Hi friends, I hope you’re staying safe and healthy. Remember to stay at home, if possible.
My name is Gomiluk Otokwala. You can call me Gomi. I am currently a Senior Counsel at the IMF in Washington, DC. I graduated from UNN in 2007 and the Nigerian Law School the next year. I joined Aluko & Oyebode after law school before proceeding to Harvard Law School for my LLM. After the program I took the New York bar exam and was later admitted to the bar in NY. Before joining the IMF, I worked for a law firm in Washington DC, directly after my LLM. While at the firm, I got an opportunity to return to Nigeria to work in the office of the DG of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). I later returned to Washington to join the IMF. As Philips and Mary have said about me, I graduated with first class at UNN and the Nigerian Law School — best graduating law student at UNN, and second overall best in my law school set. In fact, in my law school set, I found out I was the only one with double first class. It was my dream to graduate with those results and I was so excited to see my dream come true. But I didn’t stop there because you have to keep going. I’m from Rivers State and am happily married with two kids. So please feel free to ask any additional questions that can help your careers. I hope this inspires you to pursue your goals without giving up.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWER SESSION
- Is a master’s degree highly important in working with top institutions like IMF? (Ayo from OAU)
- Yes, a master’s degree in law is required to work as a counsel at the IMF and many international organizations that I am familiar with. They tend to require, as a minimum, a master’s degree or a JD degree, which is the American first degree in law. The JD, however, is a graduate-level degree (“postgraduate” degree, as we say in Nigeria).
- Note that the required master’s degree does not have to be from a US or UK university. I imagine it helps to attend a good, well-known school.
- Hi Gomiluk, did your sterling academic performances in University and Law School help in securing you a role at IMF? (Simeon from UNN)
- Thanks for the compliments.
- Grades help in many ways, especially at the beginning of one’s career. Good grades tend to be particularly important in helping you secure your first job. Of course, a good start can take you a long way.
- However, if your grades are not what you hoped for, that should not stop you. You may just need to do a little more to prove yourself. At some point, your grades matter much less. Diligence pays in the long term.
- Did my university grades help me get into the IMF? I don’t know, to be frank, but the grades are on my resume/CV – so whoever reviewed my resume may have formed an opinion that takes the grades into account.
- To be clear, my grades helped me secure the first job. I was hired by Aluko & Oyebode based primarily on being the best graduating law student in my set at UNN. The firm awards a scholarship to the best law students at UNN, UNILAG and ABU, and generally offers each awardee a job as an associate.
- I encourage people who are still in school to do their best to earn the best grade they can – aim for a first class always. If it doesn’t happen, that should not stop you from pursuing your dreams
- I would love to understand how you were able to navigate law school and come out with a first class during your time? (Markanthony Ezeudo, Nigerian Law School)
- As noted above, good grades can open doors or make your life easier, especially at the start of your career. If you are still in school, it is never too late to enhance your chances of making better grades, so now is the time to work for it.
- These are some ideas to consider, based on my experience:
- Start early. Some students wait until exams are around the corner before they start to prepare seriously. Some say they work best under pressure. That can be an excuse for laziness. Trying to learn a lot in a short time is a risky formula. And it is not sustainable. Ideally you want to give yourself a lot of time to become fully familiar with the material.
- Summarize your course material. For each subject, there are often many different materials — statutes, cases, rules of court, various textbooks, “handouts” and others. For each topic, try to synthesize information from all available sources, in a format that helps YOU understand and remember. Don’t rely on someone else’s summary, unless you can adapt it for your own use after reading the primary sources. In my time, I spent the chambers and court attachments summarizing the course materials and adding memory aids when possible.
- Prepare for each class. Students often go to class to hear the lecturer talk and then read later. It is best if you study the topic in advance, attend class, and then read again.
- Discuss the material. I found that having to talk about the course material helped me learn and remember it better. Find a way to “teach” a classmate or more. It is best if everyone has read the topic in advance and shows up with good questions or can chip in if you’re missing something. If you do this with someone who is not serious, that may only drag you backwards. During the two attachments, I had an arrangement like this with a classmate from uni. We took turns to teach each other. Back in uni, I had a serious “discussion group” and we all graduated with better grades than might have been possible studying alone.
