From Honeywell to the “Street” – The Tale of a Successful Lawyer

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Kayode Folajaiye Adeniji (aka Abraham Lincoln) belongs to the group of lawyers who inspire hope in the future of Legal Practice in Nigeria. In this exclusive interview with DNL Legal & Style, Kayode took through his goal as a practicing lawyer, his vision for legal practice in Nigeria  and his foray into corporate practice.

Excerpts:

May we meet you sir.

My name is Kayode Folajaiye Adeniji, I was born in Agege , Lagos. So, I am an Agege boy. I attended Saka Tinubu Primary School, Orile Agege, Lagos and then proceeded to State High School Oyewole, Mulero, Agege. I obtained my law degree from Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, Lagos.

When were you called to Bar?

I was called to bar in 2008.

You are the Principal Partner of Lawracles Law Firm, how did you come about the name?

 Lawracles is a compound word, meaning “Law Oracles” or “Oracles of Law”. I didn’t want the law business to carry my name, I wanted something or chamber that would outlast my existence. The name comes from the vision that anyone who is in love with the practice of law should be given a chance to do so without bullying or abuse by any senior colleagues. And that every lawyer working in this firm would be an oracle on a particular area of law and that the activities of this firm would not revolve around an individual, in spite of the fact that I am the chief responsibility officer.

How long has Lawracles LP been rendering legal services?

Since 2015.

What is the size of Lawracles LP Law in terms of staff strength, resources and clientele?

We have three lawyers in Lagos and one in Abuja. We have a practice manager who is supported by our IT manager and other administrative staff. So in all our staff strength is circa 8. We are small but we are growing.

I am aware that you recently left Honeywell Group as Legal Officer, what was the deciding factor?

 The deciding factor was Timing. I believe it was time for me to leave. I found myself doing the same thing, there was no more challenges no room for growth. You know I was in private practice before I joined Honeywell. My junior colleagues used to deride me that I ran into corporate practice because of the remuneration. Another junior saw me sitting behind the courtroom amongst litigants; representing my company while watching one of our external lawyers arguing, and he said after the proceedings,  “Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln is my nickname in school): why is it that most of you who were the best brains from our university are running away from practice to sit behind the courtroom while you watch  lawyers make this sort of submission?” I shrugged, and said to him, ‘timing’. People had high hopes for me because of my contributions during moot trials and debates back in the university but what they fail to realize is that I didn’t have any leverage as no one in my family is a lawyer. There was no help from anybody after finishing my studies. I just had to pick myself up and did whatever my hands could find and i took every opportunity on the way.

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In addition to that, I am a mentor to a lot of young people in my community. I would go to their schools to inspire them to greatness. What would be my testimony if I couldn’t pay for the JAMB and WAEC forms of some indigent protégés? This generation of youths is a very shallow generation and they will not listen to you if they don’t see material evidence that you are indeed successful. So since my father wasn’t a lawyer and I had no uncle or cousin or any family member whatsoever, I had to carry my own cross by taking every opportunity by joining the bandwagon. I spent the first year as a contract staff and the rest 4 years as a permanent staff; five years in all. I think it was time for me to leave and pursue greater things.

Would you consider that you took the right decision?

 Of course! Now I have the time to honour speaking engagements. Now I work very hard without anyone seeing me as over ambitious and getting threatened. Now I can work as a lawyer and touch lives at the same time. Nigeria will be a world power in my own lifetime being in private practice moves me closer to working towards that dream. Our clients are satisfied. Due to the fact that I had been in the corporate world, I know exactly what all our corporate clients want before they conclude their instructions to us in meetings. Leaving was not only a right decision, it was the best decision. There was so much talk about recession when I informed relatives fears were all unfounded. This profession is sweet if you have integrity and you are ready to work and apply yourself. The only slight regret I have is that I should have taken this decision to resign earlier but that would be ungrateful to God as that time I took the decision was the best time.

What are your immediate and future expectations from private legal practice?

