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Book Review: Trajectory Of Excellence In Legal Practice: Insights From Legal Experts by Mike Igbokwe


I will start off by agreeing with
Chief Folake Solanke SAN’s statements in the foreword that ‘[this] book offers
a superb opportunity to learn from the staggering exploits of masters of the
profession, and that the unstated purpose of the book is to leave a reference
point for the younger generation of lawyers in their pursuit of excellence in
the practice of law. She quoted Mahatma Gandhi saying that “The ultimate
essence of a lawyer is to help the society demand from the law what every
citizen deserves from justice.”
No doubt, this book is a
compendium of practical life experiences of the best, the successful and
excellent performers in the legal profession in Nigeria. The word trajectory
means a route, course, flight path, line, arc, curve, trail etc. Excellence
means finesse, brilliance, superiority, distinction, premium quality etc. So
TRAJECTORY OF EXCELLENCE, should mean a flight path or pathway to brilliant,
superior, distinctive, classic and premium quality LEGAL PRACTICE.

The book under review is published
by CLDS Publishing, a foremost Nigerian legal works publisher. They have
published my works and I can attest to their very high and ethical standards of
publishing. The book consists of seventeen Chapters, with contributions from
thirty-nine (39) Senior Advocates of Nigeria, on various practice areas.
Learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Babatunde Raji Fashola, Minister of Works
and Housing Federal Republic of Nigeria, wrote the Prologue to the book under
Chapter one focuses on Corporate
Insolvency, drawing from the wealth of experience of two foremost senior
advocates of Nigeria: Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN and Akintunde Ayodele, SAN.
In his “The Road to Success in Legal
Practice – Key Indicators,” Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN digs into what is best
described as an inestimable gift from a senior member of the Bar to the young
generation, by going down memory lane and tracing how, together with the
author, he cut his teeth with Mr. H.A. Lardner, SAN. He emphasized the place of
hard work, astuteness and discipline.
Chapters Two opens us to the
remarkable experience of some of the finest members of the bar: J.K. Gadzama,
SAN and A.B. Mahmoud, SAN under the heading “Power & Energy.”

In his contribution titled
“Gleaning from my Experience in the Power & Energy Law”, Gadzama, SAN
shares with his insatiable thirst to break new grounds and in, his words, his
dream to bequeath a legacy as he delved into one of the novel areas of law – energy
and power. I believe to a very large extent; every lawyer must be curious, as
curiosity has been identified as the motivating factor behind most innovations.
Explaining how his curious mind
helped as he navigated into the Energy sector, the Learned Senior Advocate’s
words at page 27 are apt:

…the question that troubles me constantly is; what exactly goes on in
the power and energy industries? I was very keen to know the law and
jurisprudence in the sector. I wanted to know why Nigerians are still suffering
from epileptic power supply despite having all these natural endowments; what
are the liabilities of these power generating and distributing agencies? What
is the current position of the law, and the pronouncements of courts relating
to energy and power in Nigeria? The gritty and unrelenting search for answers
to these questions inspired my drive into the power and energy law…”

A.B. Mahmoud, SAN “In Pursuit of
Excellence in My Legal Career” commenced on a reluctance (which I have no doubt
is shared by all contributors) to dive into an account of his experience for
fear of such a noble cause being passed off as self-aggrandizement. The Learned
Silk went memory lane into his days at FGC Sokoto and narrated a particular
event where he had led a cause leading to “sweeping changes in the running of
the college….” He shares with other contributors the principle that success
is not short-term. Starting out at the Ministry of Justice, Kano. The
Contributor shares with the readers the defining moments of his career.
Chapters 3 of the book in on
“Administrative and Constitutional Law”. Dr Alex Izinyon, SAN laid down one of
the fundamental secrets of success as a legal practitioner – focus and
determination. He also emphasised the importance of an unquenchable thirst for
not just a little learning but deep learning on the law.
Chief Omotayo Oyetibo SAN, while
recounting his personal experiences emphasised that the five first years of
practice is the foundation years of the path to success in the legal
profession. He also noted the need for Counsel to arm themselves in the
knowledge of the principles of law.