- Keep in touch with other campuses. Because NLS has many campuses with different lecturers, yet all students take the same exams, it is important to know what your classmates on other campuses are learning. I stayed fully in touch (not just during exam season), with my friends and classmates on other campuses. I was in Abuja and made sure we were not left behind compared to Kano, Enugu and Lagos students. There were four campuses at the time.
- Practice past questions. This is always important, regardless of the exams. Make sure to start early; don’t wait till exams are near.
- Cover the syllabus a few times. This helps to retain information better instead of “cramming” just for exams and running the risk of forgetting in the exam hall. Because I summarized a lot of my materials, covering an entire course a few times was easier.
- Learn how to answer questions. Follow closely the instruction of your lecturers on how to present your answers. It is very important. Write in clear, short sentences.
- Set your eyes on the peak and believe that you can. The hard work may not pay off if you do not have the ambition to succeed. I recommend aiming for the peak, a first class grade. If you aim for a 2’1, there is a chance you could slip even further. Aim for the highest score on every subject and tell yourself it is within YOUR reach.
- What skill set should I have as a Lawyer who intends to practice international law? (Lauretta from Babcock)
These are some ideas in terms what you should be doing:
First, it is important to read a lot, from a broad range of sources. Don’t read only for exams, and don’t stop reading just because you have graduated. Follow international and local news; read history; follow developments in science and technology, politics, culture, the global economy. Be versatile.
- Be curious. Don’t miss an opportunity to learn something new. If you hear about the Second World War, ask yourself what caused it. Google it.
- Get a good education, the best you can find. The knowledge and exposure will come in handy many, many times.
- Develop your writing skills. You need to be great at written communication. To achieve this, read good pieces of writing from reputable journals and newspapers, novels, biographies etc.
- Develop your analytical skills.
- Develop your personal relationship skills. Emotional intelligence is important in this area.
- My friends in UK and US informed me that the legal markets are quite tight, and that securing a job as an Attorney is quite hard. Do you agree with this and what can I do to overcome this challenge? (Chioma from Nigerian Law School, Enugu Campus.)
- This is somewhat true but should not discourage you. It is only a challenge that you can overcome. Nothing good comes easy anyway.
- The challenge is that you have to try to qualify first in the foreign jurisdiction. Once you pass that hurdle, you prepare for the next challenge. A lot of people I know have done it. I know Nigerians, who received their LL.B degrees in Nigeria—and they’re now partners at the biggest law firms in the world.
- I encourage people who go abroad for further studies to choose well known, highly regarded schools. That helps you as a foreigner trying to find a job.
- I must confess I admire your profile. In employing lawyers, do foreign institutions and law firms place emphasis on grades from Universities or do they consider experience? (Ekenne from IMSU)
- Thank you.
- Every aspect of a candidate’s profile matters. Your grades, your experience, publications, interests and hobbies. It’s a total package.
- So, the short answer is that your grades and experience are important, in addition to the other things.
- I am a young lawyer in Nigeria, and I aspire to work in IMF or World Bank someday what should I start doing now? (Francis from UNIZIK)
- Excellent question. These are some suggestions:
- First, make sure you are performing well on the job at the moment (if you have a job already). Experience is important. Do your best to meet deadlines. Volunteer for additional work, if you can—don’t do the bare minimum. Develop a great relationship with your bosses and colleagues—they may need to recommend you. And build a good reputation among your clients and professional colleagues.
- Develop important skills (See #4 above). One is writing. Clear written communication will take you far. To learn this, you have to read a lot of well-written materials, not just law-related ones. I recommend The Economist, New Yorker, New York Times, The Guardian (UK). Find well known local authors you admire. Chinua Achebe is one of my favorites.
- Plan to do your master’s degree, if you haven’t. It is required. And aim to go to a good school.
- Learn a language. You can start studying French or Spanish on your phone. It is not required but this can help broaden your perspective and help you stand out.
- Continue to build a network. That’s how you get information and opportunities.
- Was there any career setback you faced which later turned out as an advantage for you? (Ajibola from Bowen)
- Thanks, Ajibola. That is a good question. Setbacks are a part of life.
- In my case, I have not suffered any major career setback, thankfully. But I have not always ended up where I wanted to be.
