Millennials across Africa are tremendously impacting the global community. And the spirit of excellence is one attribute Femi Gbede, the millennial for this edition possesses. Femi cut his legal teeth at Olaniwun Ajayi LP, a law firm in Lagos, Nigeria, where he garnered significant experience on corporate/transactional law practice and dispute resolution.
He has been admitted to the Nigerian and New York Bar. Femi currently practices law in the United States. He is an executive officer of the Nigerian Lawyers Association in New York.
Femi is also the Secretary-General of the Association of Young Arbitrators and a Director at the Africa Arbitration Academy. Quite resourceful in his approach to matters, he was also a drafting committee member of the Protocol on Virtual Hearings in Africa, a project that has received enormous commendations from the international arbitration community. He is also a member of the editorial team at Africa Arbitration.
Remarkably, Femi has mentored and continues to mentor several young lawyers in Nigeria. He has been invited at different times to speak to young black students in the New York City area. Through his annual scholarship initiative, and as a beneficiary of several scholarships as a student himself, Femi has sponsored many deserving students to the Nigerian Law School. For the current academic year, he is sponsoring four students.
He was an Arthur Vanderbilt scholar at the New York University, where he served as a student leader and the editor of the Journal of International Law and Politics. Femi is also an alumnus of the University of Cambridge, and has spoken at conferences, both locally and internationally.
Femi is a trained journalist, and currently works with a firm in New York City, which focusses on investment fund practice.
What Makes Practice Exciting for Femi?
While at the law school, Femi thought that lawyers could only be advocates in courts, at least that kind of lawyer many parents wanted millennials to be. He noted that parents wanted millennial lawyers to be the next Gani Fawehinmi, Timi the Law and other reputable lawyers who thrived on advocacy and litigation, but in truth, he notes that law practice can take various forms. Convincingly, Femi asserts that one doesn’t always have to appear before a Judge, delivering some winsome speeches to convince him or her to come to your own side of the fence to be a good lawyer. He mentioned that he was one of those who relished the idea of advocacy in court as a student, but that hope did not materialize initially when he joined Olaniwun Ajayi LP. While at Olaniwun Ajayi LP, where he did his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and was retained thereafter, he had nurtured the desire to go to court and say “My Lord”, but was drafted to the Banking and Finance Practice group where he immediately started reviewing lengthy loan agreements involving the International Finance Corporation. There was no time for honeymoon. He got right into the thick of things from get-go. As it turned out, he found it enjoyable. For this reason, he advises young millennials to try things out and try not to specialize from day one.
“One should take advantage of one’s formative years to explore. Be involved in transactions; go to court and figure out which area of practice is the love of your life. It might not be the one you thought about initially. It may take exploring, to figure out. I understand they may not have that luxury with some law firms, but I think that should inform one’s choice of which firm to join, ultimately.” Femi remarks.
For Femi, the field of law is wide and that is enough to be excited about. He gets animated whenever he is faced with a knotty legal issue in a transaction and needs to think outside the box to come up with a creative solution to deal with the problem without breaking the law. “When you are a transactional lawyer, you will have to navigate labyrinths of legal paths to ensure that your client’s deal is not only structured in a way that passes legal muster, you want to also ensure that it is tax-efficient and there are no tax leakages for instance.” Femi quips. He just finds it interesting how as a transactional lawyer, one can creatively make a deal happen and address seemingly big issues identified during, say, due diligence, with proper documentation. He remarks that no two deals are the same. The broader nature may be the same, but the nuances and the issues that will be thrown up are often, vastly different. The resulting need to be creative and come up with bespoke solutions makes deal-doing exciting for him.
What is Femi’s Philosophy of Impacting the Nation through the Practice of the Law?
On his philosophy of impacting the nation through the practice of the law which pervades every aspects of our lives, he notes that as a lawyer, one can literally work everywhere and anywhere, including in the military, politics, educational institutions, police force, and medical establishments. He is yet to see an institution without one. For him, this underscores the importance of lawyers in the society; and however, and wherever one practices law, one should uphold the virtues of honesty and integrity. He equally points out that lawyers are so distinguished in the society that people tend to judge lawyers by different standards and there are behaviours that non-lawyers will exhibit and get away with. However, if a lawyer were to indulge in similar deportments, you might hear something like “and this man is a lawyer”? “The expectations and demands from the society are high. It is up to us lawyers to continue to preserve the sanctity of the respect that the society gives us by continuing to be above board, not only in our daily practice of the law, but in our day-to-day interactions with our various communities,” Femi remarks.
