There are a number of young lawyers currently taking the legal profession by storm. One of such is Kenneth Ononeze Okwor, a holder of the red scroll from the Nigerian Law School and an Associate at Templars, a leading full service Law Firm in Nigeria.
Lagos-based Lawyer, Oludolapo Makinde had a chat with Kenneth on behalf of Lawyard. They sure talked about a host of things…Enjoy!
OM: Could you please tell us more about yourself?
I am Okwor, Kenneth Ononeze Dominic and I am from Enugu state. I come from a closely knit family of seven (parents inclusive) and I am the first of five wonderful children. To put food on my table, I teach and practice law in Nigeria.
OM:You not only made a First Class at the Nigerian Law School but also finished as the Best Graduating Student and bagged ten awards. How did you achieve this feat and how were you able to overcome the hurdles and the challenges that come with pursuing a B.L. at the Nigerian Law School?
You see, leaving the Law School with a first class, the best overall performance, and a record as having the highest number of awards ever won was a direct function of special grace, unwavering faith, and my diligent application of the “work [hard] and pray [hard]” principle in the Bible.
When I came to the Law School on 02 December 2014 (about two weeks post-resumption), I knew where I was coming from and what I was coming for, I understood why I was in Law School, and I kept my eye on the prize. I understood that I was not only required to work extremely hard, but that I was also required to work extremely smart. I did all that and God blessed my efforts.
You also asked how I was able to overcome the challenges and hurdles, and I would like to add distractions. In relation to the latter; in addition to God’s grace, I started by ensuring that I reduced the number of possible distractions. I had a group of like-minded people as my roommates, I had very few friends, all of whom were like-minded. I hardly left the hostel and went out only when it was absolutely necessary and I devoted most of my time to doing those things that were relevant for Bar Part 2. I also prayed that God should clear distractions off my path and He graciously did so.
At the Law School, particularly on Victoria Island, one cannot quantify the number of available distractions both within and outside the hostel and so a key factor for success is one’s ability to encyst and isolate one’s self from the distractions and focus on what is important. I say this for the benefit of the young ones currently undergoing training at the Law School, cut-off the dead weight!
To surmount the challenges and hurdles, the key is to be battle ready on arrival and to start fighting (and by fighting, I mean reading and attending all classes actively) from day one. That is exactly what I did and by God’s grace, that is why I was able to beat the system. From the stories I had heard from my seniors I knew that the Law School’s system was structured to saturate and overwhelm you with so much information – the syllabus is super wide, the work load is herculean, and the volume of reading materials is overwhelming, and to add to this, the exams are purely practical and are carefully crafted to play games with your mind if you are not deeply rooted in the subject matter. Now, I knew that just as the greatest monuments are made up of tiny particles, the Law School’s massive curriculum was made of individual principles of law. I chewed on each of these principles one at a time until I chewed them all, and I had enough time to do this because I started early, I avoided distractions as best as I could, and I never procrastinated.
OM: What was your best course in the University and in Law School?
At the University of Jos, my best course was the moot court! – lol – Sadly, the NUC does not recognize such a course. Well, back then I did not have a “best course” but I really liked Evidence, International Law, Jurisprudence, Conveyancing, Commercial Law, Procedure (Civil and Criminal), Logic and Philosophy. But then, my undergraduate thesis was not under any of these subjects areas – I wrote on something that dwells in the realm of Administrative and Constitutional Law.
At the law school, I loved all the courses quite alright (I needed to because a first class requires an A grade in all courses) but then, I had and still have an unfair bias for Corporate Law and Practice. Corporate law is organic, it is alive, and it is practical – I love it!
What is your advice to law students fresh out of University who now have to face the arduous task of tackling Bar Finals?
A few tips I would give any student going to study for the Bar Finals are: (1) Start studying from day one. The Law School training is for ten (10) months or less and it flies by very quickly so do not allow yourself to get distracted and do not procrastinate. (2.) At the beginning or (or as early as possible) during your time at the Law School, write down the degree grade you intend to achieve and a clear, measurable, and achievable plan for doing so. Make sure you stick to it. (3.) Engage fully in the different opportunities offered in the Law School including the activities in class, the group sessions, the law clinic, mooting, and the externship programme to study and learn. (4) Most importantly, pray, trust God and be confident. You can do this and you can also be a bearer of the Red Scroll!
OM:You have been out of Law School for about a year now. What have you been up to?
Well, I teach and practice law now. I practice at one of the “Magic Circle” law firms in Africa – Templars, and I also lecture Corporate Law and Practice at the Lagos Campus of the Nigerian Law School. You see, to that extent I do not think I have been “out of the Law School for about a year now”. This is because after my Call to the Bar in December 2015, I was invited by the Lagos Campus of the Law School to join its Corporate Law team as an Adjunct Lecturer. So, I really have not been out of the Law School.
In all, the past one year has been very busy and stressful for me. Managing active practice, active teaching, and active self-development has not been easy.
OM: Which area of legal practice do you plan to specialize in?