- After my LLM, I wanted to work for a top law firm in New York. However, because I graduated in 2010, firms were not really hiring because of the financial crisis.
- A mentor put me in touch with a law firm in Washington, DC. I was hired and moved to Washington.
- I fell in love with the city and became more familiar with the World Bank and the IMF. I eventually ended up at the IMF where I have been for the last seven years. My path might have been different if I had not come to Washington at that time.
- Also, although I have always been employed, this doesn’t mean I have been hired every time I applied. After my LLM, I applied for a lot of jobs and wasn’t hired; sometimes, I didn’t even hear back. I had some interviews too with large multinational companies and one international organization that didn’t work out. But right now, I can’t imagine being anywhere better in my career.
- How have you leveraged on technology in your role in the IMF? (Ajibola from Bowen)
- Technology is at the core of how the world functions.
- As you may know, much of the world is locked down at the moment. My IMF colleagues and I have been working from home for the last two weeks because of the Covid-9 pandemic. Yet the IMF is still fully functional because of tech.
- What personal attributes did you inculcate in achieving this great feat as a Lawyer? (Ajibola from Bowen)
- Thank you. In answering one of the questions above, I made some suggestions in terms of what one can do beginning now (see #4).
- One of them is to develop good relationships. I am always working on this. As you know, your reputation is very important.
- I have always refused to just settle. I believe that life is about making progress.
- Do your best in treating people well. Respecting others is important for professional success.
- Do your best even when no one is watching. Developing a culture of excellence will always pay off.
- Do more than is required. Go the extra mile. Doing the bare minimum will not help you in competing globally. In university, I went the extra mile of reading cases from the actual law reports, and summarizing them with appropriate headings. Many of my classmates used these case notes but there’s a difference between the person who read the primary material and the one who only read the summary. Going the extra mile helps you see how things are connected to one another and makes you more reliable.
- What motivates you as an international lawyer and a senior counsel at IMF (Ajibola from Bowen)
- Thank you. I’d like to mention a few, and this is not an exhaustive list.
- One is the desire to help make the world a better place through my work. I have always borne this in mind when making career choices.
- Two is the understanding that I can be a source of inspiration for others, especially people from disadvantaged communities who doubt their ability to achieve their dreams, or to even dream at all.
- Three – and this is the most important – my family. I think of success as a responsibility you owe both to yourself and to the people who invest in you, pray for you and look up to you. I’m using family in a broad sense. As a Christian, I believe that God has given us talents and expects us to apply them to improve the world, to make life better for ourselves, for others and for future generations.
- I was called to the Bar last year and greatly desire to work with international law firms such as Hogan Lovels, White and Case, Clifford Chance what should I do to make this aim come true? (John, a Kenya-based attorney)
- As noted above, do your best wherever you are at the moment. Let’s say you are an associate at a law firm, build a reputation for excellence among your colleagues (including bosses) and clients.
- Continue to build your network. This is a topic on its own. One way to think about it is this: continue to add to the list of people who can speak for you and can count on you for support.
- If you’re still at home, plan to go abroad (basically Europe or the US) for your LLM or foreign law degree. Try to go choose reputable schools.
- What International organisations do you recommend I join, and Courses I should take in developing my passion for International law? (Mary, C0-founder Diverse Law)
- It is not clear to me what international organizations you have in mind.
- In terms of courses, I recommend the EDx platform. There are many free courses.
- Try to look into attending the Hague Academy of International Law. The summer program is a good place to meet other professionals across the world who share your passion for international law.
- I recommend you consider learning a language. For example, you can download the Duolingo app and start learning French or Spanish.
You can email me when you begin to consider particular courses on the EDx or similar platform.
- Good evening Sir. My name is Solafunmi. Thank you for the beautiful answers. My question deals with the path to having a successful career in International Law. Most of the stories I’ve come across as relating to working in international organizations are that you have to be recommended. My first question is on how you got in. And my follow up question is what do you need to have, what do you need to study to be able to work in that organization? Let’s say, the ICJ.
- First, about being recommended, that is not true. I applied and I was invited to interviews
- The second question is addressed in my written answers attached. But yes try to study courses that show where you’re trying to go in your career. International law is very important if you’re interested in this area
- Good day Mr Gomiluk and hello everyone. My name is Chijioke I’m a final year law Student. So I’m currently offering Public International Law as an elective, this is in response to my interest in International law. However, I also have an avid interest in IP/Tech law. My question is what are the opportunities available in the international community for a person like me. This is owing to the fact that IP isn’t really an international concern.
