Chizotam Akwiwu studied law at the University of Lagos (UNILAG). An associate at the Alliance Law firm, she recalls how accompanying her mother, a lawyer, to court influenced her decision to join the profession. She also says that being the grand-daughter of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the late Chief Emmanuel Akwiwu, made her career choice easy.
As a child, Chizotam Akwiwu wanted to be like Matlock when she grew up.
Matlock is an American television legal drama, starring Andy Griffith in the title role of criminal defence attorney, Ben Matlock.
Count on Matlock to visit the crime scene, scope out the clues everyone else missed, and dramatically reveal the real criminal (usually a killer) during a climactic trial sequence.
Speaking on her early influences on her road to the legal profession, she said: “I grew up watching a lot of shows on crime, investigation and prosecution. I wanted to be like Matlock! Hence, my first interest in law was criminal law.”
Why did she switch to commercial law? “With time, I realised that litigation, especially criminal litigation in Nigeria, left so much to be desired. So, my interest shifted to corporate and commercial law,” she said.
Akwiwu was awarded the Chief Ernest Shonekan prize for the third best overall student in property law when she was called to the Bar.
She recalls her first day in court. “Before being called to the Bar, I had often gone to court with my mum, especially the Federal High Court, Ikoyi and the High Court Igbosere. So, I was familiar with the court environment.
“The first time I appeared in court as a lawyer was with the Managing Partner at my firm Uche Val Obi (SAN) and two other lawyers. I was just there to observe proceedings.
“However, my first solo appearance was before Justice Sonnaike of the High Court Annex at TBS. I was sent to give an update on the on-going mediation between the parties. As simple as that seemed, I was so nervous!’’
What has been her most challenging case? “I have not encountered any challenging case yet. I see each case as an opportunity to learn and improve myself.”
Akwiwu said the snail pace of justice administration remains a source frustration for every lawyer.
“From my little experience so far, I’d say that a major challenge is the long and frustrating process of litigation. I was once in court for a matter only to be informed that the judge had travelled and would not be sitting.
“This happens a lot when despite counsel leaving their contact information on processes they have to come all the way to court only to be informed that court would not be sitting.
“This, in my opinion, can affect productivity levels and discourage a young lawyer from pursuing litigation wholeheartedly,” she said.
Had she the power, she would decisively address the causes of delays and tedious bureaucracy that impede the court system and litigation process.
“You see cases that commenced in the 1990s/early 2000s still not yet concluded! This is especially in land disputes, and the original parties might even be dead in the course of the ongoing litigation.
“I’d also like to improve the amount of attention given to the welfare of lawyers by their law firms,” she said.
Akwiwu had a good grounding as a law student. She had access to her mother’s law books, as well as her grandfather’s library. Being the granddaughter of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) has its benefits.
How much of an influence were they? She said: “Just by following my mum to court, observing her dedication to improving the profession in her own little way and her diligence really influenced my choice to study law. It’s truly an honour to call her my mother and learned friend.
“My parents (especially my mum) did not force me to study law. When they saw my interest they simply encouraged it. They made sure I got internship experiences and had access to all materials I needed.
“I was also influenced by my grandfather, the late Chief Emmanuel Akwiwu (SAN) and my god-mother/aunt Adaku Akwiwu to read law. I come from a family of many lawyers so it’s almost no surprise!”
Who are her role models? “I look up to quite a number of people in the profession, such as my mum (Mrs. Anne Akwiwu) for her work as Deputy Director in the Ministry of Justice and Liaison Officer at the ministry’s Lagos Liaison Office in Marina.
“Also, my boss Uche Val Obi (SAN) for his immense contribution to both dispute resolution and the corporate and commercial sphere, and Adaku Ufere, Energy Practice Leader at Centurion Law Group, who is a young lawyer making such admirable contributions to Energy Law.”
What would Akwiwu likely have been if not a lawyer? “I would have been an accountant,” she said. “This is another reason I have decided to specialise in corporate and commercial Law because of the elements of accounting and finance.”
And where does she see herself in 10 years? “I honestly cannot give a specific answer to this because I am still trying to discover my niche.
“I intend to specialise in an area of law and master my art. One thing I can say is that by the grace of God, wherever I am in 10 years, I will be a force to be reckoned with.
“I also see myself contributing to the development of the profession. In line with that objective, I contribute to Lawyard.ng, an online platform for content around relevant systems of law.”