Gbemi Adekola’s advice to young women in law
Gbemi Adekola was in her first day on the job in 2010 as a new lawyer when she was invited by the managing partner of Aina Blankson LP to accompany him to a meeting which, he announced, she would anchor. Although it was a set-up, she had a moment of sheer panic. Looking back, she regards it as an experience that shaped her outlook of a life in law. “From that day on, I adopted and modified the Scout motto, ‘Be Prepared’ - for anything!”
Her role, as a transactional lawyer for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in Abuja, a position she has held for six years, intertwines mergers and acquisitions with debt and equity capital markets and also covers the evolving area of antitrust law.
(The Securities and Exchange Commission is the regulatory institution of the Nigerian capital market supervised by the country’s Ministry of Finance.)
While still a law student (she graduated from Olabisi Onabanjo University in Ogun State) she explored internship opportunities based on the “priceless” advice of a neighbour. He had encouraged her to always take up internship opportunities every vacation as an undergraduate, particularly as internships are not a feature of the Nigerian law degree programme, and given the prolonged vacations which could arise owing to academic union strikes.
While these internships exposed her to the world of corporate and commercial law early on, it was her experience fresh from law school and right in the middle of transactions at Aina Blankson LP that honed her confidence and ability to think on the spot and out of the box, and inspired her interest in financial transactions and commercial legal practice.
“There were times when I had to tell myself ‘you can do this’. It has required settling down to understand the language of the field. In the early days, I subscribed to “Term of the Day” on Investopedia, dug out my brother’s finance text book and approached every transaction with research and jurisdictional comparisons. I’m glad I did not succumb to fear and quit. I used to think I hated figures and anything related to them, but now, I extract information from financial documents with ease.”
Her heightened interest in commercial legal practice prompted her to enroll for a Masters’ degree in International Commercial Law at Cardiff University in Wales, England.
A major challenge in the practice of law, she admits, is the ambiguous and outdated nature of some of the applicable laws. But, as custodians of the law, lawyers must play their role in upholding and developing legislation and commercial lawyers should be even more involved in this legislative process. As a form of service and armed with the Ernest Shonekan prize in legal drafting (now property law) from the Nigeria Law School, she occasionally serves as a volunteer draftsman for groups looking to propose new laws to the legislature.
She is passionate about Nigeria and delighted that it is moving from an emerging market to a new frontier with countless opportunities.
“It will take strong institutions, effective policies and committed people to sustain the inflow of foreign investments, ensure funds are rightly channeled and promote import substitution and export earnings,” she says.
A highlight in Gbemi’s career was when she was made an ILFA secondee with Clifford Chance LLP in London in September 2015. It was the first time a lawyer from a government agency in Nigeria had been selected. “I literally went in with a list of questions and issues that required clarification.” By the end of the three-month programme she had engaged in significant interactions which have subsequently shaped her input on policy directions. It was a challenging time at a personal level too as her daughter was under a year old but, she says, “we survived.”
A cause close to Gbemi’s heart is the awareness of adoption rights in Nigeria. She worries about the children - many babies - in orphanages who need families with the only barrier between them and adoptive parents being a lack of information.
Outside of work, she volunteers with the Mother Theresa Children’s Home in Abuja and is dedicated to creating more awareness on support for the orphanage needs. She loves helping the children with their homework. She also volunteers with an NGO that promotes quality education by pushing for higher standards for educators and organising academic competitions such as spelling bees and essay competitions.
Her reading material is often faith-based and motivational or work-related. At the moment, she’s taking in the words of Jumoke Adenowo’s “A Path to the Throne” and Patrick A Gaughan’s “Mergers, Acquisitions and Corporate Restructurings”.
“Being a lawyer is exhilarating and challenging, but filled with many opportunities to make an impact on sustainable development,” she says.