- Hi Chijioke, there are international opportunities in In IP internationally. It’s mostly national, no doubt. But there are fora like INTA that try to create opportunities for countries to work together on IP protection.
- Counterfeiting is a global problem and calls for global solutions.
- Welcome Gomi. Thanks for honoring our invitation. My question is this, is it a must a person study at the Ivy league schools to get to work in top organizations in the world?
- Thanks, Mary. The short answer is NO. Not at all.
- The longer answer is: try to attend a school that is well -known if you want to study abroad. Find a good school in the area of your interest. In the US, there are huge advantages you enjoy by being an alumnus of big-name schools. The alumni network is a major one. So, while the school doesn’t have to be Ivy League, it should not be a little known school that costs as much.
- Find the best school you can. When I applied for the LLM program, I googled top 10 law schools in the world. I applied to the top 4.
- The idea is to make your chances better especially since you’re coming from Nigeria. Does that answer the question?
- Sir, how about the relevance of tech law globally?? Are there opportunities globally for tech law enthusiasts??
- Hi Chijioke, thanks. It is an evolving but highly relevant area. I’m not an expert but as far as I can tell, most of the International opportunities are in consulting and academia. It’s not a traditional area covered by current international organizations.
- But the World Bank and I believe the UN are expanding rapidly in areas like. The IMF now also has a growing interesting in Fintech so yes there are opportunities. And there will be more in the coming years
- Secondly, this question is more personal, I hope you don’t mind. Please I’ll like to know what made you decide to stay abroad. To decide to live Nigeria to relocate to Washington. This is owing to the current dilemma young professionals(lawyers) face, of either deciding to stay home or relocate abroad.
- Thanks, Chijioke. For me, I didn’t try to leave Nigeria. As you can see in my introduction above, after my LLM and working a bit here in Washington, I returned to Nigeria. I have always followed opportunities.
- Are there internship opportunities for Nigerian students at IMF?
- Yes, the IMF has internship opportunities every year for students. I’ll share the link with you.
- Sir, please are there current internship. Opportunities for young law students in the IMF?
There is an annual internship program. I’ll share the link with Mary and Philips so they can post here. And you can share more widely.
- Obtaining foreign degree is highly expensive, kindly advise on how people from not too strong financial background can utilize?
- Hi Philips, that’s a good question. Many schools in the US offer scholarships. NYU (www.law.nyu.edu) tends to give full scholarship to its LLM students. I know a few who didn’t have to pay anything. Harvard also gives a lot of scholarships
- Good evening sir. My name is Deborah Marshall. My question is related to the process of being a legal practitioner in a foreign country. Sir what are the process to take if one is to become a lawyer in the US as a foreign national…and would international law be a section more preferable for such an individual.
- Hi Deborah, yes international law is a course I always recommend. Always. But it is not always mandatory.
- How to become a lawyer abroad. It depends on the country. In the US, you take the bar exam depending on the state. New York allows you to take the bar simply based on your LLB degree from a common law country
- How can a practicing lawyer transit to pursuing a career in public policy particularly with international organizations like the World Bank?
- It’s basically by applying. I was practising before joining SEC and later moving to the IMF. When we hire at the IMF, we ask for experience working in private practice, government or other intl organizations
- Of course you need to be interested. And what we do at the IMF is law and policy, not just policy. Public International law, international financial law etc
- In your view what’s the major criterion in securing a scholarship; grades, experience or both?
Grades can be useful in this area, yes. Cambridge and Oxford do have scholarships that tend to benefit first class students
- Can undergrads be open to imf virtual internships?
- I answered this above. It is best to check the webpage I posted above for internships. And look at other organizations too. Not just the IMF.
- Sir, please the internships are only available for students who have an LLM.
- That is one of the options. It may be best to go through the website. And look at other institutions that you may be interested in.
THE SPEAKER’S LAST WORDS
Thanks a lot, you all. Much appreciated. You can reach me by email. Please don’t give up on your dreams. There may be challenges but if you persist, you can reach wherever you want.