I am specializing in Corporate Law and Finance, primarily because of my love for Corporate Law Practice and also because it is a cutting-edge field in Nigerian law with significant opportunities for growth. However, I have deep roots in Dispute Resolution and I intend to continue to nurture and develop that. My goal is to be an expert practitioner in both finance and dispute resolution, while my interests in international law would help direct my humanitarian activities within and outside Nigeria.
Do you mind sharing your career plan and goals for the next five years?
It is actually very simple: teach, practice, MCL, LLM, Ph.D. All these should keep me busy within the next five years.
A lot of lawyers after being called to the Nigerian Bar become disillusioned and disgruntled about the legal profession for varying reasons ranging from poor pay to unscrupulous employers. What has been your experience in the legal profession so far?
So far, my experience as a legal practitioner has been a very good one, after all, I work at “Templars.” I understand that my experience may not exactly be the same as those of many young Nigerian lawyers who are over worked and grossly under paid. Although the work-load in my line of practice and generally at Templars, is often very significant, I have considerate employers who understand the importance of employee satisfaction.
However, I must state that before I started legal practice I was conscious of the fact that the legal profession is not one in which there is instant financial gratification. My focus at this stage is and has always been on gaining the experience offered by any opportunities I get and honing the skills I need to succeed in this profession. I believe that the financial rewards will come if one perseveres. .
What is your take on the current state of the legal profession and its impact on the Nigerian society and what role do you think the legal profession needs to play in the growth of the country?
To my mind, the legal profession in Nigeria is miles away from the ideal and does attract the respect and public confidence that it ordinarily should. We have thousands of lawyers who have zero respect for the sacrosanct codes of ethics and rules of professional conduct that guide and govern the practice of this profession. We have corrupt lawyers, we have inept lawyers, and we have lazy lawyers who do not believe in mandatory continuing professional development. If these issues are not addressed with immediacy, the wig and the robe will continue to lose their value and respect. I am deliberately restraining myself from commenting on judicial corruption and ineptitude.
The legal profession plays a significant role in the advancement and sustenance of any society and Nigeria is no exception. As lawyers, we have a great role to play in shaping the legal framework of our society. We can influence the enactment of positive laws that reflect modern realities and would stand the test of time (not frequent amendments and repeals). We can set ourselves apart as role models (whether in public service or private practice) for all other Nigerians by subjecting ourselves to the rule of law and to the highest ethical standards, and in ensuring there is equality and fairness in the administration of justice.
Although there is much work to be done, I believe that the legal profession under the present NBA leadership will fully rise to the occasion and perform its role in serving as a watchdog to protect the rights all people, support economic development in the country and ensure that the core underlying values which are essential for the success of the nation are upheld.
If you could change two things in the legal profession, what would they be?
First of all, I will set a minimum wage for young lawyers. This is absolutely necessary. Secondly, I will greatly increase the compliance threshold, credit hours and course/training content for mandatory continuing professional development and ensure that non-compliance is met with more severe sanctions. Our lawyers must know their law!
What do you like to do in your spare time? Read? Watch movies? Hang out with friends?
Whenever I am able to get some time off, I enjoy listening to classical music – Mozart et al. Pachelbel’s Canon in D major is my all-time favorite. I also love watching law related TV series, particularly “The Practice” and “Suits” (so stereotypical). I also love to read poetry and marvel at the beauty of art and nature.
You were recently nominated for the Future Awards Africa Prize in Professional Service. How do you feel about this nomination and what does it mean to you?
I feel so honoured to have been nominated for such a prestigious award amongst such amazing and accomplished young people. I never expected it and it came as a particularly pleasant surprise.
What do you think about your chances of clinching the award?
As I mentioned earlier, I am so excited to have been nominated for the award. Although it would be glorious to win and I pray I win, I must make it clear that regardless of whether I win this or not, being nominated in itself is an award for me. I have had the opportunity to read about the other persons in my category and I must confess that with them, the future is now. They have all done great things and have achieved significant greatness for themselves at very young ages. Being the youngest in the category, I hope to be like them when I grow up!
Random Question – You are steadily making a name for yourself in the legal profession and carving your path. This undoubtedly makes you one of the legal profession’s Most Eligible Bachelors. So, (although I already know the answer) I have to ask this question on behalf our female readers – Are you a single pringle ready to mingle?
Hahaha, one of the Most Eligible Bachelors? Desmond, Reginald Aziza, Stanley Uche Nweke-Eze, Magnus Nwagu Amudi, Joshua Abe, and Caleb Oghenetega are the leaders of that club and they have refused to give me a membership card. Ermmmmm… I am definitely not a single pringle. Although I am not married yet, I am in a committed relationship.
Finally, what advice could you give to upcoming legal practitioners as they step up to the plate and join the Profession?
Work hard, be open-minded, be ready to learn, and realize that your reward in the profession may not be immediate gratification. Set career goals and do your best to achieve them. Consistently develop yourself and put in the hard, smart, and diligent work so that you will be in a prime position for the future.
Thank you for your time Kenneth. Lawyard wishes you the best with your nomination at the Future Awards Africa, your practice and future endeavours!!!
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