- Can we meet you sir?
I am Ugochukwu Obi, a Partner at Perchstone and Graeys, a leading law firm in Nigeria. I am a Graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2004. Before joining Perchstone and Graeys in April 2015, I had worked in the banking industry for about nine years. I obtained my Masters in Oil and Gas law at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. After concluding my masters mid-2009, I returned to work in the banking sector in Nigeria. I am married with three children.
2. How did working as an in- house counsel develop your legal career?
The experience garnered from working as an In-house counsel in the banking sector was the strength of my recruitment by Perchstone & Graeys in 2015. Upon recruitment, the firm had a big project they were working on for two commercial banks in Nigeria on loan documentation. I utilized my banking experience in advising our clients on these projects.
Moving forward, banking and technology work together in terms of technological change in the banking sector. An opportunity came up in my law firm at the time I joined. My law firm being very innovative and dynamic, the Managing-Partner of the firm asked that we should develop the technology practice of the firm. I owned up to that challenge and begun developing that area of practice in the firm. In furtherance of my passion to grow this area of practice, my firm sent me to India on a secondment programme at one of the top Indian law firms. I spent close to three months working at different offices of the Indian firm. The knowledge and experience I garnered at the firm helped me to develop and quickly grow the technology practice area of the firm. I can boldly say that we are one of the leading law firms in Nigeria as regards technology law practice. Since 2015, we have handled several major technology transactions that cut across banking, agriculture, e-commerce, and other sectors that require technology.
3. How did you successfully transit into Banking Practice considering your academic degree in oil and gas?
Before going for my masters, I had already started working in the banking sector but what propelled my passion and interest in the oil and gas sector were two things. Firstly, during my undergraduate’ days, I studied oil and gas law as an elective course, although it was called energy law in my faculty. I developed the interest at this stage. The second thing was when I graduated from the University, the Nigerian oil and gas sector was thriving. I intended to build a career in that sector, but it did not work out the way I had intended. I ended working in the banking sector. However, I am proud of the knowledge I have in the oil and gas sector which has assisted me in advising oil and gas clients in credit financing.
4. There are students and young lawyers who intend to travel out of the country to further their studies. Do you advice lawyers to gain little experience before fathering their studies?
I will advise young lawyers not to be in a hurry, strive to gain experience from working in-house or in a law firm. The experience (despite how little it may seem) will assist you in your further studies whether locally or abroad. My experience handling lending transactions to oil and gas servicing companies at the Bank afforded me a practical insight into the operations of oil and gas industry and helped me effectively handle oil and gas transactions as a lawyer.
5. You have worked with banks and you are currently a partner with one of the top law firms in Nigeria. What are some of the conditions to be considered by young wigs in choosing a place of work?
I will advise that Lawyers decide between working as an In-house lawyer or in a law firm. For an in-house legal counsel, certain factors should be considered. First, the skills needed in that sector. For example; in the area of banking, if you are an in-house lawyer in the bank, you need to have a general knowledge of the operations of the bank and that general knowledge does not end in the legal aspect of it so, you may be able to advise the bank management properly when issues come up. Second, your passion and interest need to be considered. For instance, working as an in-house counsel may sometimes become monotonous for you as you will find yourself doing the same thing repeatedly. You need to consider whether being an in-house counsel is something you will find satisfaction in doing.
In working with a law firm, there are two things you need to consider. You need to consider a firm that is into both litigation and commercial law practice. I will use my firm as an example. At P and G, we expose new entry Associates to the litigation and corporate aspects of the law. So, in your first two or three years, you will be allowed to go to court and also involved in the soliciting aspect of the law. Concerning the soliciting aspect of the practice, you will be placed on a rotational basis. So if I am a young lawyer who wants to start his/her career in a law firm, I will look for a firm like Perchstone and Graeys because it will give you an opportunity and platform to choose whether to specialize as a litigator or a commercial lawyer.
6. A young lawyer should indeed have an experience of both litigation and corporate-commercial. But then we know that the law school turns out over 5000 students yearly and usually, it is very difficult for young lawyers to get into a primary place of assignment and at the end of the day, they just settle down for what they get. How can one balance this interest with top law firms like yours that place more premium on a degree grade than getting a job in a firm in the first two to three years of my career?
The legal labour market today is very competitive. I advise law undergraduates and graduates is to study hard and strive to graduate with at least a second-class upper division from the University. Although I am not an advocate of grades considering the nature of the legal profession; I know of graduates with 2:2 who have excelled than those who graduated with 2:1. However, due to the competition in the labour market, more emphasis has been placed on having good grades from school. At least you should strive for a second-class upper division. If you are not privileged to get into the top law firms, you can start with any traditional law firm and acquire the litigation experience which will help break into the top law firms. It happens frequently in Perchstone and Graeys. We recruit some counsel as litigators because of their experience and, they have distinguished themselves in that aspect. Immediately they are employed, we acquaint them with the soliciting aspects of the practice and the result over the years is that they perform better because they apply legal principles from cases into the commercial aspect of the law. For example; as a commercial lawyer you may be advising a client on an employment issue. Before now, in terms of employment issues, the position was that an employer has the right to hire and fire without any reason, but now the position of the National Industrial Court is that as an employer you can terminate an employment contract but you have to give a valid reason. So, if I am a litigator and I also intend to delve into commercial practice, that experience will enable me advice my client in a more professional manner.
7. Kindly share part of your experience in the university and the decisions that you made as an undergraduate that affected your success in the Legal Industry.
I had interesting days as an Undergraduate. I say so because I was an intelligent student. The most interesting moment for me was my second year, I think the first semester. I was adjudged the best student in contract law and gained public recognition among my colleagues. This motivated me to maintain the standard throughout my remaining years at the university.
Also, I participated in social activities at the University and did not hoard knowledge. I taught my colleagues on several occasions.
In terms of what assisted me in my legal career of today, I will say that the best decision I made was after my call to the bar. I told myself that I must have a blend of in-house and legal practice. I worked as an In-house counsel and with God’s favour and grace, I secured a job (immediately after the completion of the N.Y.S.C programme) with a commercial bank. So having worked for 9 years in the banking industry, I realized that I have had enough knowledge and experience and I needed to do something more challenging. So, I ventured into law practice. My decision paid off and I am immensely proud to say that I work at one of the best commercial law firms in Lagos.
Diverse Law Team
- Philips Adekemi- Founding Partner, Diverse Law
- Barnabas Madoghwe- President, Legal Personality Committee
- Mosopeoluwa Tolani- Member, Legal Personality Committee
- Damilola Fadeyibi- Member, Legal Personality Committee