Raymond Ikechukwu Nkannebe
Based in Lekki Peninsular, Lagos State, Nigeria
Hi Raymond, can you describe yourself and your job at Synergy Attornies?
I am a young lawyer of about two years post-call. I am also a socio-political affairs commentator and write a column for a UK based online medium─ Politicoscope. I am regularly published in a number of Nigerian online mediums where I weigh in on developments in the socio-political scene.
In the jurisdiction where I practice, that is Nigeria, there is a fusion of the professional roles of the barrister and the solicitor, unlike in other commonwealth countries where both roles are divorced. So I am a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Can you describe Synergy Attornies?
We are a leading law firm located in the heart of Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre -Lagos State. We also have a sister office located in Nigeria’s capital city – Abuja.
We are a law firm with a robust pedigree. Boasting a vast array of professionals working in synergy, true to the name of our firm, in order to meet the demands of a growing and ever-demanding clientele. We have a wide practice area ranging from Arbitration, Labour Law, Corporate advisory, and Energy Law. We operate a Solicitor’s advisory support service on the legal aspect of emerging local and international investment opportunities such as power, oil & gas, and telecommunication. We also deal with International Finance Law; Statutory reform advocacy and legislative lobby; Constitutional litigation and advisory services.
We have a team of 17 lawyers led by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the equivalent of a QC in England. We also have a crop of 9 support staff at our corporate headquarters ─ a large ultra modern facility east of the peninsular that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.
What work do you perform in your organisation?
As counsel, I am involved in the litigation and dispute resolution department of the firm. I attend court proceedings on behalf of clients in court and I am also heavily involved in the preparation of court processes in a jurisdiction still characterised with too much paperwork. I also assist in legal research to develop content and context for the cases handled by the firm across different areas of practice.
What is your educational background?
Nigerian Law School (2015-2016) BL;
University of Maiduguri, Borno State (2010-2015) LL.B (HONS)
St. Joseph Minor Seminary, Zaria, Kaduna State (2001-2007) SSCE
Kings Nursery and Primary School, Kano State (1996-2001) First School Leaving Certificate.
When did you qualify?
I was admitted into the Nigerian bar on the 29th of November, 2016. So it is safe to say that I am still a greenhorn of sorts.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
It has to be the ability to look through the body of existing laws to find legal solutions to meet the needs of clients. And yes, I am a stickler for legal research, with an uncanny patience to keep looking until the shade of the law that answers the proposition of a case is found.
Describe your typical day? Wake up and bedtime times?
My typical day starts at about 6: 15 to 6:30 am with a short prayer. From there, things move to the bathroom where I freshen up for the day and then off to the office, or to the court as the case may be. Lagos State, where I practice, has a peculiar traffic congestion being an overpopulated city. So on days I have a session in court, I tend to wake up even earlier in order to beat the traffic as much as possible. I usually leave the office between 6-8 pm and expend the remainder of the day catching up with dinner; making rounds on the dailies; reading a chapter or two, off the many books on my To-Read list; and eventually crash-landing on the bed when I can’t go further.
What is the hardest part of your job?
[Laughs] It has to be the troubles of trying to make a point off a bad case. And the more you try to do that by burying your head in the library, the more you get to see cases and principles that make your troubles even more difficult than Sisyphus with his boulder in Greek Mythology. But then, as my boss and mentor would always admonish us, such cases are those that eventually distinguish a lawyer from his contemporaries. Yet that doesn’t take away the fact that it remains the hardest part of the job for me. Sometimes it’s akin to facing the court to argue a new mathematical thesis that ‘one plus one equals three’ – against settled canons of mathematics if one is allowed to say that.
What is the most memorable case you have worked on?
It has to be a dispute resolution action out of court between a leading automobile company and its disengaged staff, who were laid off without their full benefits against their terms of employment. I was among the team that defended the action at a labour court for the disengaged staff. The action got settled out of court on the strength of the masterstroke diplomacy deployed by my team in getting the automobile giants to agree to settlement terms favourable to our clients. Now, this case was quite a memorable one as we acted for indigent clients who lost some of their colleagues while the action dragged on in court.
What is the most embarrassing thing to have happened to you as a lawyer?
I don’t think I have really had any such embarrassing moment in my professional life. Most of my colleagues, who are fresh at the bar, often cite their first day in court as their most embarrassing. But this was not the case for me.
What would your clients say about you?
I should say that the few clients I have had to deal with in the few years of my practice think of me as an honest and hardworking advocate who always tries to make a positive case out of an impossible situation. I was particularly inspired when I received a call one afternoon at my current office, and at the other end of the conversation was this client I had represented in a libel action, who called to confess his satisfaction with my services when he learnt that I had left the office.
