Office Lives

Office Lives: Nkechi Okeiyi, Principal Partner, Nonsmac Chamber

In this edition of Working Lives, Arbiterz engages Lawyer Nkechi Okeiyi who shared her story to becoming a legal practitioner in Nigeria, and how she works on a daily basis. Enjoy!


Can we meet you?

I am Love Nkechi Okeiyi. I read law in Madonna university and began active law in 2009 after my call to bar. I have a Master’s Degree from the University of Lagos and currently, I am running a PhD programme in the University of Nigeria Nsuka. I am the principal partner of Nonsmac Chambers.

Why did you become a lawyer?

Wow! From childhood I have always wanted to, I can not recall never wanting to. I hate injustice I can not be anywhere and keep quiet to injustice, even as a child I stood up to the down trodden. The passion has been there to help the victims in the society.

For how long have you practised and what’s the experience been like?

My over twelve years of practice has been wonderful and very fulfilling being able to proffer legal solutions to problems being faced individuals and corporations. However, you cannot take out the fact that its been challenging as well.

Tell us about your first time in a courtroom.

My first experience in court was sometime in 2009. I had just been called to bar and we had just left the NYSC orientation camp. I was, afterwards posted to a law firm on the Island in Lagos.

On this fateful day, I was scheduled for appearance in court with my Principal. I had barely arrived Court with the case file when my Principal called to say that she would not be able to make it to court. At that point, I became jittery as I had never moved a motion before. However, when the case was called I summoned courage and immediately opened the case file having Studied the file earlier, announced my appearance and moved my motion and same was granted as prayed and the rest is history. 

Also Read: Office Lives: Afolabi Elebiju, Managing Partner, LeLaw Barristers & Solicitors

What was it like, winning and losing case for the first time?

Cases most time are won or lost on the strength or weakness of the case and the side of the divide you are on. However, everyone wants victory, the feeling is good and the client is happy. Conversely, if you lose you can go on appeal or the client could accept his fate. We have not lost any matter for now at best we settle out of court or in court by filing terms of settlement and adopting same as judgment of the court.

Describe to us a typical day in your work-life.

My typical day in my work life begins with putting down my to-do list to enable me achieve my goals for the day. There are a lot of legal issues and concerns and every client wants to be treated specially as though he or she is your only client, so I listen and proffer solutions, for days I do not have any matter in court, I do research and if there are processes to be filed, I get them ready and before you know it its close of work and I am rushing home to meet my other responsibilities as a wife and mother. So it is interesting, its busy, but above all, it is fulfilling.

How do you manage the responsibility of the family and the firm successfully?

I am blessed with a loving husband and children as well as a dedicated work force.  In life one must learn to delegate as you cannot do everything yourself. You are the brain of the firm and the mother in the home, so I learnt to balance my work life with love and understanding.

If you were not a lawyer, what other professions do you think you would be into?

If I was not a lawyer, I would have been  a caterer, I still do some baking though. However, from when I could speak I have always said I wanted to be a lawyer and I pursued that dream.

How has being a lawyer shaped other areas of your life?

Being a lawyer has exposed me to privileged information and has emboldened me to handle legal and family issues from a standpoint of the law. It has shaped my life and those around me like my nuclear family. There is an excellence expected of you, you are held in high esteem and a lot of confidence is imposed on you and you can not afford to let everyone and yourself down. Ethically, it has shaped me significantly.

As a lawyer practising in Nigeria, what are the challenges you have faced or currently face?

There are challenges everywhere. The legal profession is not left out, there are accusations of bribery and corruption in the judiciary. There is also the issue of the welfare of young lawyer between 1 – 7 years at the bar and there are no express regulations as to what they should be paid. Some young lawyers earn below the minimum wage with families to cater for. It’s usually a difficult time being able to survive and remain in the profession that’s why a lot of them leave into other venture. We do not have enough lawyer this I know with the number of cases that come in as well as feedback from colleagues. We need more lawyer to remain in practise.

There is the issue of under payment of legal fees. Clients intend to brief lawyers without accepting to pay commensurate value. They really do not understand what you are doing especially in real estate practice. Some prefer to give an agent 5% and will say ‘lawyer I can’t pay in percentage’ and a whole lot. There are issues everywhere but I like to remain on the positive side.

In practice will you say there are cases of gender disparity?

The legal profession is a male profession we are all gentlemen at the bar but I am a woman, it is interesting. There are firms that have the policy of employing just men and there are others that employ just women. The clients themselves, for some cases, believe only a man can drive the case forward. Also we have cases like those of domestic violence and other issues that they believe only a woman can relate with the situation. I personally have not experienced any side-lines, I worked at a firm for about seven years and I was the only female working with 7 wonderful men.  Majority of my clients are male. If you are diligent,  you will not have a problem, even amongst the judges in Lagos we have more females, as for senior advocates I cannot say the same but female lawyers are not doing badly. 

Also Read: The Lunch Hour – Olu Akpata, Partner, Templars Law Firm

So how long do you see yourself practising for?

I intend to practise for as long as God gives me strength and breath. Law is the best profession on earth however, in deciding to join the legal profession, ensure you have the right reasons and objectives, seek to improve man. I can’t describe the inner peace and satisfaction derived from reuniting a person incarcerated at any of the correctional centres unjustly with his or her family. In fact, every family needs to have at least one lawyer.

How do you relax when not working as a lawyer?

This is very important. I spend quality time with my lovely husband and children and being a woman of faith, I spend time in God’s presence as well

How would you describe your job to a 10 year old?

To a 10 year old, I would say that a lawyer’s job simply entails educating people on the existing laws and advising them on how to obey the law as well as helping people in trouble within the ambits of the law.

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