“Young people are boundless!”– Mariam Momodu
Searching through the millennial-cast continent, we came across the Amazon, misted in knowledge, and sharpened by wisdom: Mariam Momodu.
Mariam, a corporate legal practitioner with expertise in international trade law, foreign investment law, anti-corruption and regulation. Mariam is currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Toronto where she analyses intra-African trade through the construct of “bottom-up economic integration” facilitated by non-state actors. Mariam is our African legal millennial for this edition.
Before commencing her doctorate, Mariam obtained a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree from the University of Cambridge, where she was one of the co-editors of the Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law. She obtained her LL.B. from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, where she was elected as the first female president of the law students’ society, graduated with first-class honours and set a record for the most outstanding academic result from the faculty to date. Upon being called to the Nigerian bar, Mariam was awarded 4 national prizes for academic excellence, out of a cohort of 6,000 students.
Prior to commencing her doctorate, Mariam also worked as an in-house counsel at a Fortune 500 company and practised at a tier-one law firm in Nigeria, where she specialised in international trade and dispute resolution. She also advised on foreign investment transactions in the power and infrastructure sectors in Nigeria.
Mariam is the recipient of over 20 academic awards and scholarships, including the Government of Canada Vanier Scholarship, the Delta Kappa Gamma Scholarship, the PEO International Peace Scholarship, the Commonwealth Scholarship and the Cambridge Trust Scholarship. She has presented at various fora including the World Trade Organisation annual public forum in Geneva and the Institute of Global Law and Policy Workshop in Thailand.
Apart from her work as a lawyer, Mariam is involved in several initiatives to increase access to education and opportunities for people from underrepresented backgrounds. She is the founder of GetIn Education Consulting, a social enterprise that has worked with students from minority backgrounds to secure over USD$1.6 million in scholarships. GetIn has also delivered free career and personal development training to over 5,000 young people. In recognition of her community development work, Mariam was selected as a delegate for the World Youth Forum and was recognised by McKinsey and Co as one of the 40 Next Generation Women Leaders in Nigeria.
What makes practice exciting for Mariam Momodu?
Mariam believes that being a lawyer is a privilege which translates into a responsibility to conduct her duties effectively and dilligently. Before she started her doctorate, Mariam had the privilege of working in a leading law firm in Nigeria. She also worked with a Fortune 500 company that had newly penetrated the Nigerian market. Mariam describes her experiences as in-house counsel and external counsel as very different, yet complementary.
For instance, working in a law firm was very fast-paced because she was relied on to answer legal questions, while also providing excellent services to several individual and corporate clients. This was a very exciting experince for Mariam, as the law firm she worked in was always at the forefront of innovative deals in the Nigerian market, therefore she was often faced with sophisticated questions that very few lawyers in the Nigerian market had considered. Mariam recalls fondly her experiences as a lawyer in Nigeria where she was heavily relied on to conduct research, search for answers and leave no stone unturned while conducting legal analysis. The thrill of finding answers to legal questions and seeing how the firm and eventually the client relied on her advice to navigate their challenges propelled her to work even harder.
As an in-house lawyer, the experience was different from being an external counsel. In this case, she still acted as a service provider, but to one client- the company. Working in a telecommunications infrastructure company provided Mariam the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of professionals, including professionals in finance, supply chain, operations, human resources and c-level executives. Mariam explains that as an in-house lawyer, her competence did not only revolve around the law but also involved protecting the interests of the company all around, while keeping in mind the company’s bottom line. A huge part of her experience as an in-house lawyer involved identifying legal risks and ensuring that the company was not exposed to unnecessary risks. She also got the opportunity to interact extensively with external counsel and this helped her gain more perspective on how to be an effective external counsel that meets clients’ need.
Mariam notes that her experience as an in-house counsel helped her become a commercially sensitive lawyer who understands clients’ objective and gives sound and ethical advice to advance the cause of her clients.
How does she think lawyers can have an impact on society?
“Lawyers are vital to the proper functioning of society”, Mariam explains. She believes that lawyers play a key role in maintaining law and order and helping clients adhere to regulations. However, beyond these traditional roles, she thinks lawyers also play a vital role in advising on company ethics. As the standards for corporations and individuals are higher today, she welcomes this evolving role of lawyers as legal and ethical advisors.
For her, companies have to consider whether their supply chains are ethical and they cannot turn a blind eye to ethical violations even in other parts of their businesses. Therefore, lawyers can act as trusted advisors to educate, inform, and guide clients to ensure that their activities are not only legally sound but are ethically sound as well.
What is the next big thing Mariam is working on?
According to Mariam, “big things are made through little habits”. For now, she is working on the little habits that culminate into big wins, such as being productive, keeping a clear and active schedule and also ensuring that she schedules self-care, exercise and time with family and friends. She is also actively working towards finishing her doctorate.
What does she consider to be millennials’ greatest strength?
Mariam believes that this bracket should be expanded to include millennials and Gen-Z. Emphatically she remarks, “Young people are boundless!” She is inspired by the amount of creativity she sees in various industries, from tech to music to fashion. She thinks millennials’ creativity and ability to think outside the box is phenomenal. She expects these qualities to continue to lead to fantastic inventions and new ways of approaching age-old problems. However, while she believes that young people are going to redefine the landscape of law, business and wider society, she notes that it is crucial for millennials to actively seek advice from the older generation as history tends to always repeat itself, albeit differently. “While young people are poised to approach contemporary problems with novel solutions, relying on past wisdom may help to make new solutions even more effective”, Mariam notes.