The Business of Law is not an End in Itself; Whatever Affects our Clients’ Business, Affects Us- Ozofu Ogiemudia
A couple of months ago, the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) announced that its renowned Annual Business Law Conference which has been on for the last 13 years, will be going online for the first time and will have thousands of participants and speakers attend the conference from across the world. This was huge!
Now, as the Section gets ready for its first ever annual business law e-conference, the Chairperson of the 2020 conference, OZOFU OGIEMUDIA sits with BusinessDay Law Editor, THEODORA KIO-LAWSON to speak about the forthcoming conference and issues germane to business continuity in Nigeria.
From 14th Annual Business Law Conference to the 14th e-Conference. Given the challenges of the time, why was it important to carry on with this conference in the face of a pandemic?
We started preparing for the 14th Annual Business Law Conference in December 2019. By the time COVID-19 had become a pandemic, we were already far along in our preparations. It would have been easier, and certainly understandable, if we decided to cancel this year’s conference or postpone it to 2021, but we believe that just as we cannot shut down our law firms or expect our clients to close up their businesses due to the pandemic, we have to carry on as best we can and work to develop an understanding of the new way of doing business during and after the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic offers an unprecedented and unique opportunity for us to evolve as lawyers, business managers and as a professional body. We decided to embrace the challenge of re-inventing our conference as an e-Conference while still delivering the quality of speakers and conversation around relevant issues that are associated with the NBA-SBL Conference. We have ensured that our conference theme and the topics of the panel discussions are all relevant to the realities of the current pandemic, and will lead to interesting engagements on how we forge ahead long after the pandemic is over. The theme of the e-Conference is Business Unusual: Digital Acceleration for Growth in a New World.
What informed the choice of theme for this e-conference: “Business Unusual: Digital Acceleration for Growth in a New World”?
One of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the unprecedented global shift to a virtual and digital way of life. The business world has been irreversibly disrupted and even the most traditional professions (such as the legal profession) have had to find a way to conduct their businesses digitally. As the Section on Business Law, we feel it is important for us to drive the discussion around how to navigate the ‘new world’ that will continue to evolve from this pandemic, and consider how, as business lawyers, we can leverage technology to position ourselves as catalysts for growth. The e-Conference will also offer an opportunity for us to look closely at certain key sectors of the Nigerian economy and discuss what players in those sectors can do to come out successfully on the other side of this pandemic. Those sectors include banking, oil & gas, technology, maritime, aviation, travel and tourism.
Speaking of a new world and a new normal‚ this is the first time in its history, the NBA-SBL Annual Conference will hold as an e-conference, what is the nature of this conference? And how would it be driven?
This is an exciting time for us at the NBA-SBL and I am very privileged to be chairing the committee that gets to organise the first e-Conference. It is a new day and we are certainly being ushered into a new world!
In some respects, we have retained the structure of our most recent Annual Business Law Conferences which featured a mix of plenary sessions and more focused break-out sessions. We have also retained the tradition of having a keynote speaker who will set the tone for the topic to be discussed at the conference. This year, we are honoured to have Sen. William “Mo” Cowan as our keynote speaker. Sen. Cowan served as a United States Senator from Massachusetts from February 1, 2013 to July 16, 2013. He is the President, Global Government Affairs and Policy (GAP) and Developed Markets for General Electric Co. (GE). GE is one of the leading global companies in technology and innovation, and it will be exciting to hear our keynote speaker discuss the impact of technology on the practice of law and the business environment, and how we can embrace the changes that have been foisted upon us as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
Before our current realities, (the pandemic and remote working), not many law firms appreciated the need for virtual meetings, remote working and legal technology generally. However, it’s the new norm today. Where, in your opinion, is the business of law headed in the next few years and how will this conference drive the conversation to influence this shift?
I think that some of the changes that have had to be made as a result of the pandemic, such as those you have identified i.e. remote working, virtual meetings and incorporating digital technology into our service delivery are here to stay, and will remain with us even after the pandemic. I expect that we will adapt to a business environment that is more flexible and dynamic than was previously the case, especially, for an industry such as the legal industry that has traditionally been very conservative and slow to change.
