Fidelis Adewole: Arbitration Act 2023 will Chart New Course for Lawyer…

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Fidelis Adewole is the new Managing Partner at G. Elias, a leading Nigerian business law firm founded nearly 30 years ago. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK), the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria, and an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers. He narrates to THISDAY his road to his present position, their corporate social responsibility, and how the legal sector will benefit from the innovative principles of Arbitration and Mediation Act 2023 while being able to adapt to changing circumstances

You have recently been appointed Managing Partner at G. Elias. How would you describe the road leading to this new height in your career?

It has been exciting and memorable. I joined the firm immediately after being called to the Bar nearly 20 years ago. Having graduated at the top of my class at the university and passed the qualifying examinations at the Nigerian Law School, I did not know that there was still a lot to learn. G. Elias provided me with the platform to develop and hone my skills as a young lawyer. The work culture at G. Elias is superlative. It is a culture of excellence and professionalism.

This is the reason the firm attracts the best talents in the market. I adapted very quickly to the firm’s culture and learnt the ropes under the tutelage and guidance of my senior partners. My senior partners were and are still very open, willing, and happy to teach. It made the entire work environment very conducive for me to learn, do my work and excel. With this, I was able to rise through the ranks to become a partner and, now, the managing partner of the firm.

Having been with G. Elias for about two decades, with practices covering dispute resolution, corporate, taxation, projects and insolvency and restructuring, what would you say has been the major driving force?

As I mentioned, G. Elias has a strong culture of excellence, work ethic and professionalism without distractions. I will say that our people are the driving force of this unique culture. If I must identify the biggest factor that stands out, I will say it is our people. G. Elias attracts and grooms the best talents in the market, and we are motivated and dedicated. As professionals who see ourselves as drivers of excellence, we try to go above and beyond the call of duty within the confines of the law to ensure that our work is done to the highest standards and that our clients’ aims are realised. Nothing stands a firm out more than quality work and satisfied clients.

As a law firm that operates in different sectors, what are your commitments and efforts towards ESG, and how does this impact other sectors?

As lawyers, we advise clients in all sectors of the economy on the need for and compliance with applicable ESG requirements. As a forward-looking company, ESG is very important to us, and we are committed to it. The firm has committed huge resources to technology. This has significantly reduced our volumes in the printing of documents and paper wastage. This is one of the small ways we are working to minimise the adverse impact of climate change.

In social responsibility, we render pro bono legal services worth over N100 million in billable hours annually to the less privileged. We have represented in court and got set free over 30 persons who were on “death row” across different states in Nigeria (including Adamawa, Niger, Ondo, Ekiti, and Cross River states).

On governance, we are passionate about internal controls and continual improvement.  As far as I know, we are the first top-tier law firm to get International Organisation for Standardisation Quality Management System Certification (ISO 9001:2008).  We are working on transitioning to more recent ISO certifications.

Nigeria may be the leading arbitration hub in Africa; how true is this, and how does this impact G-Elias and the legal sector?

I believe this is true. Nigeria’s GDP today is over $ 440 billion, the highest in Africa. Thus, investment opportunities abound in Nigeria for both local and foreign investors. Indeed, the rise of investments in Nigeria will increase the need for arbitration to resolve possible disputes. Parties are ordinarily wary of going to Nigerian courts to resolve their disputes mainly because of the delay and inefficiency of the judicial system. Nigeria has over five arbitral institutions and dozens of seasoned arbitrators and arbitration practitioners.

The Arbitration and Mediation Act (2023) has brought many innovations that will promote and enhance arbitration practice in Nigeria. Such innovations include recognising third-party funding, the new award review tribunal idea, the joinder of parties, emergency arbitrators, the consolidation of arbitral proceedings, concurrent hearings, and so forth. The legal sector will benefit tremendously from these innovative principles and ideas in the Arbitration and Mediation Act (2023).  I imagine that G. Elias will have its fair share of the legal work in that space.

Artificial Intelligence, AI, is an advantage to the legal profession and every other industry. How do you think AI can be leveraged in your sector?

Without compromising quality and confidentiality, AI can be adopted to improve efficiency in providing legal services.  The legal industry is, however, very different from other fields and sectors. In my view, for the foreseeable future, AI can be deployed only to do fairly routine and not-so-imaginative work. Excellent lawyers thrive on their ingenuity in advising their clients or advancing novel arguments in furtherance of their clients’ cases in deal negotiations, courts and tribunals. I do not see AI being adopted to address and/or resolve truly complex and sensitive legal issues in the near future.  Clients will still require proficient lawyers to advise on complex, sensitive and critical matters and transactions.

What legal advice do you have that will enhance safeguard of intellectual property in Nigeria?

The Nigerian government must enact new laws and regulations addressing intellectual property issues in the 21st century. For instance, our Patents and Design Act was enacted over 50 years ago when there was no internet and far less innovative than there is today in computer software and bio-engineering. Our industrial property laws should be reviewed soon to reflect current realities. The newly-enacted Copyright Act is a step in the right direction.

What is your outlook for the next few years as you take the lead as the Managing Partner?

The plan, above all, is to grow and deepen our range of practice areas, headcount, and revenue. We aim to continue to do and succeed at the most critical, complex, and innovative work of demanding business clients. We will continue to try to attract and retain the best talent in the market; otherwise, we will not have the capacity to give superlative advice and representation to our clients. We will also continue to leverage more on the use of technology to increase efficiency and accuracy in our service delivery.

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