Lawyard Spotlight: Ayokunle Akinpelu
Ayokunle Akinpelu is the Corporate Legal Adviser at Softcom, a leading software company in Lagos that is focused on solving some of Africa’s biggest challenges and connecting people and businesses with meaningful innovation.He spoke to Lawyard.
LAWYARD: What University did you attend? Also please include postgraduate institutions attended and qualifications obtained.
Ayokunle Akinpelu: I attended Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State for my LL.B; Tilburg University, Netherlands for my LL.M (Law and Technology). I also recently undertook a certification course in International Business Law at Bucerius University, Germany.
LAWYARD: What factors influenced your choice of educational institutions at both University and Post-Graduate levels?
Ayokunle Akinpelu: It was a case of circumstance for me. I had opted for University of Lagos initially but before the admission process was concluded my dad saw the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) advertisement calling for students to apply for its law degree as they had successfully regained their accreditation. I was asked and spontaneously opted to change my preference to OAU.
With regards to my post-graduate studies, it was a combination of different factors; availability of my preferred course, financial capacity and instinct.
LAWYARD: Would you say that mentors influenced your educational and career decisions? If yes, what role did they play in your career decisions?
Ayokunle Akinpelu: I honestly believe my mentors are my parents. My parents are educationists and they really believe in education as a means to prosperity and so they made many sacrifices along that path.
PROFESSIONAL LIFE AND LAW PRACTICE
LAWYARD: Where do you currently work, your specific role and how long have you worked here. Also kindly include, the nature of your work.
Ayokunle Akinpelu: I currently work with Softcom Limited as a corporate counsel. I joined them about two years ago, (actually will be two years by May this year). I believe my work is centred on protecting the company from legal and business risk, that is, business risk with potentials to trigger legal issues and that in itself is a complex affair.
LAWYARD: You previously worked as an Associate Lawyer at Banwo & Ighodalo. What was the nature of your work here and please tell us about the strategic decisions that led you in-house rather than rise through the ranks of a law firm?
Ayokunle Akinpelu: At Banwo & Ighodalo, I was in the intellectual property and technology team and sometimes worked with the corporate team. It was quite interesting to work at Banwo & Ighodalo. They are at the highest level in the industry, which meant that the work was challenging but I believe working with them was worth my time despite the challenges.
Moving in-house was nothing strategic for me, the opportunity came and I took the sail. While I allude that there are certain personal factors that triggered the move, I also think it was a risk that turned out to be a great move!
LAWYARD: You are presently the Corporate Legal Adviser at Softcom. Please tell us more about your role in this capacity. What informed your decision to move into this practice area?
Ayokunle Akinpelu: The role is quite interesting and hybrid. It’s a mix of various aspects of law; corporate law, labour laws and technology law. The difference between the in-house role and a law firm role is that I have to take more decisions from a commercial perspective than legal perspective unlike at a law firm where I only advise the clients but never take the decision.
Moving into the tech space was accidental. Back in the university, I became fascinated with graphic designs and programming so I delved extensively into it. I decided after graduating to move into the tech space. Back then, there was no regulation or laws. The space was just budding so it was an accidental decision. Needless to say, there was no law course in that aspect as well.
LAWYARD: What structures do you have in place to ensure easier job delivery?
Ayokunle Akinpelu: Generally, we emphasize on remote working at my workplace and we have various tools to ensure that we can communicate on the go. Slack, Zoom and whereby.com readily comes to mind. We have also heavily invested in technology to ease service delivery among teams and enhance productivity.
LAWYARD: In your line of work, how have you managed to balance existing systems/regulations in Nigeria/West Africa with commercial realities?
Ayokunle Akinpelu: I believe that law is a means to an end and being commercially aware makes decision-making easier. Finding a balance is both an art and a science. It is an art because it can be cultivated and scientific because if there is a proper understanding of the systems, laws and regulations then navigating them becomes interesting.
LAWYARD: How do you, as the Corporate Legal Adviser, find communication with other teams in your company?
Ayokunle Akinpelu: Initially, it was difficult but to succeed but in life one needs to be able to communicate effectively. Eventually, I learnt to be patient and understanding and the need to proffer solutions to their needs.
LAWYARD: What are some of the highlights of your work? What are some of the recurring challenges you have to tackle in your current role?
Ayokunle Akinpelu: Personally, I think it’s the dynamism that the work requires. Softcom is focussed on four societal areas that we believe is the architecture of societal advancement; payment, data, identity, learning and the opportunity to advise on regulations within those sectors as well as navigate the business issues are the highlight of my work.
With regards to recurring changes, technology is always pacing away from regulations and regulators and with that comes the pressure to find loopholes that allow for innovation without infringing on regulations. I believe my brief stint in a commercial law firm helped prepare me for such situations.
LAWYARD: How do you decide when to engage external firms or specific skills outside your expertise?
Ayokunle Akinpelu: Our decision in engaging an external law firm is dependent on the legal matters we intend to resolve. Sometimes, it can also be premised on the need to have a third-party opinion for the purpose of verifying our in-house strategy on a commercial and/or business issue.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE
LAWYARD: Outside of work, what do you enjoy?
Ayokunle Akinpelu: It’s dependent on various factors but I usually will stay at home and read or go out with friends.
LAWYARD: Considering how highly competitive the world has become, what are those non-negotiable skills you would recommend to young lawyers considering a similar career path as yours?
Ayokunle Akinpelu: Aside the need to develop interest in the field and understanding one’s trade, I will advise that young lawyers pay attention to soft skills; communication, problem-solving, work ethics and integrity. It is a non-exhaustive list.