Inside Nigeria’s Pioneering ‘Generational’ Law Chambers
Mall law firms were established in Nigeria before and after independence, but only a handful have survived to this day. These surviving chambers testify to the resilience of Nigeria’s business culture.
As the oldest accounting firm in the country established by Akintola Williams in 1952, these law firms have lived through three generations: Fredrick Rotimi Williams, Chuba Ikpeazu, Chike Idigbe, Richard Akinjide, Arthur Nylander, Bola Ige, Babatunde Dalley , Olaniwun Ajayi, Chike Ofordile and Iron Bar Orok.
There were dozens of pioneering law firms, whose status could not be determined by this report alone. Some of them include: Nebo Graham Douglas, Obafemi Awolowo, Babaremilekun Fani Kayode, Teslim Elias, Bankole Oki, EA Molajo, Gabriel Coker, Kehinde Sofala, Dr Nwakanma Okoro, Patrick Balonwu and Ben Nwabueze.
The others are Augustine Nnamani, Gabriel Onyiuke, Babatunji Olowofoyeku, HA Lardner and Professor AB Kasumu, FO Akinrele, Adebayo Ogunsanya, Okoi Arikpo, GRI Egonu and Bayo Kehinde, Mudiaga Odje and Olisa Chukwura.
Chief Fredrick Rotimi Williams Chambers (CRWC)
The CRWC was founded in Lagos in the 1940s by Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams (FRA), Member of the Queen’s House (QC), as well as a Senior Solicitor of Nigeria (SAN).
The legal luminary (1920-2005) was a major defender of constitutional law. After his death in 2005, his two sons, Ladi Williams (SAN) and Folarin Williams, ran the business until the former passed away this year.
FRA and his son, Ladi, became the first father and son to be appointed Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
Some of FRA’s grandchildren, Alade and Kunle Williams, are partners in the law firm.
Speaking on the firm’s journey so far, Abimbola Akinjide-Williams, one of the late legal luminary’s grandchildren, recalled that he went through various challenges but continued in practice, with a new chamber founded from the former Rotimi Williams Chambers, known as the Black Table.
She said, “We continued the practice. The chambers had constitutional lawyers. My dad did campaign petitions, my grandfather sat on the committee that wrote the 1979 Constitution, which was amended, and the 1999 Constitution amendment.
“The handover to the next generation of lawyers has always been smooth. There is a lot more competition today than when my father and grandfather started practicing. The business is bigger and there are a lot more people in Lagos.
“Our major challenge has been the same as for all Nigerians: power and corruption. And when you ask foreigners to come to the country, it’s extremely difficult because it’s a hostile environment with uncertain government policies.
She said the law firm has been sustained all these years with a lot of hard work and specialization, adding, “The lesson for Nigerian lawyers is that partnerships are relationships between people. It may start as a one man show but later turn into a partnership so they can have more funds and other benefits. A partnership is a stronger model.
The firm’s practice covers multinational oil companies, manufacturing, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, information and communication technology, finance, maritime and intellectual property.
This firm was established in 1946, with its headquarters in Onitsha, now Anambra State, by the late jurist Chuba Ikpeazu (QC), who later joined the bench.
Ikpeazu served as a judge between 1964 and 1983. He died in 2003 and his son, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN) inherited the firm, along with some of his grandchildren, such as Amaka Ikpeazu, a lawyer.
With 29 partners, the firm acts for clients in litigation, commercial transactions, telecommunications, banking, corporate law, real estate law, arbitration and legal drafting.
Punuka Lawyers and Prosecutors
The company was established in 1947 in Lagos. The name is derived from the Igbo word “punuka”, which means “to get out of the argument”.
It was founded by Chukwunweike Chike Idigbe, a renowned community leader and jurist from Asaba, Delta State, who also served on the bench, becoming a Supreme Court Justice in 1964.
He died in 1983, aged 60, and the firm was inherited by his son, Anthony Idigbe (SAN) and his grandchildren, including Isioma Idigbe, lawyer.
The 74-year-old firm is fully integrated and multifaceted, providing legal services to a very diverse clientele, with numerous partners and associates.
Akinjide and company
Akinjide and Company was established by renowned diplomat, educator and journalist, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN) in 1955 in Ibadan, Oyo State.
The former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) between 1970 and 1973, served as Minister of Education in the First Republic and served as Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice in the Second Republic.
He passed away on April 21, 2020, and the company was inherited by Abayomi Akinjide and Jumoke Akinjide, while other children and grandchildren practice in the rooms or passed by.
Arthur Nylander Chambers
This was established in Lagos by Dr. Arthur V. Nylander in 1958 after his admission to the bar in 1958.
He was an academic and a diplomat, rising from lecturer to assistant dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Lagos. He died on July 13, 2017, at the age of 89.
The firm specializes in commercial law, finance, arbitration, alternative dispute resolution, immigration law and intellectual property law.
