Lawyers Must Lead in Legal Education of Ordinary People
Joseph Ogunmodede is part of the tide wanting to turn Nigeria’s legal system into a strong, fair and corruption-free institution. The newly graduated lawyer, who came top of his class at the University of Ibadan and the Nigerian Law School, spoke to Africa Legal’s Kingsley Ugochukwu Ani.
What is your impression of Nigeria’s legal system?
The Nigerian legal system is comatose! It's unfortunate that while some people are striving relentlessly to revive it, and some are indifferent to its development, many others are bent on destroying it – sacrificing justice on the altar of selfishness and self-aggrandizement. We see court officials insisting on tips under the guise of ‘mobilization’ before they do their job. Lawyers now conspire with the police to defraud defendants. You find some judges deciding cases in favour of the highest bidder.
What would you do to make it better?
I'm prepared to contribute to the reform by showing a high degree of professional repute in my dealings. This I would do by showing empathy - putting myself in the clients’ shoes. Also, I've discovered, one of the challenges is the lack of enlightenment of the common man - many are ignorant of their rights and duties - hence, my commitment to legal literacy. I've established THE LEGAL DIARY hosted onwww.thelegaldiary.com - an online platform dedicated to educating people about their rights and duties in a creative and simple manner. Now that I've been called to the Bar, I've also decided to render pro-bono services to litigants.
Lawyers have a major role to play in developing sound government across Africa. In which country do you see this happening effectively?
There is no perfect society, however, the commitment of lawyers to good governance makes the difference. Botswana should be credited in this respect because the contribution of her lawyers to the rule of law, human rights, economic sustainability and human development cannot be overemphasized. All these are responsible for the country's rapid development over the years. Lawyers are the pillars of every organization and should maintain a high level of professional conduct.
What is your area of interest in law?
I’m still identifying my interest but I want to gain proper insight into Corporate and Commercial Law practice. I’m becoming enthusiastic about Energy Law too, especially as it concerns renewable energy. I love Real Estate Law as well.
Was there a defining moment or person which inspired you to go into law?
My interest was piqued in secondary school with the conviction that I could make an impact in any aspect of human endeavour as a lawyer. However the fact that my father is a legal practitioner played a prominent role in my interest in law. I remember my admiration for his gown – like that of Superman - and reading the facts in his law reports like a storybook.
Could you speak us through a remarkable experience you have had?
One was during my internship at B.O. Ogunmodede & Co, Abeokuta. Even as a law graduate, I was assigned a case (recovery of possession of land) to handle - save that I neither appended my signature nor made appearances in court because I'd not been called to the Bar yet. I prepared all the court processes and even wrote applications to apply for certified true copies of the documents I needed as exhibits. Judgment was given in favour of our client. I had other remarkable experiences at Aluko & Oyebode, Strachan Partners as well as Ikeyi & Arifayan where I learnt more about corporate law practice.
You have achieved excellent internships with top law firms. What advice would you give to young lawyers wanting the same?
They should start internships early at university as this will prepare them for the legal world and provide the exposure they need to establish themselves in the profession. Apart from knowledge being acquired during internships, (they are more practical than lessons taken in the classroom) they also aid in better understanding of lectures. Also, young lawyers should not limit themselves, they should apply to law firms and corporate organizations of their choice and take opportunities to establish relationships with industry stakeholders.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in Abeokuta, Ogun State into the family of Chief Benjamin Ogunmodede and Chief (Mrs) Caroline Ogunmodede. I'm the second child in a home of four. I attended the Abeokuta, Grammar School, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta.
Which university did you attend?
The University of Ibadan.
How did you graduate top of your class at university and come out with a top result from the Nigerian Law School?
I owe my success both at university and the Nigerian Law School to God! However, consistency with my studies, mentorship from seniors, group discussions with like-minded individuals, comprehensive study of past questions, good tutoring from my lecturers, among other factors, contributed to my success. One thing I've also discovered is that you help yourself to succeed when you help others to succeed.
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