Can we meet you Sir?
My name is Nosa Aguebor. I was called to the Nigerian Bar in May, 2008 after passing the Bar examinations with a Second Class Honours (Upper Division). I hold an LL.M (with Distinction) in International Trade Law from Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Prior to taking up studies for the LL.M, I worked with the law firm of Ferd Orbih & Co, Nigeria as an associate counsel, the Ogun State Government of Nigeria as a legislative and as a Legal Assistant with African Export-Import Bank (“Afreximbank”). After the LL.M programme, I again took up a 6-month graduate-internship position with Afreximbank, during which I participated in the negotiations, documentation and provision of advisory services in relation to diverse trade and project finance transactions. The time I spent at Afreximbank, amongst other factors, played a critical role in forming my decision around what I currently do.
Until recently, I was a senior associate and Head of the Banking and Finance Practice Group at G. Elias & Co, Lagos, a top-tier Nigerian full-service business law firm. It was at G. Elias & Co., I mostly cut my legal teeth as I advised on and led my firm’s teams on several local and cross-border corporate and finance deals for financial institutions and other corporates across various sectors. In my last 3 years at G. Elias & Co., I was seconded to Africa Finance Corporation (“AFC”), a multilateral development financial institution with a focus on financing private and public sector infrastructure projects across Africa, as a Legal Consultant. I joined AFC on a full-time basis in October 2019. I continue to be involved in AFC’s mandate to develop Africa’s infrastructure by providing legal advice, among others, on some of AFC’s large and significant debt and equity financing to projects and infrastructure transactions across Africa. In the course of my career, I have spent time straddling various practice areas ranging from between Finance, Litigation, Capital Markets, Mergers and Acquisitions.
As an experienced Legal Practitioner, what values do you suggest undergraduates and young Lawyers to acquire?
A young lawyer who plans to succeed as a legal practitioner must critically be hard-working as the legal profession is not one where you can afford to sit back and expect a lot to come to you. As a matter of rule with many serious law firms, the reward for good and hard work is always more work and the more work you do, the more exposure you get to various aspects of your employer’s work, business or practice areas. Hence, you must first be hardworking and in addition, possess a high level of integrity which people can vouch for at any time. It is of utmost importance that your integrity and character remains intact amongst your friends, family members’ colleagues and everyone around, as this would usually form the basis upon which you will be tasked with significant and notable assignments as you progress.
You also need a strong sense of awareness. Even if you cannot , at the very beginning, fully ascertain what you want to do long term yet, you should as much as is possible broadly be able to say how you want your career to pan out with time so that you are not moved by every wind that passes with time. Dream big and ensure you are willing to follow these dreams as much as time and chance permit. Importantly, seek mentors online and offline and seek advice as you go ahead. Learn to network and seek to grow your network in terms of quality across various sectors – as you grow professionally, you will begin to realize that hard work is not always enough – you also need the right circle. Make good use of the internet – the internet never forgets – accordingly make positive use of the internet. Also note that in your career, there will be two major phases – the learning and the earning phases – in the learning phases, you are most likely to feel like you are working far harder than you earn but as time progresses and you become more proficient at what you do and grow professionally, you tend to feel like you earn either at the same level as you work or more than you work
What influenced the choice in your current areas of specialization?
As mentioned earlier very early in my career, I straddled broadly between Litigation and Corporate/commercial practice. Prior to these however, I had spent some time at Afrexim bank where I had my first real exposure to cross-border banking and finance work. I spent my first year post-NYSC basically litigating but I did not enjoy it despite being an excellent litigator, if I may say so myself. I found the court processes rather slow and I could barely achieve much over time. This made me gravitate much later in my career to corporate/commercial work mostly banking and finance and capital markets work. I was also lucky to have been at G. Elias and Co., a full-service business law firm – this helped me have a full view of various practice areas. After straddling these areas over time, I found myself showing plenty of interest in and enjoying Finance and Projects work generally.
In truth, I also found out that these areas, apart from having huge and tangible development impact on countries; economies and people could also be deeply personally gratifying for practitioners in those areas. As much as is possible, your passion should also translate into personal satisfaction. More critically however, God’s leading also helped me make the right decisions at various points.