And what would your competitors say about you?
Well, I can’t really say. But certainly, assuming I have any, they should think of me as one tough guy! [Laughs].
What have you found to be the greatest myth about being a lawyer?
That being a lawyer is an ‘El Dorado’ of sorts, as many people who are not, think of this way. Especially in my own part of the world.
What advice would you give to your pre-law school self? Why is that?
To do everything that could be done within the limits of academics, to finish with a suma cum laude. This is because that is the easiest way of making it into the top law firms. But that is not to say those who don’t finish top of their class aren’t smart chaps. I guess, on another day, we shall talk about how examination is not the true test of knowledge or eventual success of one’s professional life.
Do you have any tips for handling difficult clients?
Giving them a listening ear. Seeing the case from their own perspective but not at the detriment of their case in court, and winning them over on the strength of the superiority of your own opinion or arguments. Not being too emotionally attached to the case. And of course the heavens would not fall if you decline further representation of such clients in a worst case scenario.
What’s the longest day you’ve ever done?
A time sensitive brief was due for filing in court the next day. We didn’t want to ask for an extension of time. So I had to work from 7:00 am to 11:30 pm on this particular day in order to meet up with the deadline.
What case do you find most memorable in your jurisdiction? Why do you think that is?
That has to be the ‘notorious’ case of Amaechi v INEC (2008) 5 NWLR (pt. 1080). This is because it broke ground in many ways. The Supreme Court of Nigeria, in that landmark decision, returned the Appellant, whose name was controversially substituted for another candidate by his political party in a gubernatorial election despite having won the party’s primary election. For the first time the Court returned a candidate who didn’t participate in all the phases of the electoral process in a graphic case of substantial justice as against technical justice which has become a chorus of sorts in the Nigerian judicial choir.
Do you have any advice for lawyers just starting out?
I should advise young lawyers like myself just starting out, to keep their feet to the ground, open their eyes and make the profession their oyster. There is a certain tendency for young wigs to emphasise money instead of adding value to themselves in whatever way they could while still new at the bar. This attitude must be eschewed by all means. If there is a profession where things get better with time, it must be this profession of wig and the gown. They should read and master the principles and intricacies of the law, to equip themselves for the promising future ahead of them.
Do you do any volunteering/pro bono work etc?
Yes. I am a community person and I volunteer for a number of non-governmental organizations in the area of human rights and advocacy. In the future, I hope to set up a centre that would champion this causes.
What has been your worst day in the job?
Are there really any yet? I don’t think so.
What has been your best?
Being involved in a very controversial case, at my former office, that ended up in a judgment in our favour.
What do you consider to be the secret to your success?
I think this is where I would pull a peculiar Nigerian stunt: where questions are answered with a further question. And here we go: Am I really successful yet? [Laughs]
Have you always wanted to be a lawyer?
Not really. Having being trained in seminary facility during my post-primary school education, I had wanted enrolling for a theological seminary towards becoming a roman catholic priest. But at some point, I had a change of mind, and settled for law.
What would you say is the best tool you have at your disposal?
Many people say I have my way with written words. Others think I am a sweet talker. So there is it; my advocacy skill; written or oral, are my best tools. And to be sure, I have deployed them tactically on occasions.
Which key skill is most essential for your success as a lawyer?
Writing I should say. I am a connoisseur of words of sorts. And as a foremost Justice of the Nigerian Supreme Court once observed: language, and not arithmetic is the lawyer’s tool.
Which experiences have been most significant in forming you as a lawyer?
Growing up under parents who are themselves dispute resolution experts, even though without a formal legal training. As a young boy still battling with my lunch box, I could still recall images of my parents sitting in judgement over different members of my local community who came to them for solutions to their problems. This environment must have shaped, even if subconsciously, my legal antennae.
Who is the lawyer you most admire and why?
Easy one! Mr. Abiodun Jelili Owonikoko; SAN. One of the brightest men I have come across. Intelligent, assertive, humble, unassuming and strikingly innovative. Within the short period of being under his tutelage, he has shaped my career beyond measure. He is one of the few practitioners in my jurisdiction who still practice the profession with a dignifying ambience.
What makes a brilliant lawyer?
The insatiable hunger to push the frontiers of knowledge and stay relevant in an increasingly dynamic world.
What would you say is your greatest achievement?
Being a role model to many people of my generation at what I consider quite a young age.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself as a senior associate in a law firm rendering top-notch services. I also hope to have built a reputation in Labour and Constitutional Law so as to become a ‘go-to’ expert in those often contentious areas of legal practice in my jurisdiction. And, lest I forget, I hope to have bagged a Masters degree in Law before then.