More importantly, he believes the society relies on lawyers to be their voice against oppressive regimes, as the late Gani Fawehinmi and many others of his ilk, did admirably in this regard. “When Gani Fawehinmi was alive, he was a thorn in the flesh of the government and silence for him, was not an option. There was a reason why he went by different monikers like the Senior Advocate of the Masses and the People’s lawyer. He suffered harassment and imprisonment, yet he was undeterred. His legal practice was famed for fighting the cause of justice for the Nigerian people. His efforts helped in no small measure in focusing national and international attention on the illegitimacy, villainy and corruption of the military regimes at the time. As lawyers, we need to keep the government on their toes by challenging illegal actions in court and initiating public interest litigation which will have positive impact on the nation at large. We need to defend the rule of law, uphold the tenets of our democracy, fight the cause of expansive social justice and protect fundamental human rights. Those are our jobs. We must do them.” Femi asserts.
What is the Next Big thing Femi is Working On?
Having done his bits here and there in the past, he was one of the seven (7) Nigerians who teamed up to birth the Africa Arbitration Academy (AAA) which gives young lawyers in Africa the opportunity to travel to London at no cost to them, and to receive trainings from reputable arbitration practitioners in top law firms in London. The maiden edition which was held in June 2019 had close to 30 participants, drawn from different African countries, in attendance, for three (3) weeks. All the participants had to do was make themselves available, as their travel and accommodation were all taken care of. The AAA had the support of several big international law firms, the World Bank and arbitral institutions world-wide. Femi was part of the team that drafted the Africa Arbitration Academy Protocol on Virtual Hearings in Africa, which provides guidelines and best practices for arbitrations within Africa, where a physical hearing is impracticable due to health, safety and other considerations. This Protocol was a response to the disruption in arbitration proceedings caused by the corona virus pandemic. Some arbitral institutions have already reached out to the Academy to adopt the Protocol. The AAA is currently working on another big project, but it is not time for Femi to let the cat out of the bag just yet.
But the one thing that Femi is working on now which always excites him to do is to increase the number of students that benefit from his scholarship award to the Nigerian Law School. He started the scholarship scheme sometime in 2017/2018. At that time, it was just one student. This particular student who he didn’t know from Adam, reached out to him on Linkedin and he did what he had to do. Ever since, he had made it a duty to sponsor students to the Nigerian Law School. He has four (4) beneficiaries of the scholarship currently studying at the Law School. He hopes they all come out in flying colours. He equally hopes to increase the number of beneficiaries.
He currently chairs the AYA Mentorship Committee. The Mentorship Committee has a programme wherein it pairs young lawyers in Africa, with senior local and international lawyers, for mentorship. This is the second time the Committee is running the programme. The first was a massive success where high-profile partners of local and international law firms participated.
As we already know, Femi is an executive officer of the Nigeria Lawyers Association in New York. In his official and personal capacities, he has been involved in giving periodic and free legal advice to the Nigerian community in New York. This Association has done that in churches and mosques in Brooklyn and other boroughs. He hopes to continue to do many of these, to the best of his ability. So, he wants to continue to work on these small projects in the hope that they can have big impacts on the lives of people.
What does Femi consider the Millennials Greatest strength?
On what Femi considers to be the millennials’ greatest strength, he thinks that must be technology. He believes the millennial’s generation is blessed with the advantage of growing up with different technological tools that make living life easier as this is evidenced in every facet of life. For Femi being tech-savvy is obviously a strength that one cannot discard by wave of the hand. It makes all the difference for him. “Look at the social media today. People have made millions just by using their phones to tweet or post pictures.”, Femi remarks.
Femi also thinks many millennials are ambitious and entrepreneurial. For him, millennials make up a growing number of people in the tech industry and are taking the lead in shaping its frontier.