With respect to the conference, our panel topics are very relevant to the conversation around the shift to a digital-led world. We will have a panel session that will discuss how the legal industry can catch up, and learn to move forward successfully leveraging on digital technology. Other sessions will focus on current issues, including the state of the maritime industry; patenting a cure for COVID-19; e-health and the role of technology in healthcare delivery; and the recovery of the travel and tourism sectors. Our debate sessions, which is always a platform for the best and brightest of our young lawyers will examine the topic, “The ‘Next Normal’: Practice in a borderless legal profession” from various perspectives, seeking to answer these questions: Is digital technology an aid or inhibitor of legal practice?; Are 9-5 work patterns still relevant?; and Are Nigerian-trained lawyers well-equipped for practice in the Digital Age?
The theme of the e-Conference is “Business Unusual: Digital Acceleration for Growth in a New World”. How has the new norm affected legal businesses in Nigeria and how do you hope speakers and panellists at the conference will interrogate these issues?
As I mentioned earlier, the law is a conservative profession, and even the leading law firms that had already begun to incorporate digital technology into their processes have had to adapt like everyone else. The business of law is not an end in itself; we are here to provide a service which is to help our clients do business. Anything that affects the businesses of our clients also ultimately affects us. When there is a shock to the economy (like the ongoing pandemic) that threatens businesses, it also affects us. In order to survive, we have to adapt. This has meant embracing the #WFH culture (i.e. work from home), supporting employees by providing the tools required for remote working, remaining in contact with our clients virtually and continuing to provide our services electronically. Even the courts have had to adapt and have begun hearing cases virtually. The regulators, with whom we relate routinely, have also adapted and most of them now permit electronic submission of documents.
We are mindful that the pandemic has affected us all in different ways and to varying degrees. Some have been hit harder than others, and it is important to evaluate how we cope with the ensuing pressures. We are very pleased with the session topics for the e-Conference, and the rich faculty of speakers that have committed to share their time, knowledge and wealth of experience with the participants at the conference, and we are confident that our participants will have a fulfilling experience at the e-conference.
Where are your speakers and participants drawn from and would you be kind enough to share details of some of your speakers and guests?
We are able to get speakers that might not otherwise have been able to travel to Lagos for the conference, because our conference is a virtual conference and our speakers will be able to participate from wherever they are. We have reached out to, and received confirmations from, several distinguished domestic and international speakers. As I mentioned, we have the honour of hosting Sen. William “Mo” Cowan who will deliver the keynote address. We also look forward to hearing from leaders of the legal profession in Nigeria such as Hon. Mr. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR, the Chief Justice of Nigeria as well as the NBA President, Mr Paul Usoro, SAN. The Honourable Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Arc. Olamilekan Adegbite, is one of our panellists as is Mr Okey Enelamah, the immediate past Nigerian Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment.
Other panellists that represent the best of the global legal and business community include Mr Nigel Boardman, Chair of Slaughter and May’s Africa Practice; Mr. Karl Hennessee. Senior Vice President, Litigation, Investigations & Regulatory Affairs at Airbus; Mr Mitchell Elegbe, MD, Interswitch; Prof. Ruth Okediji. Jeremiah Smith. Jr, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; Prof. Terry Fisher. WilmerHale also of Harvard Law School; and TV legend, Ms. Joke Silva, Chairman, Lagos State Post COVID-19 Pandemic Review Committee.
Our speakers represent an extensive range of private sector law firms and organisations as well as regulatory authorities and governmental bodies. Our keynote speaker is someone that will be able to offer invaluable insight on our theme from his experience working in the United States Senate and presently in General Electric, and we are very excited to hear from him.
We encourage delegates to follow us on social media and visit our conference website nbasblconference.org for the latest updates on our confirmed speakers and an overview of the e-conference sessions.
Does this year’s e-conference have offerings for lawyers on every cadre of the profession? e.g. senior lawyers, young lawyers, advocates, solicitors, business lawyers, arbitrators, legal business administrators, etc. How does this year’s programme cater to these clusters of stakeholders?
Yes, it does. We have carefully selected our topics to ensure that there is something for everyone. We have created a unique event for participants, combining the plenary sessions, noteworthy presentations and stimulating debates with a new digital networking experience and seamless conferencing interface. There will be a lot for delegates to do, a wide range of panel sessions to choose from, as well as a very exciting speed networking experience which will allow delegates to create their own conference-within-a-conference. It will be a truly unique experience for each participant!
The SBL conferences are said to present learning opportunities for young lawyers across the country. Are there plans for the 2020 e-conference to fill this gap?
We are confident that the nature of the conference as an e-Conference will appeal to all young lawyers regardless of where they may be in Nigeria. Our debate session is designed, presented and judged by our young lawyers and will deal with topics such as “Pay cuts in a COVID-era: a necessary sacrifice by all, or an unfair burden on already under-paid lawyers?” which I am sure every young lawyer will have an opinion on! The pandemic will have affected all lawyers to varying extents and could have an impact on our wellbeing. For this reason, the e-conference will include a session on the physical and psychological wellbeing of legal practitioners.
The e-conference platform has the capability to match delegates randomly with other delegates for a 3-minute speed networking experience. This will ensure that one of the key features of an in-person conference, namely, networking opportunities, will be a key feature of our e-conference. We are confident that this will be particularly useful to our young lawyers as it will give them unprecedented access to our speakers and delegates and help them expand their growing network of key contacts.
What sort of impact do you hope the theme for this year would have on, not just members of the section or lawyers, but the economy as a whole, and how would you like to drive conversations around this?
The theme of the e-Conference says it all: “Business Unusual: Digital Acceleration for Growth in a New World”. One of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the unprecedented global shift to a virtual and digital way of life. The business world has been irreversibly disrupted and even the most traditional professions (such as the legal profession) have had to find a way to conduct their businesses digitally. As the Section on Business Law, we feel it is important for us to drive the discussion around how to navigate the ‘new world’ that will continue to evolve from this pandemic, and consider how, as business lawyers, we can leverage technology to position ourselves as catalysts for growth. We are confident that the topics that will be explored at the e-Conference by our distinguished panellists will drive these important conversations and move us along the path to accelerated growth not only within the legal community, but also on a national scale.
Are there notable examples of how deliberations at the NBA-SBL conferences have driven policy changes or led to the enactment of legislation that affect economic growth? Could you please share these with us?’
The 12th Annual Business Conference was themed, “Bringing Down the Barriers: The Law as a Vehicle for Intra-Africa Trade.” It focused on the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (“AfCFTA”) and the implications of the AfCFTA for Nigeria and the African continent. The conversations at that conference led to the involvement of the NBA-SBL, represented by the current Chairperson of the NBA-SBL, Mr Seni Adio, SAN, on the Presidential Committee for Impact and Readiness Assessment of AfCFTA, inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari. Following this, the NBA-SBL has remained active in supporting the federal government in its preparedness for the implementation of AfCFTA.
The NBA-SBL has been an active partner with the various arms of government, at federal and state levels, in supporting economic growth through legislative advocacy. To this end, the NBA-SBL worked actively with the National Assembly and the Enabling Business Environment Secretariat of the Presidency on the bill to repeal and re-enact the Companies and Allied Matters Act 1990 (“CAMA”), the Investments and Securities Act 2007 and the Labour Act, among others. The CAMA is Nigeria’s 30-year old companies act, which is grossly outdated. The CAMA Bill was previously passed by the National Assembly, but not signed by President Buhari. A revised version of the Bill is currently going through the legislative process and, once it is passed by the 9th National Assembly and assented to, by the President, it will become law. The NBA-SBL is committed to supporting the efforts of the federal government in respect of the CAMA bill and for this reason, the e-Conference will feature a fireside chat with the Registrar-General of the Corporate Affairs Commission on the CAMA bill.
Ozofu ‘Latunde Ogiemudia is a legal practitioner and a partner in the commercial law firm, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie. She is a member of the firm’s Corporate Advisory team and specialises in Mergers & Acquisitions, and Private Equity. As a result, she routinely advises on company law and corporate governance, foreign investments, mergers, acquisitions, take-over bids and corporate restructurings. She also co-heads the firm’s pro bono practice where she provides legal support to non-profit organisations and social entrepreneurs.
Under the umbrella of the Nigerian Bar Association’s Section on Business Law (“NBA-SBL”), she chaired the technical advisory committee that advised the Nigerian Senate on the bill to repeal and re-enact the Companies and Allied Matters Act 1990 and the Investments and Securities Act 2007. She is currently the Thematic Lead of the Regulatory Working Group of the National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable (NASSBER) that is set up to assist the National Assembly in identifying and improving bills that relate to any aspect of the regulatory environment.