Lawyers able to work across jurisdictions are in growing demand in Africa especially by investors, companies working on infrastructure projects and migrants needing family law support.
Laolu Elugbaju, a Lagos-born lawyer educated in Nigeria and England, says he realised early in his career that if he could navigate the English legal system as well as the Nigerian system, he would be in demand. Elugbaju, a corporate lawyer with Latham and Watkins LLP in London, is admitted in England and Wales and Nigeria.
“The people behind most infrastructure projects and foreign investment in Africa adopt English law as their preferred governing law. And, invariably, these parties instruct lawyers qualified in England and Wales as their legal representatives, either from finance or business operations standpoint,” he says.
However, by being qualified to practise in Nigeria he navigates the two worlds seamlessly – giving clients peace of mind.
“My team is picking up more cross-jurisdictional instructions due to our diverse experience and capabilities. Having multi-jurisdictional qualifications and experience has meant we have increased interaction with lawyers in our other global offices, with increased confidence in collaborating on deals and cross-selling.”
Adefoworola Tokan-Lawal, an associate with ǼLEX Legal in Lagos, is qualified to practise in Texas and Nigeria. This has given her a deeper perspective of client expectation.
“The expectations of, say a Nigerian client, would be different from that of an international client abroad or that of an international client in Nigeria. My dual exposure makes it easier to tailor my responses and work to the needs and expectations of these different clients.”
Her advice to young African lawyers is to decide early (while still at university) if they want to be dual qualified.
“Being called to the Nigerian Bar requires attending the Nigerian Law School for a year. Alternatively, most US states only require someone to take and pass the state bar to be qualified.”
Qualify at home first, she says, and then go for the US qualification.
Jodi Halkier, a South African lawyer working as a Registered Foreign Lawyer in England, said she was finding there was a need from UK-based South African clients for a lawyer versed in both jurisdictions.
“There are a lot of South Africans living in the UK who still have their affairs in their home country. What happens, for instance, when someone gets divorced but they live in England? It is when this type of issue crops up that it is very useful (and cost effective) to have one lawyer who can work on both ends.”
However, Halkier warned that qualifying in a second jurisdiction – especially the UK or in the United States - required commitment and preparation.
“The UK’s Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) is not as difficult as doing the South African Bar exam but you have to be well prepared.”
She said the advantages of qualifying as a solicitor, as opposed to staying on as a Registered Foreign Lawyer, were multifold.
“You earn more and you carry more status for a start.”
London barrister Kofo Anifowoshe, who grew up in Nigeria, qualified first in the United Kingdom and, 13 years later, was called to the Bar in Nigeria.
“Prior to getting called to the Nigerian Bar, I only worked on cases originating in England and Wales, even when the clients were Nigerians. However, since I've been called to the Nigerian Bar, I have been getting instructions from both professional and lay clients on matters originating in Nigeria.” Without a doubt, she says, it has expanded her options and developed her career.
Rob Dudley, director of Europe, Middle East and Africa for BARBRI, the international Bar review and legal education company, said there had been a noted spike in interest from Africa-based lawyers wanting to expand their qualifications.
“Historically we have prepared lawyers to practise in the United States but, five years ago, we included the QLTS qualification for England and Wales. Lawyers now can work through BARBRI to prepare properly for all these exams and not waste time and money by failing.”
The interest from Africa, Dudley said, came on the back of global investment in key economic growth zones especially infrastructure development.
“International clients need international lawyers – but these also have to be lawyers who need local knowledge. There are huge opportunities right now for correctly qualified African lawyers.”
Over and above this there were also opportunities for lawyers trained in the English common-law system in the United States.
“The transition is far easier that one realises but you do need to know what you are doing.”
Elugbaju agrees: “Clients are more likely to instruct firms with multiple capabilities than having several firms work on the same transaction.”
And, he admits, there will always be a natural reluctance to instruct local lawyers, who a client has never met before, especially when the client is unfamiliar with a country.
Halkier says she wishes she had kept her South African practice instead of taking the “one or the other” approach. “I see now how much of a need there is for lawyers who understand both ends.”
Tokan-Lawal’s advice is specifically for Nigerian lawyers.
“I have noticed a bias for “year of call”. So, for someone like me, who passed the Texas bar in 2011 but didn’t get called to the Nigerian Bar until 2014, I have had situations where my remuneration and job assignment was made based only on my Nigerian year of call’.
“Also, many recognitions and judicial appointments are based on your year of call in Nigeria. There are law firms who look at the full picture when categorizing their lawyers and I think that is the way it should be. The year of call should not be the only way to recognise or rank lawyers in Nigeria.”
Elugbaju says a lawyer wanting a dual qualification should explore the options and be focussed in their approach.
“The process is not as daunting as it looks!”
Top reasons for obtaining a dual qualification
To read more from the Barbri series click here