A government plan to drive partnerships between legal professionals in the UK and Nigeria has been announced today – but it does not mention practising rights in the West African economic giant.
The initiative is the latest stage of the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) ‘Legal Services are GREAT’ campaign, which aims to promote the strength of the UK’s legal system around the world.
The campaign will aim to promote the UK’s legal services sector in Nigeria and attempt to bring new business to the UK for legal firms, chambers and courts. However, the MoJ’s announcement does not address a potential opening of the Nigerian legal services market nor whether England and Wales-registered lawyers will be afforded practising rights in the country.
The Gazette understands the Nigerian market is heavily regulated and that UK-registered firms, instead of advising directly, must develop alliances with local firms.
Segun Osuntokun, head of the Africa group at international firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, said any input from the government is to be welcomed but noted that it would be helpful if it added its voice to efforts to enable UK qualified lawyers to practise in the country.
He told the Gazette that the existing alliances between networks of firms in Nigeria and Africa are well known and that international firms, through the British Nigeria Law Forum, had been working with Nigeria’s Bar Association to free up the legal market. ‘A reciprocal arrangement similar to the scheme whereby Nigerian lawyers are able to transfer to become England and Wales-qualified solicitors under the Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme would be desirable,’ he said.
Nathan Searle, partner at Hogan Lovells, said: ‘While the new initiative to strengthen collaboration between the UK and Nigerian legal communities is to be welcomed, we must not lose sight of the fact that there are already very close ties between the leading firms in London and Nigeria.
'Our firm and other leading UK-based firms who have been successful in doing big-ticket Nigerian related deals or disputes have worked for many years hand-in-hand with leading Nigerian lawyers and law firms.
‘This new partnership initiative provides an exciting opportunity to help accelerate the development of Nigeria as a legal hub in West Africa. Collaboration and a willingness on both sides to learn from each other will be the key to making the new partnership initiative a success.’
Lord Chancellor David Gauke said: ‘We launched the Legal Services Are Great campaign, to showcase the very best of what the UK’s legal services sector has to offer around the globe, and I’m delighted that we are now extending the campaign to Nigeria. We know that UK law firms and chambers are keen to increase working in this area and are committed to supporting them to take advantage of the many opportunities on offer.’
Prime Minister Theresa May is currently in Nairobi as part of a whistle-stop tour of three African nations.
Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said a significant number of UK law firms handle Nigeria-related matters and have developed relationships with local firms.
'Our members work as part of a global legal community of professionals, collaborating with Nigerian lawyers and firms on complex commercial transactions, helping ensure investments are structured so they are safe, viable and establish value,' Blacklaws said.
She added: 'The law of England and Wales underpins a vast number of global transactions. Our jurisdiction is renowned for its relative certainty as well as the professional competence and independence of our legal practitioners. It’s great news that the UK government is adding its support to the work we do to build links between English and Welsh legal practitioners and the legal community in Nigeria.'