Most of my immediate expectations have been dashed. For example, I am advising an investor on the proposed acquisition of a target company. Client sends me the litigation profile of the target and asks for my advice on possible timelines for concluding the matters. I couldn’t revert on definite timing, after considering the days the court would not sit without prior notice and the possible mischief of opposing parties. My future expectation is for there to be timeliness in our practice of law. We should respect time for Nigeria’s sake. You get to court and they tell you the court is not sitting. I have been asking myself for the past two years, what does that mean? After the announcement, you would see senior lawyers gladly approaching the registrar to take a date. While I was in corporate practice, I would ask for litigation reports from external lawyers. So when I see something that reads…we were in court on so so day, but unfortunately, the court did not sit.  Initially it didn’t bother me because I was dealing with other high profile commercial disputes at the same time. However, now that I am in private practice, I get upset almost everyday because I have collected money from clients with a promise to deliver at a particular time. This thing I’m talking about is making the new generation of lawyers lose respect for the judicial system and seniors in the profession. The question I keep asking is, “what is wrong with the black man?”.  Does this happen in the advanced world?

This is the reason the richest amongst us are not respected by the lowest in the developed world

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My immediate expectation from private practice is that the court would inform litigants and lawyers a day before court proceedings, if it would not sit.

In implementing the above, the court officials that are not IT compliant should be trained, retrained and those still not IT complaint after trainings should be retrenched. Some of the best Law School graduates should be employed to serve as judicial officers. Court officials must be on top of their game! We can no longer afford to be running the judicial system like NITEL or NEPA.

Companies or corporate clients should stop paying lawyers appearance fee!! I speak as a former corporate counsel and a private practitioner. Appearance fee makes most lawyers lazy. Legal fees should be structured in a way to reward quick resolution of matters.

These three things would make practice much more fulfilling. It is very discouraging and frustrating when my juniors come back from court to tell me court is not sitting. A nation of people with no respect for time will forever be slaves to other nations.

Now that you have spent 5 years in private legal practice, is there anything you miss from corporate practice?

 I cannot think of anything that I would miss except the people I worked with. We cracked a lot of jokes. Bonding with lovely people is very refreshing. While in corporate practice my desk was in an open office where we discuss new events and argue about how it affects us. But now I sit in a closed office. No time to discuss trending news again. Clients are coming in and going out. I have an oversight on everything, from legal opinion to documents going out of the firm. Life is more pensive in private practice e.g. paying salaries, hiring staff, dealing with different clients etc. However, in corporate practice, once you meet targets you can play- if you try to do extra they will label you as ‘over ambitious’. So I miss the jokes, small talks and mimicking of some funny characters within the organization.

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Would you consider it a wasted effort to have gone into corporate practice for the number of years you did?

I am not sure that the effort of a corporate counsel would be considered as a contribution to the development of the law. To that extent I think it could be a waste for anyone aspiring for something more than just being a General Counsel.

 However, when I think about the value for time and how some lawyers in private practice tardiness and lack of value for other people’s time, I think it is not a wasted effort in view of the decisions I have made as Head of Dispute Resolution management and other management decisions that I have influenced. All these decisions have time implications. Therefore, my time in corporate practice thought me the greatest resource is Time. We waste time more than we waste oil in Nigeria. Simple decisions that should be taking with few experts, some companies will be having a management meeting to take simple, no-brainer and straight forward decisions. It is frustrating! This is my major problem with Nigeria.

My time in corporate practice is not wasted because I had the opportunity to be a part of various decision-making processes in different sectors of the economy. E.g From oil & gas to hospitality, from civil engineering to oil servicing, from security to real property, from food and agro allied to telecommunication, from corporate fraud investigation to banking, from intellectual property to cyber law.  I was a part of an international arbitration from the beginning to the end. An average lawyer of my standing would still be looking for an opportunity to be a registrar to a tribunal. But I have digested bundles of Procedural Orders, legal arguments, expert testimonies, and partial and final awards. Above all, I have interacted with some of the best minds in this profession. I understand their strengths and weaknesses, so as to identify the virtues I need to imbibe and the bad habits I need to watch out for  in private practice. So you see, it wasn’t a wasted time after all.

 

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