Mr. Omoruyi Omonuwa, SAN
highlighted the four principles which he considered as the pathway to success
as a legal practitioner namely: personal integrity, gaining a thorough
understanding of the law, being a person of great comportment and setting
goals, being courageous and finding role models.
Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN had laid
down the 5 keys to his success as a legal practitioner namely: being studious,
never being scared or ashamed of failing, being assertive, not aggressive, the
need to be dutiful and the need to have a vision.

Chapter 4 of the book is on
“Banking and Finance”. Osaro Eghobamien, SAN emphasized the importance of continuing
legal professional development. He had admonished legal practitioners to follow
the advice of those who have passed through the path ahead of them.
Mr. Oluwakemi Pinheiro, SAN had
explained how he had to discover himself in law. He explained that self-
discipline and development were indispensable to his story to success in the
legal profession. The key areas also highlighted by the learned Senior
Advocates to his attaining excellence in the legal profession were: vision,
goal setting, focus, persistence, mind-set, learning from the best, zeal,
humility, making the best of opportunities, personal accountability,
innovation, knowledge, taking a step in a day, modifying your network and
paying your dues.
Dr Oladapo Olanipekun, SAN
explained that a legal practitioner who sets out to succeed in the legal
profession must first understand the sphere within which success is to be
attained. He underscored the need for lawyers to combine both excellence and
ingenuity in their practice. In relation to banking, he explained the various
opportunities that young legal practitioners may explore. He also honed the
core skills that define a lawyer – research, writing, presentation, hard work,
diligence, ingenuity and integrity.
Chapter 5 of the book is on
“Environmental Law”. Mrs. Miannaya Essien SAN explained that hard work and
excellence were correlatives. She distinguished between success and excellence.
While success was achieving one’s set goal, excellence was giving one’s best in
achieving that set goal. She also explained that excellence cannot be achieved
alone. Assistance from others is pivotal to being excellent. She also explained
the need for a legal practitioner to have a balance life.
The Chapter is on Human Rights
has one contributor. Mr.Femi Falana, SAN.
In discussing the topic “My Foray
into Human Rights Field”, the Learned Senior Advocate extensively discussed his
travails and journey as a human right activist and what every human right
lawyer should expect. He noted in on 137 that although he completed the youth
service without any hitch, his Discharge Certificate was not released by the
NYSC management on the grounds that he had embarrassed two agencies of the
federal government to wit: – the Nigeria Police Force and the University of Ibadan.
However, instead of discouraging him the action of the NYSC management
reinforced his commitment to use the instrumentality of the law to fight human
rights abuse and other forms of institutionalized injustice in the society. I
advised that you take time to read and appreciate it.

Chapter 7 is on Litigation and
has six contributors. Mallam Yusuf Ali, SAN in discussing the subject
“Attaining Excellence in the Legal Profession: Criminal Litigation Perspective”
made a powerful statement on page 147 and I quote “It is also important to
understand the snags of building a successful career and how to surmount them.
The first crucial lesson is that leaders are not born but made. Obviously there
has to be some inborn natural ability – coordination, flexibility, anatomical
and physiological capacity. However, the real key to sustained excellence is
the development of mental toughness”. The above statement is a tip of the ice
berg on the elucidations made my Yusuf Ali, SAN on this subject and I strongly
recommend that you read through the entire work.

The second contributor is Deacon
Dele Adesina, SAN, FCIArb., who discussed the topic “Your Picture Determines
Your Future.” In page 159, he stated that:

