By Adebukola Ogunkoya (Executive Secretary)
Members of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Ikorodu Branch had the privilege of a Knowledge Sharing session with Deacon Dele Adesina SAN on Law Firm Management/mentoring: How To Be An Effective Associate And An Effective Principal on the 5th of May, 2020, via NBA Ikorodu Branch WhatsApp platform.
BAYO AKINLADE: Welcome learned silk.
DASAN [Dele Adesina SAN] was very influential in the growth of this branch. He was then the General Secretary of NBA national.
DASAN has mentored and trained many lawyers who have gone on to set up their own law firms and are successful lawyers today.
We welcome you learned silk and the floor is yours sir.
DASAN: My dear Colleagues,
I welcome you to this discussion. I pray that the time we spend here this afternoon will be an investment.
First and foremost, let me thank you for inviting me. I appreciate the leadership and every single member of this Branch.
By way of introduction, into the topic ” Law Firm Management and Mentoring: How to be an effective Associate and an effective Principal”.
The first thing to recognise is that life is a journey. Like every journey, unless you are familiar with the route, you must identify someone who is familiar with the route and follow him as he goes. Where he stops, you too will stop. Where he slows down, you too will slow down. Once he gets to the destination safely, you’re also sure to get to the destination safely. I am fascinated with the statement that “if you have no role model, you will not be able to play your role well.” So, this tells you how important mentoring is in the race of life, more particularly, in the Legal Profession.
There is direct mentoring and there is indirect mentoring. Direct mentoring occurs when you appoint somebody to be your mentor. Your teacher in the race of life. Indirect mentoring is when you programme yourself deliberately to learn from a particular individual who is ahead of you without him knowing that he is in fact your mentor. So there may be no direct relationship between the two of you except that the knowledge of who he is to you is well known to you through your direct decision. You have some definitive approaches of life in him, which you admire and you want to see duplicated in your own personal and professional life.
Whether by way of direct or indirect mentoring, please note that “only men on fire can ignite others.”
BAYO AKINLADE: Can you please tell us some characteristics you look for in an associate.
DASAN: Four characteristics are very key to me. As far as I am concerned, I am forever settled with them. I need to know whether an Associate shares those characteristics of life that I share. Somebody who has no dream, no goal will not matter to me even if he has a First Class at the LL.B and B.L. levels. So the first thing I watch out for in anyone is his or her vision in the Profession
The Associate must have a dream and a desire of what he or she wants to become in future. In other words, his vision must be clearly formulated and understood by him. He must be engrossed by the dream with passion. Nothing is as important in life as much as having a dream. Your dream is your goal. Unless your dream is clear to you, to pursue it would be difficult. It is worse if you have no dream. It means you are going nowhere. The scripture says that “as far as you can see, God has given you for a possession.” Once, his or her dream is clear, then the first hurdle is crossed.
The second hurdle is whether he or she is willing to be dedicated to that vision because I don’t want someone that would come to the Chambers today, is learning the rope of advocacy and after two or three years steps-out to take a Secretary appointment somewhere. Thereby wasting all his or her three years on the advocacy line
So the prospective Associate must be dedicated to his dream. To him nothing else must matter. Through thick and thin, he or she must hold on steadfastly to the dream. Not minding the pain because of the gain he sees ahead. He will also be ready to pay the “price” in order for him or her to win the “prize” in future.
The third characteristics I would watch out for is determination to succeed. Does the person siting before me have the tenacity to succeed in the Profession? Or is it somebody that will abandon the cause because of a temporary difficulty? To a determined individual, every obstacle is a stepping stone, every challenge is a hurdle to be surmounted. Every failure is only temporary. So the driving force to a determined person is the assurance of the light at the end of the tunnel and it is not difficult to know whether the person you are interviewing is a strong and determined personality.
Lastly, the fourth is Discipline. Your carrier/ vehicle that will translate your dream to accomplishment is “DISCIPLINE”. I won’t spend time on this. We all know what discipline in life means.
My deductions of the personality of the “to-be Associate” will guide me in taking a decision.
Q: Welcome Learned Silk Sir. I am I.K. Thany Sir. I am privileged to have been led by you in cases. You have mentored me both directly and indirectly Sir. I have thus benefited greatly from your wealth of experience which has positively impacted my litigation practice in no small measure. It’s a pleasure having you share your knowledge here and affording me the opportunity to drink from your fountain of knowledge once again Sir.
I recall during one of the sessions during the last NBA AGC in Lagos of which you were a Speaker you mentioned that you prefer an extrovert and goal getter as an Associate. How would you handle an Associate who is an introvert Sir.
DASAN: Answering Thany’s question,
Once I am satisfied on the four characteristics I stated above, I will now look at the person to find out whether he is an introvert or extrovert because of the nature of my own practice which is that of corporate litigation. I may be wrong but I believe that an introvert cannot be a good advocate. An introvert is naturally of a quiet disposition. Such person says less than necessary quite often. He or she hardly exhibits passion unlike the extrovert who will always instantly pour out himself. An extrovert speaks with every part of his body (hand, head, toes, not just his or her mouth).
