By Onozure Dania
Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, is Senior Partner of Paul Usoro & Co. He has over 30 years experience and is acknowledged as a highly experienced litigator and Nigeria’s foremost communications law expert. He has advised a wide range of blue chip companies in Nigeria.
In this interview, he speaks on the need for lawyers to enhance their capabilities, acquiring of relevant skills in finance to improve their practice, advising young lawyers to take advantage of these opportunities, while opening themselves up to mentoring and other sundry issues.
What is the best way to guarantee growth and development of the legal profession?
Lawyers must as a matter of principle, continue to enhance their capacities. It is important for them to go beyond their primary profession and acquire relevant skills in finance to improve their practice. They should also build competencies in financial management in order to aid their professional performance.
Is there a model of success for law firms?
Primarily, I believe a law firm should be operated as a business concern. In the course of my practice over the years, I have come to understand the importance of financial literacy and it is common place that most lawyers don’t have sound knowledge of finance, assets and liabilities. This hampers practice in a number of ways. With a vibrant knowledge of finance, you’re able to improve your law firm management skills, manage your practice very well and also offer advisory services on issues relating to finance to clients, where such is required.
Is there a definitive way for young lawyers to acquire further training after law school?
There are several trainings going on in the profession organised either by the national body, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, the branches, the various committees of the NBA Section on Business Law, the Section on Legal Practices and various other organisations. Young lawyers should take advantage of these opportunities, while opening themselves up to mentoring opportunities from senior lawyers. Young Lawyers Forum of the NBA and that of the Section on Business Law can be a major catalyst to this objective.
How do we sustain knowledge transfer in the profession?
As I said earlier, it is important for lawyers, particularly the younger ones, to open themselves up to mentoring from the senior lawyers. This is critical to knowledge transfer and will help institutionalise sound professional ethics in the practice. Groups and forums within the NBA such as the Young Lawyers Forum and even outside it, can play a major role here.
Many say that standards are falling in the profession. What is your take on this?
Lawyers, particularly the seniors, should be held to the highest standards of legal practice at all times. It is important for us to uphold the integrity of the Bar in order for it to impact the younger ones, develop the profession and ultimately effect positive societal change. The major threats to the integrity of the Bar are attributable to both human and institutional factors.
These include the lack of personal integrity and discipline; these are two major human factors that can hinder the progress of the Bar, while undue interference of the government, weak regulatory frameworks, poor education, remuneration and income for lawyers and financial dependence of the Judiciary on the Executive arm of Government are chiefly institutional problems. We must, therefore, make individual efforts and institutional efforts to address the integrity deficit in the Bar. The Nigerian Bar Association as an institution of change, must raise its voice on critical issues as it concerns the nation’s wellbeing.
What sort of leadership is expected of the Bar to ensure the growth of the profession?
The Bar has a critical role to play in the socio-economic wellbeing of the polity. It is the grand promoter of the rule of law and must raise its voice, especially when there is subversion of the course of justice.
Accordingly, it is important that competent people are elected to lead the Bar because this is also crucial to the integrity of the Bar itself.
How have you contributed to some of these developments?
As part of my contributions to the profession, my firm recently initiated the Paul Usoro Pro-Bono Challenge. The initiative is aimed at rewarding the selfless and sacrificial efforts of young lawyers who go the extra mile to defend the defenseless, ultimately restoring confidence in and respect to the rule of Law in Nigeria. Lawyers between year 1 to 10 at the Bar are invited to submit entries vide a short video; providing information about the pro-bono matter personally handled by them. Participants are also required to submit supporting documents.
The Challenge carries an award of N100,000 each for six most compelling cases submitted by lawyers practising in each of the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria, with one winner per zone.
The Challenge is determined by an external evaluation committee made up of great legal minds such as Prof. Fabian Ajogwu, SAN, former Attorney-General of Ogun State, Abimbola Akeredolu, SAN, and another renowned Professor, Mr. Essien Udom.
How connected is the legal profession to development in the larger society?
We are intricately connected in many ways, and to complement the efforts of government, we must as individuals and as institutions make significant attempts at tackling some of the social and economic challenges we face as a nation.
A case in point is the insecurity in the country, which has left Borno and Yobe with monumental damages – leading to the displacement of families, as well as thousands of orphaned children. This, no doubt has its effects on the society not just today but also in the future.
This humanitarian situation is indeed heart-breaking and as lawyers, and responsible citizens, we are not pleased with this development and state of affairs. It is for this reason that during a visit to Borno State, we made special presentations and donations to internally displaced persons in Maiduguri, through the office of the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice.