‘Many startup businesses hardly classify legal services as high priority’ | The Guardian Nigeria News

Inemesit Dike is the Chief Executive Officer of The Legal Concierge, Convener of the Young Wigs Conference and the Founder of the Legal X App. Her command of knowledge in legal business development and technology has enabled her to solve problems in the legal sector including design innovation in Legal practice, creativity amongst lawyers and market connectivity for lawyers. She is also passionate about community development, in her spare time; she channels her passion for sustainable societal development through the education of young lawyers via her Young Wigs Conference, which analyzes the convergence of Law, Business and Technology. In this interview with NGOZI EGEUNKA, the tech lawyer and entrepreneur talks about how legal business can be wholesome, systemized and sustainably scaled.

Take us through your journey into the legal world?
My career into the legal and tech world started pretty auspiciously. As a child, I always had this sense of justice, equality and fairness. Anytime I observed the antithesis to these traits, I often found myself defending and even befriending people who were unjustly treated. In secondary school and holiday camps, I often made friends with the kids that were treated as outsiders. I was always a very curious child with lots of wild imagination. I always asked “why” and considered theories from different views and premises. Till date, my close friends and family know me for my out-of-the-box thinking. My imagination often takes on a cartoon-like character that brings edgy thinking to my everyday experiences. With this keen sense of justice as well as my pretty witty ability to drum up arguments for and against any topic, my mother simply suggested that I study Law and I wholeheartedly agreed. A stint as Head girl in my secondary school also pushed me further down this path. There, I had first hand experience of the positive impact of good leadership on the polity and the people. I read about the presidents of United States of America being mostly lawyers and that sealed it for me.

However, I was in for a rude shock in undergraduate study because it became obvious to me that the letter of the law did not necessarily improve the lot of the common man. Many people still struggled with the just implementation of the law. My creative and curious mind led me down a path uncharted at the time. I often buried my nose in Case law in the University of Lagos Law Library, but I was not reading them just for citation in exam purposes. I was reading to familiarize myself with the human aspect of the cases. Every case is actually an expression of one party’s error as well as the evolution of the law. This intrigued my creative mind and I started to think of ways to creatively apply the law that I was learning in a way to positively impact people. Today, Technology provided that answer. During one of the numerous undergraduate strikes, I won a scholarship to study Oracle 9i – Database Administration in NIIT. That kicked off my love for technology. I combine my years of experience as an Advocate and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, an Attorney of Law at the New York State Bar, United States of America with my skills in technology for maximum impact.

As the convener of Young Wigs Conference, what has been the impact so far in the legal world?
Since inception in 2015, the impact of the Young Wigs Conference has been simply outstanding in the legal sphere and within the business and technology community. I started the Young Wigs conference in Port Harcourt, Rivers state, as a means of changing the narrative. In 2015, it started as a small conversation with about 13 attendees, at a time when the courts in Rivers state were shut down due to the non-appointment of a Chief Justice of the state. Many lawyers suddenly started struggling because at the time, there was a huge dependence on courtroom as a form of revenue generation. I also had a lot of lawyers reach out to me for advice on how to navigate certain complex situations. These things are not taught in Law school. Thus, Young Wigs conference was born to become a bridge that teaches practical stepson the concept of ‘What Law School Doesn’t Teach’. Till date, the conference has been consistently organized in Port Harcourt, Lagos, and Kano and nurtured circa 14,500 lawyers and law students interested in the convergence of Law, Business and Technology, which is our core. Lawyers who attend the Conference have the opportunity to network with speakers from different walks of life, not just within the legal industry. Some have built a lasting relationship while others have gotten mentors and been exposed to opportunities to get jobs in novel areas of practice. One of my favourite things is observing how many Senior lawyers, come to our conference looking for ways to learn to pivot from litigation-only practice into other revenue generation niche areas of law. Especially lawyers who have been out of legal practice for a while and are looking to return to legal practice, have all learned how to pivot into tech. It is super interesting. It has been amazing to see how enthusiastically many senior lawyers give back to the younger generation.

You also founded Legal X App, what informed this legal innovation and what purposes has it been serving?
The LegalX App was birthed out of my passion to make the legal services industry in Nigeria available to the underserved as well as to enhance the ease of providing legal services. It was inspired by my own experience as a young lawyer and a mother of young children. While I was studying to qualify as an Attorney in the State of New York, I noticed the stark difference in options for legal practice between New York and Nigeria. This got me thinking about ways to replicate this in Nigeria and Africa. On the Legal X app, all the lawyers there on are verified and also there is a section where the client can rate the quality of legal services provided to them. Clients now have clarity on their chosen counsel’s area of specialization. This app makes it easy to quickly identify the niche area that any lawyer has worked in. On the app, the cost details of all expenses involved are also displayed up front thus making access to justice lot easier for anyone with a smartphone. This way, with LegalX, justice is not just brought to the doorsteps of Client but gives the client options on who to engage, at the preferred cost at which the client wants to engage those legal services.

