Only 24, Kenneth Okwor is an adjunct lecturer of Corporate Law and Practice at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos Campus, and a Templars Law Firm Associate. In this interview, he tells KEMI LANRE-AREMU, about his love for the legal profession and some of his career milestones
What schools did you attend?
I attended the University of Jos where I obtained a Bachelor of Law degree; and for my vocational and professional training, I attended the Nigerian Law School, Lagos Campus. I graduated with a Second Class Upper Honours from the University of Jos, and First Class Honours from the Nigerian Law School. I graduated top of my class at the Nigerian Law School, winning several awards and prizes.
What is your work history?
What are your job responsibilities?
At Templars, I sit primarily in the finance practice area and we basically advise clients on matters relating to banking, capital markets, mergers, acquisitions and other forms of external and internal restructuring options, project finance and other financing and refinancing structures, and general advisory services on corporate and finance matters.
At the Law School, I teach Corporate Law and Practice.
Did you set out to become a lawyer or you had other professions in mind?
I actually wanted to study Literature in English. However, when it was time to fill the form that would enable me sit for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, Law was the first choice.
Why the sudden change of mind?
I do not think the decision was actuated by any altruistic feeling or by a desire to define a path for my life. Honestly, it was really about gaining admission to the university to study a prestigious course. However, when I began to study Law, I saw that I could be more and I could do more. The study of Law exposed me to deeper issues that have gone a long way in defining who I am today and what I represent.
What are your areas of speciality?
I am specialising in corporate law and finance as my core areas. For me, these areas are niche areas of practice both in Nigeria and across the world and I believe that on account of my love for corporate law and all that concerns it, I would be able to learn, grow, and contribute my quota in developing the jurisprudence in these areas.
You graduated with second class upper honours from the University of Jos and a first class from the Nigerian Law School. How did you achieve these feats?
Like I always say, it was all a function of God’s grace and hard work. Studies at the university are quite different from studies at the Law School. The approach is very different as the university emphasises substantive law and it is usually very theoretical, while the Law School teaches practical law. Even though the Law School keeps an eye out for substantive law, its emphasis is on the practical application of these laws. Therefore, if properly utilised, the knowledge gained from the university can play a key role in facilitating success at the Bar Exams.
At the university, I was diligent and hard-working, and only missed classes when they conflicted with mock trials. Why I placed more emphasis on the mock trials was because they taught me to contextualise the knowledge gained in class and taught me how they would operate in practical reality.
At the Law School, I was also diligent and hard-working. The Law School’s calendar was, and still is, properly structured such that it was perfectly possible to actively participate in the law clinic and the mock trials without missing any class, and this contributed in making the difference.
Can you recollect your first time in court?
Of course I can. It was June 6 this year. My superiors at Templars insisted that I go alone. I was scared and spent the entire weekend studying the file and rehearsing the court’s language in front of my mirror. It was a defamation suit and we were the counsel representing the claimant. In court that morning, I was nervous but the longer I waited, the more relaxed I became because I noticed that the court’s procedure was not significantly different from the mock trials I had experienced in my undergraduate and Law School days. When my matter was called, I got up and successfully did the needful.
Who and what have impacted your legal career so far?
I am an academic and a practitioner and I have mentors in both aspects of my professional life.
Albert Einstein is reputed to have observed that he saw far only because he had the privilege of standing on the shoulders of giants. My case is not different from his. My life and my story is a product of mentorship, with my parents being my first and foremost mentors. They inspire me and consistently encourage me to do more. After my parents, Mrs. Adetoun Adebiyi, the Deputy Director General and Head of Lagos Campus of the Nigerian Law School is one woman who believes that there is nothing I cannot achieve. Next on the list are my academic fathers and mentors: His Excellency, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN, Prof. Nnamdi Aduba, Prof. Epiphany Azinge SAN (the one I watch from a distance), Prof.Dakas CJ Dakas SAN, Prof. Joash Amupitan SAN, Prof. Shaakaa, Mr. Alimi, Mrs.Odukoya, Mrs. Egbe, Mr.Ogbuanya, Mr. Sam Oguche, Mr.Udemezue, Mrs. James, and my best friend as far as international law is concerned – Mr. Matthias Zechariah. These persons have, whether actively or passively, consistently spurred me to aim for more.
As a practitioner, Mr. Chike Obianwu tops the list of those I work hard to be like and I learn from him daily. Working with him and Desmond Ogba has made me commercially aware, has changed the way I think, and given me deeper insights into the practical application of legal principles and the provision of ‘A’ grade services to clients.
All these persons have had positive impacts on my legal career and have contributed in pushing me this far in my very young career. I mean, I only became a year old at the Bar on December 16, 2016.
What key skills and qualities must one possess to become a successful solicitor/barrister?
Humility, hard work, diligence, high moral and ethical standards, commercial awareness, reliability, a sound knowledge of the law, continuous professional development, and of course, paying clients!
What do you think are the most important characteristics and abilities for any person’s success?
At the risk of sounding ecclesiastic, grace is a necessary tool for success in whatever we do. In addition to grace, anyone who wants to attain success must merge humility with hard work, smart work, diligent work, and excellent work. Having said that, I must state that I would typically not advice anyone to pursue success alone. I advocate excellence and if I am permitted to quote Ranchoddas of the 3 Idiots, “pursue excellence and success will pursue you pants down.”
How did you arrive at the decision to become an Adjunct Lecturer at the Nigerian Law School?
I have always wanted to teach and I developed that dream while I was a sophomore at the University of Jos. However, the opportunity to teach came when I least expected it and at a level that is best left to imagination. In my eyes, the Law School is a sacred institution reserved only for superior legal minds and I did not permit myself to dream of teaching at the Law School because I did not know that I had the requisite superior mind. Consequently, when Mrs. Adebiyi invited me to be her adjunct lecturer, I was overwhelmed with joy and disbelief.
How do you relate with your students considering your young age?
That has been a challenge – a major challenge actually. I started out by being very friendly with them, but trust students, they started abusing it. Then I switched and became strict, and they said I was proud. Even elderly students consistently try to use the age factor against me. But by and large, God has kept me through. I try to be very friendly with them, but I draw lines where necessary.
What is your ultimate career goal?
To develop the jurisprudence in the theory and practice of corporate law and finance in Nigeria as a scholar and as a practitioner, to fight for a vibrant Nigerian Bar that is made up of lawyers who are driven by a positive sense of ethics and high professional conduct, to fight for the protection of human rights (particularly the rights of internally displaced persons), to make positive impacts on legal education pre-call and mandatory continuing professional development post-call. These are at the vanguard of the career I am building.
In between all that you do, what other things interest you?
Classical music! They always bring peace with them. I also love to watch law-related television series. Arts and nature also interest me. Besides these, I lead a very boring life!
How do you achieve a work life balance?
Truthfully, I do not. In between church, Templars, the Law School, and my personal efforts towards self-development, I have no extra time to myself. Right now, the prospects of a work life balance for me is utopian.