‘For a Lawyer: the Art of Learning is Never Accomplished’ ThisDay 19 Jul 2016
My name is Olayemi Anyanechi. I am the Managing Partner of Sefton Fross, a firm specialised in Energy and Natural Resources as well as Banking and Finance law. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Ibadan at the top of my class in 1996 and I obtained a Second Class Upper Division from the Nigerian Law School, Lagos in 1997. I was called to the Nigeria Bar in February, 1998.
I started my professional career as a Banker with the Merchant Banking Corporation of Nigeria (now part of First Bank of Nigeria) until 2002; and thereafter went for a Master’s Degree in corporate and commercial law from the University of Cambridge, UK in 2003. I was a Chevening Scholar as well as a Pegasus Scholar of the prestigious Inner Temple of the United Kingdom.
I came back from my masters to practice at the law firm of Olaniwun Ajayi. Following that I took up the role of General Counsel at Sahara Energy Resources Limited, one of Nigeria’s leading energy companies. I later joined Templars as a Partner in 2006. I felt the need to push myself to a higher level of professional advancement and started Sefton Fross law firm in 2010.
Sefton Fross has gone ahead to win several notable laurels in the short time it has been launched including the ESQ Legal Awards ‘Energy Firm of the Year’ in 2014 and ‘Oil and Gas Firm of the Year’ in 2015.
Have you had any challenges in your career as a lawyer and if so what were the main challenges?
My main challenge as a lawyer has been refusing to compromise quality standards in an environment that has commoditised specialised services. A lot of Nigerians (and Nigerian companies) see legal services as interchangeable from one provider to the next and the jocular question “wetin lawyers dey do sef?” is sometimes quite reflective of the Nigerian perception of legal (and professional) services as a whole. The problem with commoditisation however is that price – and not quality - becomes the major distinguisher of one brand from the next. This means even reputable law firms have had to lower prices significantly just to continue to meet their overheads. The result being that they assign specialised work to juniors who lack the ability to handle it, which undermines quality. Sefton Fross’ promise is to consistently render top notch legal services and it is a constant challenge to provide the excellent services we offer at the cheapest yet viable rate possible.
What was your worst day as a lawyer?
This was the day I realised one of my associates had bungled a Client’s perfection of security . Even though I had technically done all I should have done as the Partner in charge, I still considered myself responsible. We did eventually get the matter sorted out, but it was a nightmare for a finance lawyer to realise a loan had gone bad and the security was not in place. The important lesson from this incident for me was to only trust what I see which has helped me to avoid similar mistakes.
What was your most memorable experience?
When a friend called to inform me that Sefton Fross had won the ESQ Nigerian Legal Award for ‘Energy Law Firm of the Year’ in 2014. My lawyers literally forced me to enter for the award because I thought we were too new in the market to win. I was actually in London attending to a matter during the Awards event, so imagine my surprise when my friend called to let me know that Sefton Fross won an Award? It was a very positive moment in my career.
Who has been most influential in your life?
My work ethics, my ethos, principles, total commitment to my job and unerring punctuality, I got from my father, Mr. Joseph Ade Ojo. Growing up, we were taught that freedom comes with responsibility, and with leadership comes accountability. These principles have guided everything I have done in my life.
However, my husband, Onyeka Anyanechi has been the most influential person in my adult life. My husband is my greatest fan and I really would not have gotten where I am today without him. He believes in me 110% and when someone has so much faith in you, it is easy to believe in yourself and face your challenges head-on because you know someone has got your back.
Why did you become a lawyer?
Deep down I am a mathematician with a natural affinity for the sciences and getting to quod erat demonstrandum is part of me. Studying Chemistry in University however fell short of my expectations, because science laboratories in Nigerian universities in the late 80s – early 90s were not that well equipped anymore. When you take my love for proving theorems, breaking down issues and solving problems, law seemed the next best choice, without facing the challenges of inadequate infrastructure. I had also been involved in public debates since I was about eight years old so law was a credible alternative.
What would your advice be to anyone wanting a career in law?
I would tell them being a lawyer is a lot of hard work and getting a law degree is only the beginning. I would advise them to have a thirst for knowledge, to challenge every theory, gratify the curiosity of an inquisitive mind, press to find an answer to every question, innovate the accomplishment of the most basic task.
I would advise them to keep an open mind, understand that every person has some wisdom to offer, and to learn something from every adversary that comes their way. Not to leave a negotiating table with the same knowledge they came with. I will encompass this in one statement: “The art of learning is never accomplished”.
If you had not become a lawyer, what would you have chosen?
I would have become a scientist and a Chemistry Professor. Considering I was a math and science prodigy, this would have been a perfect career for me. I studied Chemistry at the University of Ibadan for two years and transferred to law in my third year. Former school mates and teachers are totally astounded when they hear that I am a lawyer. I would have enjoyed the challenge of contributing to science and developing technologies that alleviate human suffering and save lives.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
There are so many things I still want to do, writing being a very significant part. I am currently working on my first book and hope in ten years I would have several titles that add value to law students and legal practitioners towards continuous legal education. I expect that in ten years Sefton Fross would have grown to be one of the largest top tier law firms in Nigeria, with offices in other countries, and that some other equally capable partner would be at the helm of affairs of the firm, thus giving me the opportunity to explore my more academic side.