Success is a product of clear vision, calculated mission to accomplish the vision not minding the pains or the scars experienced along the way.”

You need to go through this work to appreciate how your picture determines your future according to the learned silk Dele Adesina, SAN, FCIArb.

Mr. Quakers Norrison, SAN made a contribution on the “Mastery of the Four Cardinal D’s for Achieving Excellence” the Learned Silk opined in page 171 that “As a Legal Practitioner, my life is governed by 4 interrelated and interconnected cardinal Ds, which are: - Desire, Discipline, Determination and Diligence”. Since we are all in pursuit of excellence, I recommend that you assimilate the four D’s for achieving Excellence.

Chief Emeka Etiaba SAN took time address the topic “Attaining the Rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN): Personal Experience”. In addition to expounding the steps for attainment of SAN, he advised on page 182 that for those who may be aspiring to be SANs, it is important to realize that the award simply exposes an awardee to serious public scrutiny (both in Court and outside the Court).

The fifth contributor on Litigation Mr. Olabode Olanipekun, SAN, wrote on “The Art of Legal Advocacy in Litigation” the learned silk noted in page 190 that an “aspirant to excellence in Litigation must gain a clear understanding of what excellence means; the import of being a Litigation Lawyer; the choice of litigation as a career path; effective ways to prepare and the qualities needed to succeed”. The above indices are further discussed in the book.
In discussing “Personal Development: A Pre-Requisite for Achieving Excellence” the last contributor on litigation Mr Adedolapo Akinrele SAN, made it clear that

A legal practitioner must learn to evolve and redefine himself or herself in line with the changing dynamics of the profession. We must in evolving, however hold fast to our basic ethos and ethics, which is representing our client in the best way possible.
To appreciate how to meet up with the evolving dimensions of legal practice, I recommend that you read this for a wider view.

CHAPTER 8: ACADEMICS

Chapter eight is on Academics and has four (4) contributors. For reasons of conflict of interest, being the contributor of part of this chapter, the review of this book excludes this portion, which has been sent to an independent professional colleague for review. The feedback is that, and I read:
The first contributor, Professor Fabian Ajogwu,  SAN,  discussed “The Legal Practitioner’s Pursuit of Excellence”.
He stated on page 205 that:

“Excellence is the quality of being outstanding or extremely good or superior at something. No one praises the average performer and Aristotle famously stated that “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The Learned Senior Advocate and Professor went further to discuss the relationship between “The Professional, Excellence and Time”. It is an interesting read and recommended for every person who is in the pursuit of excellence.

I now resume my review –
The second contributor on academics Professor Gbolahan Elias, SAN addressed “The What, When and How of My Career in the Legal Profession” He proffer advice to young lawyers on page 219 on pursuing excellence in the legal profession.

Professor Oluyemisi Bamgbose, SAN addressed the topic “The Trajectory of Excellence in the Academia”. The Learned Silk opined on page 225 that the “An antidote to attaining excellence is “Never give up”. It is true that a “No” today is not a “No” forever. The fact that a target which was set was not met, did not mean it could never be met. This was a philosophy employed in my career as an academic and legal practitioner”. It will be a worthy service to oneself to benefit from the wealth of Knowledge of learned silk made manifest in this book.

The last contributor on Academics Professor Adigun Fagbohun, SAN discussed “The Echos and Ethos of Excellence in the Legal Profession.”  The learned professor stated on page 233 that “If I am asked to recount those things which have helped me to attain excellence, I will start with my family values— those positive teachings that my parents impacted in me and my other siblings”. He went further list the items which a lower should never compromise nor permit to be compromised in the course of his practice. I recommend that you read this to appreciate the values a lawyer is expected to hold dear according to the learned silk Professor Adigun Fagbohun, SAN.

CHAPTER 9: INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: COPY RIGHTS AND TRADE MARKS
Chapter 9 deals with Intellectual Property: Copy Rights and Trade Marks and has one contributor, in the person of Professor Adebambo Adewobo, SAN. Professor Adebambo Adewobo, at pages 246 and 247, aptly introduced readers to how he came in contact with what later became his love in the legal profession- Intellectual Property at the NIALS’ library and how he has through teaching, practicing and enforcement of intellectual property right carved a niche for himself and contributed to the development of intellectual property.
The learned Professor chronologically gave account of the growth of IP law in Nigeria, starting from a period when reliance was placed on Received English laws to a period when we started having Nigerian legislation on IP.