His son, Leslie Olutayo Nylander, is a senior partner at the firm, while one of his grandchildren, Dideolu, is preparing to join the firm.
Asked to speak about the challenges of the law firm, Olutayo said that like every other business in Nigeria, Arthur Nylander Chambers had its challenges.
He said: “The law firm is also struggling with the cost of running the business on a day-to-day basis. For example, the cost of electricity has increased while supply has decreased. But we look forward to the new year with optimism.
Chike Ofodile & Company
It was established by a prominent community leader, Chief Chike Ofodile, in Onitsha, Anambra State in 1959.
The company is currently run by his son, Emeka Ofodile (SAN). His granddaughter, Netochukwu Ndukwe Ofodile, is also in legal practice.
Bola Ige and company
Chief Abimbola Ige (SAN) established Bola Ige and Company in 1961.
He was Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, as well as Minister of Mines and Energy between 1999 and 2000.
He was assassinated on December 23, 2001, at the age of 71.
The late legal luminary, affectionately known as Cicero due to his oratory power and ability to speak Nigeria’s three major languages, was also known for several controversial political and legal quotes.
The firm is led by his partner, Kolawole Esan, while his grandson and lawyer, Kayode, son of his daughter, Funsho Adegbola, inspires the firm.
GRF Dalley and partners
Babatunde Ganiyu Rasheed Dalley and Partners was established in Lagos in 1962. Since then, it has become one of the oldest and largest legal service providers in Nigeria.
The founder, Babatunde Dalley (SAN), is one of Nigeria’s most renowned jurists. Under his leadership, the firm overcame decades of challenges to provide legal solutions to local and international clients, from aviation to intellectual property.
The firm’s partners are Aderemi and Fatai Ajibola Dalley. Some of the founder’s grandchildren are preparing to join the firm.
Olaniwun Ajayi LP
This firm was established in 1962 by Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, who was also a Solicitor of the Inns Court of England, as well as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
He was a community leader, legal and political scholar and the author of the books: The House of Oduduwa Must not Fall (2005); Lady Adunola Ajayi in Retrospect (2008); Nigeria, Africa’s Failing Asset (2009); Lest We Forget (A Memoire, (2011); Isara, Afotamodi, My Jerusalem (2011); and Nigeria, Political Power Disbalance: The Bane and Chain Down of Nigeria’s Progress and Development (2015).
He died in 2016, at the age of 91.
The law firm became a limited partnership under the leadership of his son, Professor Konyinsola Ajayi (SAN). In addition, his grandson, Folarinwa Ajayi, practices in the firm.
Orok Ironbar and Associates
Orok Ironbar and Associates was started in 1966 as Orok Ita Orok & Co by the late Chief Orok Ita Orok in Calabar, Cross River State.
Orok was a community leader and opinion leader in the former South Eastern State, which was later divided into Cross River and Akwa Ibom States.
In 1981, the Chambers name was changed to Orok Ironbar & Associates after Orok Ita Orok’s two children, Grace Ukpong (née Grace Ironbar) and Orok Inang Ironbar, graduated as lawyers.
The grandchildren – Orok Orok Ironbar, Effiom Orok Ironbar and Nkoyo Ironbar (née Nya) – are lawyers in the chambers.
The firm specializes in litigation, maritime, aeronautics, banking and finance, commercial etc.
Why Some Law Firms Fail – Lawyers
A lawyer, Obinna Onya, said good business practices and social responsibility with pro bono services are important for the survival of law firms.
“We have records seized by individuals for over 30 years; and even after the individuals died, the law firm continued and concluded the cases on behalf of their families, free of charge,” he said.
Emeka Nwadioke, a lawyer, told our reporter that the problem with Nigerian law firms is that they are not structured like businesses, so they struggle to grow organically. “The effect is that once the principal dies, the business folds,” he added.
According to him, the Chairman of the Public Interest Law Section (SPIDER) of the Nigerian Bar Association, Onyekachi Ubani, said that the lack of solid foundations and sustainable partnership is the cause of the failure of the law firms in Nigeria.
Another renowned lawyer, EMD Umukoro, identified the mindset of the founder of a law firm; management or administration of the business (where the business is run as a sole proprietorship); lack of planning; no transition tools or systems in place; no career plan for employees; poor financial plan and lack of financial discipline for staff, including the founder; business climate in Nigeria; bad mindset of most employees and society as being responsible for the demise of some pioneering law firms in the country.
Also speaking, Paul Erokoro (SAN) expressed his disenchantment with Nigeria’s overreliance on the service-oriented economy, which includes legal services instead of technology-driven industrialization that can accelerate national development.
“If we are not serious with science and technology, we cannot develop as a country. Every year, Nigeria produces thousands of lawyers, but they don’t produce so many scientists,” he said, adding that it does not matter whether a law firm has been inherited or not.
John Chuks Azu (Abuja), Jeremiah Oke (Ibadan) and Adelanwa Bamgboye (Lagos)