What are some major challenges you have faced during your years of practice and how were you able to overcome them?
Very early in my career, I encountered the twin issues many young lawyers face till today – low remuneration and lack of clarity around career progression. Sadly, apart from the top-tier law firms, most other firms do not have clear a cut career progression. I was able to surmount this by not staying so long enduring that situation and deciding to seek better opportunities, further education and focus on opportunities that suited my long-term career plans. I always say that “no man is a tree and where things are not working for you at a place, you should begin to seek opportunities elsewhere”.
Knowing or having a fair idea of what you want to achieve helps you identify the good and bad while also helping you make decisions at different points of your career.
Having the right mentors and supervisors from very early in your career would help in guiding you aright. In my career, I have been blessed with fantastic mentors and bosses, such as Dr. Elombi who is an Executive Vice President at Afrexim bank, Professor Elias, the senior partner at G. Elias and Co. and more recently, Ms. Eshun, the General Counsel at AFC. Their steer at various stages in my career have made me a better lawyer and professional.
As an undergraduate did you engage in extra- curricular activities? If yes, how were you able to handle them alongside your academics?
I engaged heavily in extracurricular activities. I played politics actively throughout my stay in university, which was something my father (of blessed memory) has reservations about. He realized over time, that I loved politics as I am generally passionate about making a change for the public good. I suspect that much later in the future I would be inclined to take up roles in government that will enable me provide qualitative service to the nation. Generally I played politics a lot in University and in my free time these days, I also spend time discussing politics.
We realized you worked with G. Elias & Co for a number of years before being an In House Counsel, would you advice young lawyers to start in a Law Firm before going for In House jobs or vice versa?
I will advise that you are able to determine early enough what you want to do long term and pursue that actively. We find that some lawyers or law graduates decide not to practice Law and determine to do other things such as investment banking or business and many of them have excelled at it. If this is your choice, then feel free to do pursue those career paths.
However, if you have not been able to decide on your career path post Law school or post University (which is the case with most young lawyers), my advice is that you join a decent law firm with varying practice areas as soon as possible. By doing this you get involved in several areas of the law and with time, you would be able to discover your area of interest, many times within 3-5 years.
The truth is, it is easier to leave a law firm and go in-house, work with the government, work as a lecturer, as a Judge or Magistrate than leaving these paths to join a law firm, as law firms tend to be expose you more broadly initially. To get into and remain in a decent firm, you should strive to make good grades and be diligent, because the level of competition is stiff. You also need to seek mentors who you can speak to about your career plans; there is no trite rule that bounds you to follow the advice of your mentors hook, line and sinker, the ball is in your court to make the final decision.
What skills set do you suggest undergraduates and young graduates to leverage on in a times like this?
Integrity, Hard work and your Networking skills are needed. For undergraduates, you need to work hard to make good grades at the University and Law school. For young lawyers, you need to have the ability to multitask and balance work with your family and other aspects of your life. This is very important for your growth career wise.
Also, be courageous and take calculated risk. Be willing to persevere despite the challenges along the line. You must realize that the work you do is not just for your employer but more for your personal professional development for the future. Lastly, be sure of what you want and pursue it aggressively.
Most law graduates desire employment in top tier law firms but we know that these firms cannot accommodate them all; what is your advice to those who are unable to get jobs in these firms?
Around 5000 called to the Bar every year and there are limited spaces in the top and mid-tier law firms. First of all, work hard to get good grades as this would improve your chances of being considered for roles in these firms. If this does not happen, do not despair – it is not the end of the world. Remain focused on your convictions as to what you want for yourself, seek opportunities elsewhere and remain guided by the virtues of hard work and integrity and before long, the right opportunities will find you.
Do Internships help undergraduate students and young Lawyers know the area of law thy want to specialize in?
Yes, please do intern with firms and corporates covering with various practice areas. It exposes you to several areas of practice and helps your decision making on your preferred career path much later. Internships are also a good way to help you with finding employment when the need arises.
What is your advice to undergraduates and young graduates in the legal profession today?
Seek opportunities, look out for them, work hard, trust your GOD and keep your integrity intact.
You also have to be innovative, learn to network and communicate with people around you.