Since inception, the LegalX App has served several purposes including: Making it possible for lawyers to practice law remotely from the comfort of their ‘couch’. This is especially focused on new wigs who may not have the resources to set up a traditional law firm. Young female lawyers no longer have to have a gap-year or choose between caring for family and legal practice. Sometimes, Nigerian lawyers in foreign countries engage in basic jobs until they qualify to practice as lawyers within that foreign jurisdiction. The app has succeeded in breaking the jurisdictional barrier as Nigerian lawyers are able to continue to deliver legal services to Nigerians from anywhere in the world, as long as they remain on the Roll of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Legal X has also created networking opportunities, which makes it easy for lawyers to find other lawyers in other jurisdictions. Instead of having to travel themselves, lawyers can engage other lawyers to support or assist when an issue arises outside their own environment. Legal X also increases the lawyers’ capacity to earn remotely through our unique learning management system where lawyers earn from teaching courses based on their life’s skills. The courses are very interesting and practically relevant to legal practice in various areas. We have courses for Lawyers who work in different roles such as Project Management, or Supply Chain and Contracting and even Human Resources Management. There are courses for lawyers who are in the Boardroom and need leadership and C-suite skills, for those who want to transition into tech practice and need to understand Smart Contracts and Blockchain. All lawyers have to do is setup their account in four simple steps. I am very excited about the Legal X app and its possibilities. We are focusing our sights on the future generation with the plan to completely redirect the map of how legal services are provided in the near future.

You are passionate about helping African businesses evolve, how are you able to achieve this?
I am very passionate about Africa and firmly believe in the concept of Made in Africa, Made for Africa where we create and facilitate continental industrialisation, structural change and a continental value chain. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) has taken the first step to create a single liberalized services market to boost trade in services within the continent by eliminating barriers. This, in turn enhances competitiveness of services through economies of scale, reduced business costs, enhanced continental market access. These services areas are varied including business, communication, financial, tourism, travel, transport services, and construction, distribution, education, environment, health, recreational, cultural, sporting, and other services. My goal has been to support African businesses to ensure that they are properly digitized in a way as to enhance their advantage in this single continental market. Every business needs to create a digitized version and they need lawyers who not only understand the legal aspects of the process but also understand the entrepreneurial process. Lawyers who know where the business of clients goes, that’s where the legal service industry also tilts towards. Lawyers need not only to understand the legal processes but be able to blend entrepreneurial skills with knowledge of the latest technology in order to serve clients better. I am enthusiastic about what African businesses will be like in the next decade.

In your opinion, how would you access people’s appreciation of legal services to their business activities?
Many startup businesses hardly categorise legal services as high priority until they need enforcement of their rights in court, or they run into a contract-based misfortune. Legal department of business organizations were often considered an expense account not as a revenue stream. For example, how many schools do you know that have an in house legal department? How many Nollywood sets have a lawyer as part of the process from start to finish? This is the same across many industries and even organisations that have a legal department pay their ‘technical’ operations managers more than the in house counsel. Even contractually, entrepreneurs often make the costly mistake of using search engines templates for contractual purposes. That narrative has changed; now entrepreneurs are moving away from postponing legal services till litigation. The client is now more intelligent about legal issues and demand more legal services along the entrepreneurial journey, not just the destination of litigation. Lawyers in turn are also moving away from core litigation and are perfecting the art of providing legal services to niche area clients using emerging technology.

Have you experienced any difficult periods in your career and how did you pull through?
I have experienced many difficulties and failed many times. One of the times of my great failures happened when I decided to qualify to practice in New York, United States of America while living in Nigeria. It seemed impossible! The idea dropped in my heart during a conversation with my friend, Kikile Esueme, while we were reading in the library in University of Dundee. During this journey to qualification, I got hospitalized due to miscarriages, held down a job in the day, took care of my home while being self-taught. I was constantly exhausted, and I failed three times. Every time I failed, I recentered and focused on the fact that with God, nothing is impossible. I didn’t give up and the joy of victory was even sweeter because of it. I have also experienced a lot of sexual harassment as part of my professional journey. As a corporate successful woman, it is even harder to be believed because we don’t present the image of helplessness or fear. Successful women don’t look the part of the typical victim, yet the pressure and the injustice are still extant. In this part of the world, it seems to be a part of the culture where women must do the work, get in the proverbial room and also pray that when you get into the room, you don’t meet a man who decides to use his position to create another hurdle for you, all the while, gritting ones teeth and smiling through it to appear feminine and amiable to prevent being labelled ‘difficult’. I pull through by quickly identifying people who adhere to higher standards and sticking with them. There is safety in crowds.

How can we get more women to become successful and rise to the top as you have done? What tips do you have for younger women?
I am actually very proud to live in this generation of women who are bolder than ever before. This generation of women have defied gravity, overcome obstacles and truly thrived. My advice to younger women is “Carpe Diem”. Seize the day to be all you can be today. Believe that you are more than enough.

Don’t settle for just enough, you are made for more. Ignore those kind sounding voices that tell you to manage the status quo. Do the work. You must make the best impression the very first time. So, do the work to get in the room and keep doing the work to stay in the room.

How do you get inspiration and stay motivated?
First of all, I get my inspiration and motivation from God, not just as a religion but in a personally curated relationship with God. He cracks inside jokes with me, and this relationship gives me strength to push through. I also believe that success leaves clues so I developed a habit of studying the autobiography and personal lives of others who are successful; within my industry as well as in other industries. Success stories within the clergy, the business world, all outliers give me inspiration. I am very intentional about my inner circle, intentionally surrounding myself with broad minded and curious people of integrity and excellence. I have to mention here that inspiration tends to be flighty thus when inspiration is low, we must keep our eye on the ball. Consistency has been a not-so-secret ingredient of true success.

What is your life’s mantra?
‘Marcher Par La Foi Et Non Par La Vue’ – it is French for ‘Walk by faith and not by sight.’ This mantra has been my anchor through dark paths where faith was my only light. Many times, during my life’s journey, the only currency that has never expired has been my faith in God. I have had dreams that nobody else believed in, I have walked intense paths of difficulty that no one else could help me. Walking by faith always gives strength when all fails. God has been faithful to me.

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