Academia Kenneth Okwor

Please note that all opinions expressed in this interview are the opinions of the lawyer interviewed. They do not necessarily represent the opinion of their employer or of Legally Engaged.

Private Equity (PE) is smart money deployed by investment management companies (usually PE firms) on behalf of themselves and other investors (e.g. pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, High Net-worth Individuals etc.) to invest in businesses and help such businesses grow. After a few years, the fund’s stake in the business is sold.

The most common ways a company raises money for expansion are either through loans or by listing its shares on an exchange. Private equity money isn’t made available publicly, but by investors who invest on behalf of themselves and other institutional investors in control for a stake in the business. They are also involved in the governance of the company (usually by taking up seats on the board) for the duration of their investment. This is why I call it smart money

A PE lawyer is usually involved in structuring and negotiating transactions such as buyouts, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), joint ventures, restructurings, divestitures etc. as well as drafting the requisite documentation required to close those transactions.

Apart from providing email responses to client’s questions on Nigerian law issues with regard to the transactions, I regularly take part in drafting, reviewing, negotiating and issuing comments on various agreements such as Investment Agreements, Share Subscription Agreements, Share Sale and Purchase Agreements, as well as Shareholders’ Agreements.

I also conduct due diligence investigations on target companies, i.e. companies that are sought to be acquired by organizations such as PE firms. The due diligence documents are usually uploaded to a virtual data room (i.e. an online site) for review, but there are occasions where the investigations may require visiting the target company’s offices to review hard copies of documents to verify the information provided.

My decision to study law was greatly influenced by my mother, who is an accomplished lawyer herself.  In my younger years, whenever I got into ‘trouble’, my mom was the one to go to – I was inspired by how she was always able to argue her way out of a variety of situations and thus aspired to be like that.

After choosing to study law, I wasn’t provided with much guidance on how to navigate through my career.  My mother suggested that I become a civil servant, but I didn’t fancy it because it didn’t seem ambitious enough.

I am delighted that I ended up becoming a corporate lawyer, considering that I was only advised to join the civil service.  It is a bit embarrassing but my decision to be a corporate lawyer was greatly influenced by a fictional character named Harvey Specter from a television series titled Suits.  I took a liking to the manner with which he closed deals and the confidence his clients reposed in him, so I considered it not bad to emulate him.  I didn’t have a plan at the beginning, but things sort of came through and I gradually leaned towards Private Equity and Corporate M&A once I started working at my current firm. Do I have any regrets? No

A young lawyer would need to be commercially aware.  Read the news and stay up to date with new laws, government policies, market statistics, the focus of investors and thriving industries, etc. Other soft skills like networking skills and the ability to build relationships are equally important because lawyers should always think of generating new business/clients and solidifying the existing ones.

I work mostly with global and local private equity investors, strategic buyers and sellers and other financial sponsors

It’s quite busy as expected, but nothing out of the ordinary – the typical level of work one would expect to face as a 5th-year lawyer. I work for 10 hours per day on average, but on some occasions (e.g. when a transaction is intense or about to close), then I may be required to for work longer hours (or even on weekends) to meet deadlines. I usually work as part of team, so everyone usually puts in their own bit, that way there’s not too much work left for only one person

The satisfaction on a client’s face, or the tone of their voice or email when you give them practical solutions that help solve their problems.  For me, there is nothing more rewarding than that.

Not quite.  There’s a lot of focus on theoretical (as opposed to practical) knowledge in the Law School and you find that it takes you about a minimum of 2 – 3 years of practice to really start to get a hang of things.  The Law School syllabus isn’t reflective of what truly obtains in the corporate legal world.

I’m just taking each day as it comes for now, but I don’t see myself leaving the practice of law.  I enjoy what I do.  It’s still early days in my career, so I’m making sure I garner as much experience as I can.  In the long term, I would like to be one of the go-to lawyers for corporate clients looking to do business/invest in Africa and, dare I say, maybe even the best African private equity lawyer that God ever created.

The most memorable thing that happened while working as a Private Equity Lawyer was receiving a cake and chocolate from a client after a deal closed.  It’s that memorable because it’s the only time that’s happened – and I enjoyed it

Take your career where you think it should go, not where others think it should go. Learn the trade and skills required for you be exceptional in this industry. Focus on building a long-lasting career instead of being fixated on obtaining immediate financial gratification.

legallyengagedAcademia Kenneth Okwor

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