5 January 2013

Nigeria: A Crusader's Passion to Rebrand Legal Profession


"I am a born lawyer. I did not just study law, law flows in my blood." The above statement underscores the passion Mr. Daniel Chukwuemeka Okonkwo, a passionate upwardly mobile young lawyer exudes for the profession he describes as the most noble. In spite of his passion for the wig and gown, Daniel, Principal Partner of Daniels & Daniels Company, a corporate Law firm with a broad practice covering civil litigation (representing banks and other corporate persons), real estate consultancy, oil and gas, maritime, human rights advocacy, patent and trade mark registration, amongst others is sad that the profession he adores is not taking its pride of place among other professions.

Specifically, he is concerned about the negative image the profession has earned itself in recent times as ethics, especially with young lawyers has taken the back seat in the quest for quick riches. Crusading for increased responsibility on the part of juniors, Daniel is of the opinion that with improved welfare and remuneration by both clients and seniors a more professional law practice can be achieved.

His mission: "We want to change the face of the legal profession especially as it affects young lawyers. In the quest for quick wealth, ethics has been thrown to the dustbin. We want to rebrand the legal profession and make it easier for junior lawyers by incentivising the practice. We want to introduce novel ideas that will improve the lives and well being of lawyers and make the practice easier with less stress. Legal practice in Nigeria is difficult and very challenging.

"We want to make practice more fun so that those coming in newly won't consider the profession boring and financially unrewarding thereby checking the rate at which lawyers dump the profession for other more lucrative alternatives. We also want to change the public perception of lawyers as poor and sensitise them on the versatility of lawyers," he said.

To achieve these noble objectives, Daniel through his company, Lakewoodholmes International, is unfolding an initiative with an auto dealer that would see young lawyers who pay their dues with Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), own brand new cars on a condition that would be convenient and affordable. "This will no doubt step up their brand values. It's not good for a lawyer to go to court with his wigs, gowns and files in a molue bus. It diminishes the value and worth of the lawyer," he said.

Other novel initiative Daniel is bringing to the table is the publication of specialised magazine for lawyers and by lawyers. Outstanding Achievements in Law (OAL Magazine), he said was conceived as a wide and multi-faceted project, with major objective to celebrate success in the legal profession. "It was articulated with the view of bringing lawyers together irrespective of vocation, location, race, sex and social. These lawyers need a platform to showcase what they do and how they are influencing and changing their world or environments. OAL is therefore a platform exclusively dedicated to lawyers to enable them show to the world what they are doing or have done for humanity in their sphere of contact," he stated.

OAL, he said would equally celebrate the achievements of some very outstanding senior members of the Bar (both dead and alive) who have contributed immensely to the development of the law profession both within and outside Nigeria. OAL will give them a platform to share their thoughts and inspirations with the aim of moving the profession forward in view of the issues that bedevil the profession lately.

His company would also organise workshops to address such issues as self-empowerment, financial planning, human relations, personal health and hygiene, investment and asset acquisition and management especially as they affect young lawyers. There will also be workshops for senior lawyers on issues such as advanced law, office management, investment planning, family and personal health (including how to manage stress, relax and have fun while at work) among many other topical issues. The first of the workshop comes up first quarter of 2013.

"Another interesting and novel area we would go into is red-carpet events, cocktails and awards. It's so sad that lawyers are becoming increasingly disconnected from social life even when most entertainers' home and abroad are lawyers. OAL will introduce entertainment and make it part of a lawyer's lifestyle. The award segment will feature a range of categories aimed at enlivening the profession to check the rate at which some of them jettison their wig and gown for more financially rewarding professions. Lawyers who are into entertainment like movies, music, comedy amongst others will be engaged actively in this respect," Daniel said.

Events, occasions and parties are other aspects OAL promises to excite its audience. This segment would focus on social events and occasions involving lawyers, including weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, house warming, book launchings, conferences, valedictory ceremonies, call to Bars, burials among others. "We recognise the exclusivity and unique taste of lawyers, therefore it can only take lawyers to know what lawyers deserve: the best. In this regard, wherever and whenever any lawyer is celebrating, OAL will be there to give that occasion a world-class coverage. This means that lawyers can now boast of a medium of their own through which the world can see and hear them whenever they celebrate. OAL is for lawyers and by lawyers so the celebration is better done by us for our own because we understand each other better." he enthused.

"OAL also tackles issues that are germane to lawyers and the general public. There are issues, which arise from the legal profession, which people are really concerned about. For example in recent times the judiciary has come under public scrutiny over the way and manner Judges hand down judgments example on a petty thief who stole $500 and a political thief who stole N16 billion. OAL will focus on public enlightenment in order that this kind of misconception would be sufficiently addressed to restore public confidence in the Judiciary.

"OAL would further seek to address the challenge of poverty and impoverishment of lawyers which arise from under-appreciation and under-payment by clients. Cases where a lawyer is paid peanuts for briefs and the "If you won't accept I'll give it to another lawyer after all there are many lawyers out there begging for briefs" attitude is unacceptable and an insult to the legal profession."

The magazine, Daniel further said, would also advocate for the right of lawyers to advertise their services. He noted that lawyers in this clime are not allowed to advertise and this has cost lawyers fortunes as many of them are out there in the dark without a meeting point for them and clients. "So you find out that there is a big disconnect between lawyers and clients. This disconnect is what OAL seeks to bridge. OAL will vigorously campaign for the lifting of the ban on legal services advertising. OAL will equally bring the clients to the lawyers by creating a meeting point for client-lawyer interface." Daniel assured.

Besides the magazine project, Daniel said his company has concluded arrangement with both TV and radio stations for a nationwide sensitisation campaign to address public perception of lawyers, which currently is on a downward trend as not doing so would spell doom for the profession. Prominent lawyers drawn from all walks of life will be interviewed on topical legal issues and aired weekly. Currently some lawyers find it difficult to compete with their peers in other professions like Medicine, Accountancy, Engineering, and Banking in terms of social status and rating.

To achieve massive following for these innovative projects, Daniel said they intend to deploy other media including below the line and digital to drive home to the relevance, indispensability and importance of a lawyer in every aspect of human endeavour. Stickers, flyers, booklets, facebook, twitter, blog amongst other are tools OAL would deploy in campaigning for the appreciation of lawyers by people. With about 70,000 lawyers to serve over 160 million people there is indeed a huge potential for the legal business. We believe by the time we are done lawyers will take their pride of place with proper remuneration in Nigeria.

Called to Bar in 2004 having qualified from the Nigerian Law School, Lagos campus, Victoria Island and after the one year mandatory National Youth Service Corps assignment with Yobe State Ministry of Justice, Damaturu, he practiced in a number of reputable Law firms both in the North, South East and South West where he sharpen his legal teethe. Among the big names in the legal profession he worked for were Professor Ben O. Nwabueze (SAN) of Ben Nwabueze & CO, a world-renown constitutional law authority and former education minister.

He was retained in 2007 as one of the External Solicitors to Bank PHB PLC (now Keystone bank Ltd) representing the bank in many court matters in the High Court and at the Lagos Multi Door Courthouse. In addition, he worked as the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser to Mabanol Oil&Gas Nigeria Limited, a multi-national oil company and subsidiary of Maquald & Bahls Gmbh.

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