“Hard work is a non-negotiable factor in the school of success,
particularly in legal practice. There is little or nothing that prayer or luck
can achieve without hard work”. The Further buttress the above point he stated
in page 161 that “Success is a product of clear vision, calculated mission to
accomplish the vision not minding the pains or the scars experienced along the
You need to go through this work
to appreciate how your picture determines your future according to the learned
silk Dele Adesina, SAN, FCIArb.
Mr. Quakers Norrison, SAN made a
contribution on the “Mastery of the Four Cardinal D’s for Achieving Excellence”
the Learned Silk opined in page 171 that “As a Legal Practitioner, my life is
governed by 4 interrelated and interconnected cardinal Ds, which are: – Desire,
Discipline, Determination and Diligence”. Since we are all in pursuit of
excellence, I recommend that you assimilate the four D’s for achieving
Chief Emeka Etiaba SAN took time
address the topic “Attaining the Rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN):
Personal Experience”. In addition to expounding the steps for attainment of
SAN, he advised on page 182 that for those who may be aspiring to be SANs, it
is important to realize that the award simply exposes an awardee to serious
public scrutiny (both in Court and outside the Court).
The fifth contributor on
Litigation Mr. Olabode Olanipekun, SAN, wrote on “The Art of Legal Advocacy in
Litigation” the learned silk noted in page 190 that an “aspirant to excellence
in Litigation must gain a clear understanding of what excellence means; the
import of being a Litigation Lawyer; the choice of litigation as a career path;
effective ways to prepare and the qualities needed to succeed”. The above
indices are further discussed in the book.
In discussing “Personal
Development: A Pre-Requisite for Achieving Excellence” the last contributor on
litigation Mr Adedolapo Akinrele SAN, made it clear that
A legal practitioner must learn
to evolve and redefine himself or herself in line with the changing dynamics of
the profession. We must in evolving, however hold fast to our basic ethos and
ethics, which is representing our client in the best way possible.
To appreciate how to meet up with
the evolving dimensions of legal practice, I recommend that you read this for a
wider view.

Chapter eight is on Academics and
has four (4) contributors. For reasons of conflict of interest, being the
contributor of part of this chapter, the review of this book excludes this
portion, which has been sent to an independent professional colleague for
review. The feedback is that, and I read:
The first contributor, Professor Fabian
Ajogwu,  SAN,  discussed “The Legal Practitioner’s Pursuit of
He stated on page 205 that:

“Excellence is the quality of being outstanding or extremely good or
superior at something. No one praises the average performer and Aristotle
famously stated that “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an
act, but a habit.”

The Learned Senior Advocate and
Professor went further to discuss the relationship between “The Professional,
Excellence and Time”. It is an interesting read and recommended for every
person who is in the pursuit of excellence.
I now resume my review –
The second contributor on
academics Professor Gbolahan Elias, SAN addressed “The What, When and How of My
Career in the Legal Profession” He proffer advice to young lawyers on page 219
on pursuing excellence in the legal profession.

Professor Oluyemisi Bamgbose, SAN
addressed the topic “The Trajectory of Excellence in the Academia”. The Learned
Silk opined on page 225 that the “An antidote to attaining excellence is “Never
give up”. It is true that a “No” today is not a “No” forever. The fact that a
target which was set was not met, did not mean it could never be met. This was
a philosophy employed in my career as an academic and legal practitioner”. It
will be a worthy service to oneself to benefit from the wealth of Knowledge of
learned silk made manifest in this book.

