22 Aug 2019

Interview - Viola Echebima

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Associate at Banwo & Ighodalo in Lagos, Nigeria.

Viola EchebimaTell us a bit about yourself and what attracted you to law?

My name is Viola Chimdinma Echebima. I graduated from the University of Nigeria where I obtained my LL. B. with first class Honours. Thereafter, I went to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos Campus, for the mandatory one-year professional program where I received another First Class Honours. I am an associate in the energy and natural resources practice group of Banwo & Ighodalo, a tier one commercial law firm in Lagos. I advise a wide array of public and private sector clients on a broad range of legal transactions relating to the structuring of investments and transactions in the upstream, midstream and downstream sectors of the Nigerian oil and gas industry.

Growing up, I had the notion that lawyers were very enlightened – as they say “lawyers are learned”. Fortunately, my mum (who doubles as my learned friend now) was a reference point for me. I believed lawyers were better positioned to speak about topical issues and drive proper legal and regulatory frameworks, as well as policies for economic development. Thus, when it was time to make a career decision, I opted for law as I believed it would serve as a platform for me to be a nation-builder.

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

At the different stages and facets of my life, several people have had an influence on my career choice. Nonetheless, at my formative stage, my mum influenced my decision to chart a career in law. During my years of legal training, I had thoughts of becoming an astute litigator. However, my interest in the corpus of corporate commercial/energy law was founded after I was taught by Professor Edith Nwosu, who is currently the Deputy Vice Chancellor of my alma mater, and a Harvard trained alumnus Professor George Nnona – I considered both professionals par excellence.

What did you learn from your internship?

My internship with Stephenson Harwood was an eye opener for me as it helped me develop new perspectives and working practices. In the course of my internship, I realised the importance of business development and the sustainability of a brand – unfortunately, the reality is that most law schools around the globe (including Nigeria) do not provide any business training as this is considered outside the scope of the curriculum for law students. Thus, upon admission to the bar, lawyers grapple with understanding the business aspect of practising law, with the resultant effect of impeding growth in private practice, admission to partnership in any law firm and/or growth in any organisation.

Also, I realised that beyond knowledge of the law, there is a need to develop a deeper and broader understanding of one’s clients’ businesses, as this is equally vital for the growth of a successful career.

I dare say that the experience garnered from my internship at Stephenson Harwood stirred a career growth awareness for me – as I’m even more conscious about client satisfaction and quality delivery.

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

I consider working in Stephenson Harwood LLP my greatest achievement so far as a young lawyer. Indeed, it was an enriching and exciting experience for me as I had the opportunity to work directly with some of the brightest minds in the international legal market on high level transactions. My greatest challenge so far as a young lawyer is having to strike a balance between my professional and private life. Truthfully, the profession is quite demanding and to be successful one has to put in the hours – sadly, the law schools do not reveal this truth. However, in recent times, I have become more focused on finding the balance, whilst trying to be the best at what I do.

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

I hope to obtain a doctoral degree, and be a lecturer in one of the prestigious universities around the globe, or alternatively be the youngest Minister of Education in Nigeria!

Name one person who inspires you, and why?

More than one person has inspired me at the different facets and phases of my life, as I have drawn different life lessons from their experiences and achievements.

What advice would you give to aspiring lawyers?

The legal profession is quite challenging, particularly where you decide to distinguish yourself in the profession – I mean about 4,000 people are admitted to the Nigerian Bar yearly. The legal profession requires hard work, resilience, and the constant desire to proffer excellent solutions to your clients at all times, that distinguish you from the next lawyer. It is important to develop analytical, research, communication, writing and interpersonal skills as a law student, and to develop these skillsets at an early stage. I advise law students to participate in extra-curricular activities and engage in internship placements at law firms.

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

Financial technology has started to gain grounds in Nigeria – although it is generally gaining acceptability in more developed climes. Whilst I reckon that general principles of contract and commercial law may apply to this area, I believe that law firms who appreciate the innovative risks associated with the business will be better positioned to attract clients in this field. In addition, I think there are a lot of prospects in the entertainment and hospitality industries.

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

As legal systems and the practice of law continue to evolve globally, coupled with the wave of artificial intelligence, I envisage that the nature of work required of legal professionals will get more complex and only firms willing to develop broader skillsets and capacities will remain relevant.

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