Growing up in Lagos and London, two of the world’s biggest business cities, exposed Ogunkanmi to the idea of endless possibilities.
It was why, even with a science background, he knew he could thrive at being a lawyer. At that time, tech law practice was not on the cards for him – but, in hindsight, it was an inevitability as Ayo continued to immerse himself in web culture and was always fascinated by its underlying technology.
In 2017, with a Master’s Degree in Energy and Natural Resources Law, he joined Olaniwun Ajayi LP, a tier-one commercial law firm where he had previously interned, to work in the firm’s Technology, Innovation and Fintech Practice.
“This part of law practice in Nigeria comes with more challenges than most,” he admits.
“Regulatory certainty is a problem. I spend a lot of time trying to determine whether or not an activity is legal! Many regulatory instruments are unclear or do not contemplate the specific implementation or service a client intends to put into place.
“So, we give our best advice, make informal enquiries with regulators and using our best interpretation of existing law. It’s tricky business, particularly in the absence of case law or clearly established legal principles which apply uniformly.”
Nevertheless, he thoroughly enjoys the range of household names he works with - Uber, Cars45, Co-Creation Hub and many others.
“They give one the opportunity to learn the nitty-gritty of different sectors,” he says.
Ogunkanmi says being a ‘disruptor’ means being willing to shake up the status quo and looking at old problems with new eyes to find innovative solutions. “When you disrupt, you completely change the rules of the game, and he who makes the rules, makes the gold!”
For instance, he says, with increasing competition from professional service firms and other alternative legal service providers, the traditional law firm has to be more agile and flexible to compete. This is especially so in its relationship with clients.
Ogunkanmi’s first exposure to working in tech right was after returning from his undergraduate programme at Queen Mary University, London. He went straight to Ebonylife TV, Africa’s first black global lifestyle and entertainment network. There, he was introduced to communication infrastructure and unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) - quick codes used by mobile phones to communicate with the mobile network operator’s computers.
He went on to Bloomfield LP, a specialist commercial law firm in Lagos and had the opportunity to work on the Sustainable and Inclusive Digital Financial Services programme, managed by the Lagos Business School (LBS).
Now, with several years in the industry done and his career path clear, his advice to young lawyers is to “practice lateral thinking” by approaching problems from diverse perspectives.
“That is what you need to disrupt,” he says, “And, do not ignore being on the scene - the right conference and, sometimes, even the right restaurants, do matter! Also remember to have confidence in your own conclusions and maintain your ground.”