I would rather advice an introvert to secure an employment that will get him or her to grow in a corporate establishment and be looking towards becoming a Company Secretary or Legal Adviser in future.
Q: Learned silk, mentor, leader and President-in-waiting, I welcome you to Ikorodu which is like a home to you.
On the topic at hand, is it fair to say that lawyers are a reflection of their pupilage; that is they are more or less what they are taught to be by those who mentor them (especially by employment) in the early stages of their career?
DASAN: Before I come to the Law Office Management question, S.O.K’s question is closely related to the points made earlier.
Going by my own experience of life, pupillage is very key and in most cases the way you start, you learn is the way you will continue. Your Principal indeed must be your role model or one of your role models but like myself, you can learn from others in addition to what you learn in Chambers. In addition to my take home from the Chambers where I served pupillage for six (6) years, I adopted aggressive advocacy from the likes of Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN. I took on carriage style from Chief G.O.K. Ajayi SAN. I usually go to court to watch these two people regularly any time I did not have court engagement in my Chambers.
People like Mr. Femi Falana SAN who followed the advocacy style of his Principal, Alao-Aka Bashorun. So also, people like Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN followed Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s style, his Principal for many years.
Q: Thank you very much sir for this opportunity to interact with the learn silk . Sir what does it take to train and bring up the mentees and what does it take to run a successful Law firm in Nigeria
DASAN: Answering Mr. Oyekan Sanni
There is no magic in running a successful Law practice but a lot of dedication and discipline is involved. Again, vision also occupies a vantage position. Because I wanted to run legal practice as a business, I had to look for an office at Allen Avenue, Ikeja, a business environment in 1992. A good number of the Commercial Law Firms today have their offices in Victoria-Island for the same purpose. Legal Practice ought to be run as a business. Again, this has made solo-practice unattractive in preference to a partnership.
So, you need a standard office with good space to accommodate standard office reception; waiting room; solicitors and advocates office; Head of Chambers Office, who supervises the solicitors and handling of the cases; the Managing Solicitor/ Partner who manages the entire office; and then Associates and employees.
In terms of training, the best form is for the trainee, that is the Associate, to be determined to duplicate his boss in his or her life; and that is why your Principal should necessarily be your mentor. If you cannot be like your Principal in future, then you have no business training under him, it will amount to a waste of time. This is because development in Legal Practice is essentially a product of personal responsibility. Only those who ask questions are entitled to answers. It is an essential part of the training to constantly ask questions about anything from your Principal.
Comment: I seize this opportunity to welcome my Learned Mentor to his branch. I’m enjoying your Lordship’s submission. That is vintage Dele Adesina SAN for us. His erudite reserve is never in doubt. With him, no dull moment. How I wish the branch had adopted the zoom meeting option. Kudos Sir.
DASAN: Honestly, Mr Kazeem, I was looking forward to a virtual meeting via Zoom, this one is very cumbersome but I cannot refuse Bayo.
Q: Thank you learned Silk for the opportunity to interact with you Sir.
I would like to understand the role of mentorship in helping younger lawyers to discover themselves or help clear their confusions/doubts.
I want to believe that what we see or who we interact with influences us or informs our decision.
DASAN: Answering Adeola,
Your question I believe has been answered by my earlier engagements above. Every interaction produces one influence or the other and that is why you must choose your friend rather than allowing your friend to choose you. An influence can be positive, it can also be negative. This is in addition to what I said earlier, if you don’t want to be like your Principal in future, don’t go and learn the ropes under him.
Q: Learned incoming President, I am Dotun Adetunji Esq. You are welcome to our branch sir. Taking you a bit out of today’s topic sir, if and when we eventually have an effective associate and an effective principal, it usually ends there in most cases. Sir, what is your thought about partnership, can we say is a great reward for a smooth associate and principal relationship? Do you support the idea? Can we, the younger ones think along that line or not?
DASAN: Answering Adedotun,
The future of legal practice is in partnership. The days of solo practice is winding-down because of combination of many forces. So as individuals, we have no choice than to begin to rethink and remold our practice. Partnership can be between the Principal and an Associate graduating to a level of partnership, that is to say from employment to Associate, Associate to Partnership. If the junior Counsel will allow that to happen by not leaving the Chambers after learning the ropes to go and form his own solo practice which is mostly the case very unfortunately.
Juniors of the same age at the Bar can also come together to form a Partnership; provided that they have acquires sufficient experience to live on. Otherwise, it will be a game of chance, trial and error, which may not guarantee the future.
Q: Good afternoon learned silk,I’m Abimbola Ojedokun, we thank you for sparing time out of your busy schedule to share knowledge with us.