The last contributor on Academics
Professor Adigun Fagbohun, SAN discussed “The Echos and Ethos of Excellence in
the Legal Profession.”  The learned
professor stated on page 233 that “If I am asked to recount those things which
have helped me to attain excellence, I will start with my family values— those
positive teachings that my parents impacted in me and my other siblings”. He
went further list the items which a lower should never compromise nor permit to
be compromised in the course of his practice. I recommend that you read this to
appreciate the values a lawyer is expected to hold dear according to the
learned silk Professor Adigun Fagbohun, SAN.
Chapter 9 deals with Intellectual
Property: Copy Rights and Trade Marks and has one contributor, in the person of
Professor Adebambo Adewobo, SAN. Professor Adebambo Adewobo, at pages 246 and
247, aptly introduced readers to how he came in contact with what later became
his love in the legal profession- Intellectual Property at the NIALS’ library
and how he has through teaching, practicing and enforcement of intellectual
property right carved a niche for himself and contributed to the development of
intellectual property.
The learned Professor
chronologically gave account of the growth of IP law in Nigeria, starting from
a period when reliance was placed on Received English laws to a period when we
started having Nigerian legislation on IP.
Chapter 10 of the book dwells
Media, Sports & Entertainment. Chief Adewunmi Ogusanya, SAN, is thesole
contributor to chapter 10 of the book which he titled “The Law and the Media:
My Experience”. The learned silk at Page 263 of the Book summarized his
contribution in the following words:
Embracing innovation involves the
ability to appreciate ingenious creativity and discover the legal ambits that
flow from same. This is the driving skill that has birthed the transcendence of
the legal profession into every aspect of the economy, even the Digital and
Global economy.
The learned silk, carefully
narrated the growth and opportunities open to legal professionals in the
entertainment industry and the media and the role of social media as a tool in
legal practice.
The highly respected Mr Uche
Nwokedi, SAN, is the sole contributor to this chapter of the book, which he
sub- titled “the Practice of Law is a Treadmill Energy and Natural Resource Law
In relating the practice of law
in the field of Energy and Natural Resources to the topic under discuss- The
trajectory of excellence in legal practice, the learned silk in page 277 of the
book opined as follow:
The path to success and
excellence in legal practice is hard and rocky and a keen lawyer must
persevere. Some periods will be good. When they are you must save for the
periods that are not good, and they will come often to test your mettle. So
prudence must be your middle name.
Chapter 12 has four contributors
focused on Maritime law. The first contributor, and leading Maritime law
Mr. Femi Atoyebi, SAN, dealt with
the topic Attaining Professional Height: Insights from a Legal Expert. He takes
us through his childhood to finding his calling to the legal profession.
Speaking on how he became a specialist in Maritime law, he says on page 293
“…while I did not study maritime law formally in any university, I learned far
more than what classroom experience could have taught me”. In addition to these
words of wisdom, the learned silk also cited cases he handled which form case
law in shipping law today. I commend us to read the full chapter.
Leading Maritime law expert, Mr.
Mike Igbokwe, SAN picks up from where Mr Femi Atoyebi, SAN stopped and takes us
through the topic, “Maritime Law: My story” where in discussing his personal
experiences in the area of maritime law, he advised on the merits of
specialization. He says “No doubt, specialization has its merits. However, specialization
in an area without enough work in that area and without the knowledge and
experience to handle work in other areas of law would limit the work that you
receive and could limit your attaining your potentials and lead to poverty. I
refer readers to page 305.

Another Maritime law expert, Mr
Chukwudi Ilogu, SAN discusses the topic “My Desire for Maritime: My Legal Feats
and reflects on how the times have changed from a period when you had to travel
out of the country to study the field of Maritime law and now when universities
in Nigeria now teach the course.

Leading Maritime law expert, Mrs.
Funke Agbor, SAN ends this chapter by telling us “the factors that facilitated
excellence in her career. She advises “through this journey I have also learned
that failure is not the opposite of success. Failure is part of the journey to
success. Every time you fall, you pick yourself up and move forward. There will
always be setbacks, but those setbacks will form the chapters of your success
story. Page 321
In Chapter 13, Professor Taiwo
Osipitan, SAN takes on Evidence Law as he discusses the topic “Achieving
Continuous Excellence in the Legal Profession: Tenacity and Perseverance.” He
advises “It is important that young lawyers seeking to excel in law practice
set out clear professional objectives for themselves. They must learn to focus
and persevere. They must also be receptive to learning and able to apply
themselves. A young lawyer should invest himself/ herself in the acquisition of
legal knowledge and must strive to add value to himself or herself.
Unfortunately, remuneration for young lawyers is nothing to write home about
compared to the economic realities of the Country. However, the virtues of
patience and contentment are necessary for any young lawyer in the quest to
achieve excellence in law practice because though financial reward may tarry,
it will surely come.” Page 328. I  recommend you  read these insightful contributions.
Chapter 14 sees Professor Ernest
Ojukwu, SAN discussing “Professional Ethics” as he takes on the topic “From Law
Student to Young Lawyers: Preparing for a Career.” He says there are clear
skills and competencies a law student needs before they graduate from the
university and the Nigerian Law School, including but not limited to oral and
written communication, advocacy, drafting etc. Page 338.
In this chapter, Chief Kayode
Sofola, SAN speaking on topic “The Law Profession and my Specialisation” at
page 341 states the importance of diligence in the legal profession that The
thing that works for any advocate in his trade, is diligence and being on top
of the facts and the law in any given case. If you appear against a celebrated
senior colleague, be assured that if you have researched   your case in depth, the legal celebrity can
only work within the given facts and the applicable law.
The learned Senior Advocate
posits at page 346 thus: “So, it is hard work, focus, avoiding distractions and
keeping to high ethical values” that will ultimately to lead to excellence.

