22 Aug 2019

Interview - Hamid Abdulkareem

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Partner at Aluko & Oyebode in Lagos, Nigeria.

Hamid AbdulkareemTell us a bit about yourself and what attracted you to law?

I have always been drawn to books and argumentation. In primary school, I was an avid debater, representing my school in competitions and winning laurels. In my early teens, my parents deemed it necessary to ban me from reading novels, as I would do little else. Looking back now, I guess this background foreshadowed my choice of a career as a lawyer. No one particularly influenced my decision; law seemed a natural fit and an easy choice for me.

In terms of your career choice, who has had the biggest influence?

Although my dad is a lawyer, he never tried to press me to study law. The decision to become a lawyer evolved naturally, although one could argue that my dad set the stage for my career by maintaining an inexhaustible library to which my siblings and I had unlimited access. Tragically, being kids, the books came off the shelves but never seemed to find their way back on!

What did you learn from your secondment?

Two key things stand out from my secondment at Stephenson Harwood: the importance of maintaining good client relationships and networking. During my time at the firm, I saw how lawyers at Stephenson Harwood were always thinking about their clients and businesses, and demonstrating this thoughtfulness to clients by proactively keeping clients informed and up-to-date on news relevant to their businesses. This has been a key element of my business development efforts since then.

I also learned never to miss an opportunity to network. Indeed, lawyers from Stephenson Harwood – particularly Kamal Shah – have been influential in introducing me to key clients and contacts, helping me to gain exposure as I develop my career as an international disputes lawyer. I was appointed last year as a member of the Steering Committee of IBA Arb40, the under-40 arm of the Arbitration Committee of the International Bar Association. This was a consequence of meeting key contacts after being introduced by Stephenson Harwood.

What is the greatest achievement, and the biggest challenge, of your career?

My biggest achievement thus far has been making partner in record time. I joined Aluko & Oyebode as an associate in 2011, was made a senior associate after a year, and made partner in 2018. I would say the biggest challenge has been the inevitable one: balancing repeated transitions to more senior roles at my firm (and the ensuing hectic work life) with family demands, while also finding time to relax as well as look after my health. I don’t know whether I’ve quite hacked this challenge yet, but I try to ensure I keep all ‘constituencies’ happy.

In the next five or ten years, what do you hope to achieve?

Speaking broadly, within the next 10 years, I would like to have become known as one of the leading dispute resolution experts in Nigeria. Of course, I would hope to have attained the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), which is the equivalent of Queen’s counsel. 

Name one person who inspires you, and why?

Tunde Fagbohunlu SAN, who is a partner and the head of the litigation, arbitration and ADR practice group at Aluko & Oyebode, has been the biggest inspiration for me. He is one of the leading international arbitrators of African descent, and he has what I would call a ‘beautiful mind’. His unique ability to analyse problems quickly and perceptively, and offer decisive clever solutions is inspiring and has been instrumental in his success getting to the top of the profession. One of the challenges of being a lawyer is falling into the analysis paralysis trap, and he never seems to have this problem; instead navigating his way seamlessly through seemingly intractable scenarios.

What advice would you give to aspiring lawyers?

The profession is changing significantly, with technology, artificial intelligence and non-traditional legal service providers having a huge impact on the future of the sector. Keep your eyes open and look to embrace this change, expose yourself to as many opportunities as possible, and be a part of this movement in the legal profession.

Given Nigeria’s growth in the last 5 years, where do you see the most opportunities for the legal industry?

Infrastructure and technology. The government is placing a huge focus on infrastructure, recognising its strategic importance in terms of positioning the country for future growth. In addition, as technology disrupts traditional sectors (e.g. the emergence of fintech), I believe that new opportunities will be created for the legal industry.

How do you think the legal profession will develop in the next 10 years?

As mentioned above, I think that technology and the influx of new entrants – non-traditional legal service providers – into the market will play a huge role in the future of the legal profession. The emergence of smart contracts and online legal services (both for transactions and dispute resolution) will also alter some of the traditional aspects of legal work, causing some areas to disappear and others to thrive. 

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