What is your morning routine?
Waking up at about 6:00 am. Getting things squared with the wardrobe. Running off to the office and getting on with the business of the day.
What is your bedtime routine?
Making rounds on both local and international media and reading articles on front-burner issues, both in local and international politics, via my mobile phone – and of course dozing off!
What do you do to keep healthy? What are your habits regarding exercise and nutrition?
I hit the gym around my neighbourhood during the weekends to spend some time on the treadmill. Lift some weights and then play what the Chinese call ping-pong. I love to eat good food. And I often see myself as the man in the anecdote about the way to a man’s heart. [Laughs]
If you weren’t a lawyer what would you be?
Perhaps a reverend father of the Roman Catholic Church, or a media personality anchoring programs on TV.
What do you believe that nobody else believes?
Well I think many other people out there share this belief too. It is that, there is no particular religion that guarantees access to eternity in heaven, as is peddled by extremist members of the world-leading religions.
Is there a quote which defines you?
It has to be this: that examination is not the true test of knowledge. A senior colleague of mine who is currently undergoing training for his Masters degree at the University of Cambridge once told me, that in the nearest future, I’d be the epitome of ‘grades don’t define a person or determine their progress’.
Which law would you change and why?
The law that makes appeals from decisions of state High Courts in my jurisdiction fall to federal Courts of Appeal. This is because it makes nonsense of Nigeria’s federal system and, to a great extent, throws spanners into the wheels of justice, as appeals from over 36 state High Courts fall to fewer appellate courts and from there, to only one Supreme Court located in the federal capital.
Which book have you found most influential?
The late Professor Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’.
Do you have any political aspirations?
Yes. As some point in my evolution, I hope to get involved in local politics in my home state of Anambra to see how much impact I could make with my brains and brawn to the further growth and development of the state and her peoples.
Who do you admire most and why?
Late literary maestro, Professor Chinua Achebe. And that would be for his compelling storytelling, riddled with graphic imagery that leaves a lasting impression on the mind of the reader. Beyond his fictional works, all of which I have read, his scathing essays such as the popular ‘An Imagery of Africa; Racism in Henry Conrad’s Heart of Darkness’ which bore out the pan-African and revolutionary side of the man albeit with words, all of which make him an unmistakable literary legend of the African race, nay the world.
What 3 things would you take with you on a desert island?
A book, a smart phone and a machete!
How do you think practising law has changed you as a person?
It has increased my level of consciousness and awareness of my environment and has also made me a more responsible person, coming from a jurisdiction where it is a taboo for a lawyer to be seen on the wrong side of the societal equation.
If money was no object, how would you spend your time? And would you still be a lawyer?
In a lengthy essay published on my Face book timeline on the day of my call to the bar, I made it explicit that my eventual decision to train as a lawyer was not informed by the lust for lucre, but to use the law as a tool of social engineering in the thought of Roscoe Pound, to better the lot of my immediate society. And so if money were no object, I’d still have been a lawyer. And I would spend my time studying and understanding society and devising ways to leave footprints in the sands of time.
What is the step/change you are most glad you’ve taken in life?
That has to be finally electing to train as a lawyer.
What is the most beautiful/inspiring thing you’ve ever seen?
The sight of the mother hen protecting the young brood.
What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘lawyer’?
An often misunderstood character!
What does a lawyer represent to you as a concept?
An individual whose job thrives on the strength of compelling arguments to make the justice, or otherwise, of a case manifest- for the judge on the hallowed bench, armed with the gavel, to rule one way or the other. Put in its less litigious construct, a trade of diplomacy and masterstroke advocacy, geared towards bringing warring parties together.
What is the best lawyer joke you’ve heard?
One day in a Contract Law class, the professor asked one of his better students, “Now if you were to give someone an orange, how would you go about it?”
The student replied, “Here’s an orange.”
The professor was livid, “No! No! Think like a lawyer!”
The student then recited, “Okay, I’d tell him, ‘ I hereby give and convey to you all and singular, my estate and interests, rights, claims, titles and advantages of and in, said orange, together with all its rind, juice, pulp and seeds, and all rights and advantages with full power to bite, cut, freeze and otherwise eat, the same, or give the same away with and without the pulp, juice, rind and seeds, anything hereinbefore or hereinafter or in any deed, or deeds, instruments of whatever nature or kind whatsoever to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding…”
How do you balance home and family life with your job?
Currently not being married, I am saved the drama of finding a truce between work and family life. So for now, it’s all about me getting myself equipped as much as I can, and hopefully, when we get into the family drills, we’d somehow find a way around that. [Laughs]
Thank you very much for your time, Raymond.