Mr. Seni Adio, SAN in his
contribution titled: My Journey – From Beantown to Hometown, stated on page 347
as follows:
After a few of my colleagues had
introduced themselves, I realized I had two choices – say what the hell am I
doing here, these “gals” and “guys” are geniuses – or say bring it on, let the
“games” begin. I chose the latter. I made up my mind, nobody here is going to
out-work me.  I am going to play to my strengths,
I will be diligent, I will ask questions, and I will seek out those that are
responsive to my overtures.
Bolaji Ayorinde, SAN’s (B.A.)
contribution is titled My Balance of Law and Politics. He made it clear that
“The advantages of remaining in your chosen profession while venturing into
politics are enormous. Principally you are shielded from the pressures
associated with “do or die” politics. Your desire to serve by going into
politics is continually reinforced as your professional practice as a lawyer
remains intact while you participate in politics.”

B.A. stated at page 359 that on
the attaining of silk “after the formative years, you must retain your focus”.
He then went ahead to conclude on Lawyers delving into politics at page 360 to
add that “In creating a balance, you must strive to ensure that your practice
does not collapse as it should remain the main stay of livelihood. Any
deviation from this may lead to regrets where your foray into politics does not
yield much success as nothing is guaranteed. Your practice is your fallback
position but it must remain your never-left position.”
Mrs. Funke Adekoya, SAN commences
this chapter of the book on with topic: My Passion for the Profession of Law.
At page 363 with a very salient point on self –evaluation as being imperative for
excellence in the legal profession. She stated and I quote:
“It is necessary for a lawyer who
aims to achieve success to constantly review where he or she is on the career
path, and to adjust as to may be necessary. Time management skills are vital
for success in the legal field, more especially for women in the profession.”
Speaking further on the
importance of planning in achieving excellence in the legal profession at page
364, the Learned Senior Advocate stated that “Once you have decided to pursue a
particular career, it pays to have a career plan, which will guide you as you
gain knowledge and exposure. Obviously life happens, and circumstances often
arise to make you change the plan as you go along.
Writing on The Drive for
Excellence, Babatunde Ajibade, SAN states at page 372 as follows:

“Excellent performance at the Bar
is not only about an advocate’s forensic advocacy skills. It includes things
such as comportment, manner of dress, ethics, demeanor, manner and mode of
relating with colleagues, candor, honesty and an appreciation of the gravitas
and dignity that is required to sustain the profession’s position in society.
This is not to be confused with the arrogance, pompousness and the sheer
rudeness that many Silks exhibited prior to taking the rank, which is then
magnified many times over upon their attainment of the rank.”

On the topic, “The Journey to Arbitration” – Adesegun
Ajibola, FCIArb elucidated on success at the bar at page 377 thus:

“Handwork is inevitably linked to
success at Bar. I tried as much as possible to devote my time to almost
everything that came my way professionally and after a while I began to pick
and choose, but the experience I had gathered in the formative period of my
time the Bar served me well.”

I recommend this book as a good
read. It captures the personal experiences of leading experts in various fields
of law such as Administrative and Constitutional Law, Banking and Finance Law,
Environmental law, name it. The book is also very innovative as it contains key
nuggets and principles needed by young and older lawyers who need to discover
their path in the legal profession.

Ladies and gentlemen, my review
LEGAL EXPERTS” is positive. It meets the test of academic and scholarly work.
It is a positive contribution to learning.
Professor Fabian Ajogwu, SAN,
FCIArb Lagos, December 3, 2019

fajogwu@lbs.edu.ng; fajogwu@kennapartners.com

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