CHAPTER 10: MEDIA, SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Chapter 10 of the book dwells Media, Sports & Entertainment. Chief Adewunmi Ogusanya, SAN, is thesole contributor to chapter 10 of the book which he titled “The Law and the Media: My Experience”. The learned silk at Page 263 of the Book summarized his contribution in the following words:
Embracing innovation involves the ability to appreciate ingenious creativity and discover the legal ambits that flow from same. This is the driving skill that has birthed the transcendence of the legal profession into every aspect of the economy, even the Digital and Global economy.
The learned silk, carefully narrated the growth and opportunities open to legal professionals in the entertainment industry and the media and the role of social media as a tool in legal practice.

CHAPTER 11: ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
The highly respected Mr Uche Nwokedi, SAN, is the sole contributor to this chapter of the book, which he sub- titled “the Practice of Law is a Treadmill Energy and Natural Resource Law Practice”.
In relating the practice of law in the field of Energy and Natural Resources to the topic under discuss- The trajectory of excellence in legal practice, the learned silk in page 277 of the book opined as follow:
The path to success and excellence in legal practice is hard and rocky and a keen lawyer must persevere. Some periods will be good. When they are you must save for the periods that are not good, and they will come often to test your mettle. So prudence must be your middle name.

CHAPTER 12: MARITIME LAW
Chapter 12 has four contributors focused on Maritime law. The first contributor, and leading Maritime law expert,
Mr. Femi Atoyebi, SAN, dealt with the topic Attaining Professional Height: Insights from a Legal Expert. He takes us through his childhood to finding his calling to the legal profession. Speaking on how he became a specialist in Maritime law, he says on page 293 “…while I did not study maritime law formally in any university, I learned far more than what classroom experience could have taught me”. In addition to these words of wisdom, the learned silk also cited cases he handled which form case law in shipping law today. I commend us to read the full chapter.

Leading Maritime law expert, Mr. Mike Igbokwe, SAN picks up from where Mr Femi Atoyebi, SAN stopped and takes us through the topic, “Maritime Law: My story” where in discussing his personal experiences in the area of maritime law, he advised on the merits of specialization. He says “No doubt, specialization has its merits. However, specialization in an area without enough work in that area and without the knowledge and experience to handle work in other areas of law would limit the work that you receive and could limit your attaining your potentials and lead to poverty. I refer readers to page 305.

Another Maritime law expert, Mr Chukwudi Ilogu, SAN discusses the topic “My Desire for Maritime: My Legal Feats and reflects on how the times have changed from a period when you had to travel out of the country to study the field of Maritime law and now when universities in Nigeria now teach the course.

Leading Maritime law expert, Mrs. Funke Agbor, SAN ends this chapter by telling us “the factors that facilitated excellence in her career. She advises “through this journey I have also learned that failure is not the opposite of success. Failure is part of the journey to success. Every time you fall, you pick yourself up and move forward. There will always be setbacks, but those setbacks will form the chapters of your success story. Page 321

CHAPTER 13: EVIDENCE LAW
In Chapter 13, Professor Taiwo Osipitan, SAN takes on Evidence Law as he discusses the topic “Achieving Continuous Excellence in the Legal Profession: Tenacity and Perseverance.” He advises “It is important that young lawyers seeking to excel in law practice set out clear professional objectives for themselves. They must learn to focus and persevere. They must also be receptive to learning and able to apply themselves. A young lawyer should invest himself/ herself in the acquisition of legal knowledge and must strive to add value to himself or herself. Unfortunately, remuneration for young lawyers is nothing to write home about compared to the economic realities of the Country. However, the virtues of patience and contentment are necessary for any young lawyer in the quest to achieve excellence in law practice because though financial reward may tarry, it will surely come.” Page 328. I  recommend you  read these insightful contributions.

CHAPTER 14: PROFESSIONAL ETHICS
Chapter 14 sees Professor Ernest Ojukwu, SAN discussing “Professional Ethics” as he takes on the topic “From Law Student to Young Lawyers: Preparing for a Career.” He says there are clear skills and competencies a law student needs before they graduate from the university and the Nigerian Law School, including but not limited to oral and written communication, advocacy, drafting etc. Page 338.