My questions are as follows :
- What does it take to be an effective principal
- Is being an effective principal measured by the principal’s knowledge and success in the profession alone or their are other qualities required of an effective principal
DASAN: Answering Bimbo Ojedokun,
Your questions are very very instructive. What does it take to be an effective Principal? For me, the relationship between the Principal and the junior is that of teaching by the Principal and learning by the junior. Teaching is not limited to teaching by words of mouth but also by your actions, your comportment, your behaviour, the value you attach to the ethics of the Profession, your integrity and your character. Everything I mentioned above constitutes the totality of your personality which the junior must learn from. The truth is that in terms of spoken words, you are as good as your words. A bad word cannot come from a good person. So if your Principal is a liar, run-away from him or her because you too might become a liar tomorrow. Also remember that regardless of what your Principal’s may say, he or she is going to be judged by his or her actions. So if the actions of your Principal is contrary to your belief, run-away from him or her.
Summarily, an effective Principal must live by example. He or she must find time to teach both the substantive and the procedural law through the Chambers Case Files. In my office, Wednesday meetings are inevitable. There, case files are discussed, law is discussed and evidence are rationalised. We also discuss ethics, comportment and so on.
On the Second Question, knowledge is key; it leads to success but effectiveness of the Principal is not determined by his knowledge or success. Rather it is a function of the growth of the juniors that have passed through your Chambers and their level on the success ladder.
Q: Learned Silk sir,this is Toun Adekoya here,quickly sir,what is the yardstick to rate a successful lawyer.
DASAN: Answering Toun Adekoya,
In other words, who is a successful Lawyer? It may be a little difficult to describe who a successful Lawyer is but I know what a successful Lawyer is not. Success in the profession is not a function of how rich or wealthy you are. A wealthy Lawyer standing trial for professional misconduct is a failure. A wealthy Lawyer running a big office, who cannot mentor upcoming Lawyers and who upcoming Lawyers have nothing to learn from is also a failure.
Summarily put, a successful Lawyer for me is that Lawyer who is able to give back to the Profession, both tangibly and intangibly; who is contributing to the uplifting of the Profession; who is seen as living by example and who is generally acknowledged as a leader in the sense that when he leads and he looks back, there are people following him. For me, success in life is not determined by one’s possession but by one’s contribution.
Q: Good afternoon learned silk. I am Adekunle Adekoya Sir. What is your take Sir on Principals who don’t allow their Juniors do private practice and yet don’t pay the juniors good salary.
DASAN: Answering Adekunle Adekoya,
First, to answer you directly, the relationship between the junior and Principal must be a well-documented contractual relationship spelling out the rights and obligations of both parties.
Secondly, if the arrangement permits the junior to do private practice, the Principal will be wrong to stop him or her. On the contrary, if the arrangement does not permit the junior to do private practice, it will be wrong for the junior to be sourcing for private practice when he is fully engaged in the Chambers.
It is however important for the Principals to know that the arrangement should not be a slave-master relationship. Everybody must be comfortably accommodated by the arrangement in terms of payment of good remuneration. The truth is that if the junior is not properly remunerated, he will neither be happy in the relationship nor be able to put in his or her best and this will negatively impact on how well he or she will be able to learn.
Looking for private briefs to augment will not be the answer because that in itself will constitute a great distraction. Speaking for myself, an arrangement that will offer the junior an opportunity for concentration to learn as much as possible, happily and enthusiastically must be encouraged.
Comment: We welcome Learned Silk to our Oga Branch, I am Olasunkanmi Ogunniran, Esq. (PRO).
Sir, I was Privilege to observe and learn from your advocacy during the last Tribunal Governorship Election at Ogun State.
I recall we met at Egbe Amofin, at Ibadan. In all of my encounter with you sir, your fatherly role is not in doubt.
We are glad to have this interactive session with you. Thank you sir.
DASAN: Thank you Mr. Olasunkanmi for your comments. God bless you!
Q: Good afternoon Learned Silk Sir, I am Ogunmeru Olubunmi, Sir in a bid not to be seen and called ambulance chaser and no visible Chambers or Law Firm want to take up in their Firm for inability to pay good and encouraging salary, is it really proper to go on private practice on my own OR what do I do to survive in this Profession Sir
DASAN: Answering Mr. Ogunmeru Olubunmi,
Your question goes to the very foundation of the Profession. Ambulance chasing is a derogatory practice. It must not be encouraged because the way a lawyer begins is the way he is going to continue. It is also absolutely unfortunate that we are churning out lawyers in thousands in Nigeria without thinking of where and how they would work. This is part of the failure of the Nation and the Profession in particular.
Let me state that I have a clear mind as to what should be done to address this problem and I will take my bearing from the University Curriculum and the duty of the Association not only to its members but also to Legal Education in Nigeria. Permit me to keep my implementation strategy to my chest for now for very obvious reasons.
BAYO AKINLADE: I want to thank the learned silk for honouring our invitation. We are very grateful for your time sir
DASAN: Thank you Mr Chairman.
God bless you all!