Lawyers’ Brain Drain and The Story of Prof L Gower


By Temidayo Adewoye 

Elite law firms are now facing one big problem: exodus of lawyers from law firms to in-house roles and for greener pastures abroad. It is serious. I saw recently an advertisement from a recruiter for an acclaimed top-three law firm in Lagos, inviting applications for employment in nine areas of practice!

The exodus has a demography; 4-10 year post call. Foreign employers are dangling very juicy and irresistible offers and the pecks of working in more stable economies abroad. Those who do not have offers are taking the route of enrolment in LLM and MBA programmes as means of escape.  For instance, of the seven of us that served (NYSC) in my office in 2017, only two of us are technically left in Nigeria.

The disruption is changing work culture in law firms. In order to retain their talents, law firms are now giving more concessions than ever. Batons of leadership are being handed to younger lawyers to lead and manage the expectations of millennial lawyers (euphemism for those who can’t stay in a job for long) that they will now be training after the massive exodus.

Some are expanding their partnerships to give lawyers hope for their rise. Some have now made remote working a permanent policy. Partners are also descending from their exalted seats to manage their working relationships with younger lawyers.

Foreign opportunities are not the only problem; startups are coming to harvest good hands with offers that cause lawyers to rethink their future in law firms: triple competitive paycheck of what law firms offer; incredible remote working options; and very light work portfolios. The dilemma for law firms is that as they start to train new entrants, they are not sure their trainees will not “japa” (travel abroad).

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As the dynamics are changing, I can relate with the great opportunities now presented to those who stay behind. Scarcity of manpower drives bargain and so will value delivery continue to dictate conditions of service including salaries for fewer good hands who stay behind.

It is generally believed that no other “side hustles” can work with legal practice. That made so much sense years ago. Economic pressures and millennial tendencies are now blurring that reality. Lawyers are doing tech and law, real estates and law etc. Technology is making the arduous combinations easier than ever. With the opportunity for young lawyers to work remotely, we can only expect more smart hustles from lawyers.

Prof L. Gower, pioneer Dean of Law of Unilag, could be regarded as the father of company law. His CV was very intimidating. He decided to leave Nigeria in 1965 in the wake of Unilag leadership crisis. A writer wrote this of his exit: when Prof L. Gower left University of Lagos, there was only one person who could step into his giant shoes- Dr. T. O. Elias.

As the exodus continues, it is a wakeup call for those who stay to stand up to the challenge to fill up the gap left by brain drain.

Temidayo Adewoye MCIArb (UK) works with Perchstone & Graeys LP 


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