CHAPTER 15: TAXATION
In this chapter, Chief Kayode Sofola, SAN speaking on topic “The Law Profession and my Specialisation” at page 341 states the importance of diligence in the legal profession that The thing that works for any advocate in his trade, is diligence and being on top of the facts and the law in any given case. If you appear against a celebrated senior colleague, be assured that if you have researched   your case in depth, the legal celebrity can only work within the given facts and the applicable law.
The learned Senior Advocate posits at page 346 thus: “So, it is hard work, focus, avoiding distractions and keeping to high ethical values” that will ultimately to lead to excellence.

Mr. Seni Adio, SAN in his contribution titled: My Journey – From Beantown to Hometown, stated on page 347 as follows:
After a few of my colleagues had introduced themselves, I realized I had two choices – say what the hell am I doing here, these “gals” and “guys” are geniuses – or say bring it on, let the “games” begin. I chose the latter. I made up my mind, nobody here is going to out-work me.  I am going to play to my strengths, I will be diligent, I will ask questions, and I will seek out those that are responsive to my overtures.

CHAPTER 16 - CREATING A BALANCE: A PROFESSIONAL IN POLITICS
Bolaji Ayorinde, SAN’s (B.A.) contribution is titled My Balance of Law and Politics. He made it clear that “The advantages of remaining in your chosen profession while venturing into politics are enormous. Principally you are shielded from the pressures associated with “do or die” politics. Your desire to serve by going into politics is continually reinforced as your professional practice as a lawyer remains intact while you participate in politics.”

B.A. stated at page 359 that on the attaining of silk “after the formative years, you must retain your focus”. He then went ahead to conclude on Lawyers delving into politics at page 360 to add that “In creating a balance, you must strive to ensure that your practice does not collapse as it should remain the main stay of livelihood. Any deviation from this may lead to regrets where your foray into politics does not yield much success as nothing is guaranteed. Your practice is your fallback position but it must remain your never-left position.”

CHAPTER 17: ARBITRATION
Mrs. Funke Adekoya, SAN commences this chapter of the book on with topic: My Passion for the Profession of Law. At page 363 with a very salient point on self –evaluation as being imperative for excellence in the legal profession. She stated and I quote:
“It is necessary for a lawyer who aims to achieve success to constantly review where he or she is on the career path, and to adjust as to may be necessary. Time management skills are vital for success in the legal field, more especially for women in the profession.”
Speaking further on the importance of planning in achieving excellence in the legal profession at page 364, the Learned Senior Advocate stated that “Once you have decided to pursue a particular career, it pays to have a career plan, which will guide you as you gain knowledge and exposure. Obviously life happens, and circumstances often arise to make you change the plan as you go along.

Writing on The Drive for Excellence, Babatunde Ajibade, SAN states at page 372 as follows:

“Excellent performance at the Bar is not only about an advocate’s forensic advocacy skills. It includes things such as comportment, manner of dress, ethics, demeanor, manner and mode of relating with colleagues, candor, honesty and an appreciation of the gravitas and dignity that is required to sustain the profession’s position in society. This is not to be confused with the arrogance, pompousness and the sheer rudeness that many Silks exhibited prior to taking the rank, which is then magnified many times over upon their attainment of the rank.”

On the topic, “The Journey to Arbitration” – Adesegun Ajibola, FCIArb elucidated on success at the bar at page 377 thus:

“Handwork is inevitably linked to success at Bar. I tried as much as possible to devote my time to almost everything that came my way professionally and after a while I began to pick and choose, but the experience I had gathered in the formative period of my time the Bar served me well.”

I recommend this book as a good read. It captures the personal experiences of leading experts in various fields of law such as Administrative and Constitutional Law, Banking and Finance Law, Environmental law, name it. The book is also very innovative as it contains key nuggets and principles needed by young and older lawyers who need to discover their path in the legal profession.

Ladies and gentlemen, my review of the book “THE TRAJECTORY OF EXCELLENCE IN LEGAL PRACTICE: INSIGHTS FROM LEGAL EXPERTS” is positive. It meets the test of academic and scholarly work. It is a positive contribution to learning.

Professor Fabian Ajogwu, SAN, FCIArb Lagos, December 3, 2019

fajogwu@lbs.edu.ng; fajogwu@kennapartners.com www.fabianajogwu.com