Innovative UUBO reinvigorates Nigeria’s dynamic start-up community with U-Law
According to a recent online article, one of the key reasons that only 39% of Nigeria’s business start-ups succeed is a lack of access to solid business and legal advice that is agile and customised for their formative stages and as they scale and create impact. This is one statistic that Aniekan Ukpanah, Managing Partner of Nigerian law firm, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie (UUBO) and its industry-leading specialist teams, are positioned to improve in coming years.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy with one of the most dynamic entrepreneurial business communities and one of its most prolific recipients of international seed, series, and venture funding across the financial services, technology, consumer discretionary, industrials, health and agricultural sectors and beyond.
According to pre-Covid figures, business start-ups contributed almost 50% of the country’s GDP. Factors including disruptive technological innovations, dynamic population demographics, entrepreneurial culture, and evolving government support contributed to startups closing of 196 recorded deals exceeding $1.08 billion in post-Covid recovery 2022 – 76% of the total number of deals in that year.
Forward-thinking Lex Mundi member firm – UUBO – with its vast experience, has long recognised the dynamic potential of businesses and established a dedicated ‘sub-firm within a law firm’ designed specifically to support ambitious Nigerian entrepreneurs and start-ups, as Ukpanah explains.
Becoming a Lex Mundi member firm has been very positive for us. The benefits are far reaching and there is nothing better and more comforting than knowing you are working with the very best law firms and best lawyers in jurisdictions all around the world.
Aniekan Ukpanah Managing Partner
“We established U-Law in 2019 to focus on supporting small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups in Nigeria. Obviously, things slowed down during the Covid pandemic in 2021/22, but it has come back with force in the last year, and our young associates have created a great ecosystem for Nigeria’s start-ups to tap into.”
UUBO was founded in 1983 and its 137 members of staff – consisting of 15 partners and 78 lawyers working across offices in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt - will celebrate the firm’s 40th year of successful operations in 2023. During those four decades, UUBO has developed an extensive network of regional and international relationships with all leading African and global law firms, enabling them to deliver dynamic legal solutions and coordinate multi-jurisdictional assignments across 23 practice areas to a wide range of local, African and international clients.
Within UUBO, U-Law very much has its own identity – with its own brand and own website and, staffed by the firm’s younger lawyers and associates, it caters exclusively to entrepreneurs, SME, and MSME start-ups and other growth businesses across all industries and sectors (including FinTech.)
It is designed as a one-stop-shop for all basic business-related legal needs for early-stage businesses and founders, offering easy one-on-one access to high-quality legal advice and consultancy services in a simplified and straightforward manner at super competitive prices. Additional support in the form of online business blogs, access to bespoke training and educational seminars and networking events, and even business spaces for short term use and rental are available.
To keep start-up-sensitive costs low, U-Law’s business structure also allows it to supply early-stage legal advice in return for partial equity in early-stage businesses - an innovation that provides UUBO with insight and opportunity to directly support Nigeria’s SME sector. In recognition of its unique MSME and SME service offerings and contributions, the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, which supports entrepreneurs in the Lagos State tech ecosystem, partners with U-Law on its ‘Lagos Innovates’ project that grants them pre-paid vouchers to enable them to access U-Law’s high-quality workspaces and infrastructure.
My role is very much about building the law firm of the future, and we see technology as being a very big part of that. Before Covid, we took the decision to invest heavily in new technology as we knew that only by using the latest tech would we be able to deliver our legal services in an efficient and effective way in the future.
Ukpanah’s strategy with U-Law is two-fold. Not only does the creation of U-Law support an important part of his country’s economy, but being able to offer this unique opportunity to young lawyers is paying dividends in attracting Nigeria’s best young legal talent to aspire to become part of the team at UUBO.
“We do get a high number of applicants to join us every year because of the innovation of U-Law,” says Ukpanah. “But people also want to join because of the diverse and inclusive culture that we have created here and because, ultimately, we see our firm as a family. That has been vital for attracting and retaining talent.”
Attracting new talent, and developing, equipping, and building a future skills agenda for such talent is also very important to Ukpanah as one of the key drivers in his role as Managing Partner is creating the law firm of the future.
“My role is very much about building the law firm of the future, and we see technology as being a very big part of that. Before Covid, we took the decision to invest heavily in new technology as we knew that only by using the latest tech would we be able to deliver our legal services in an efficient and effective way in the future. That investment in technology means that we are now able to project manage our caseloads much more efficiently and effectively, and to coordinate projects with other firms, even when we are not physically present in the same jurisdiction.’’
Ukpanah goes on: “We were very pleased when Lex Mundi launched Equisphere as a new tool for improved project management, and that has further enabled us to improve speed, efficiency and effectiveness. In today’s legal world, you need your teams to be technologically savvy to deliver legal services. We are fortunate to have a talented team here that uses technology as an enabler to deliver our services to our clients, wherever they may be.” Diversity is another key value of the firm and an impressive artwork – itself entitled ‘’Diversity’’ - hanging in the firm’s client-facing 12th floor offices serves as a daily physical reminder to all employees of the firm’s values and approach to law, which is focused on sustaining its meritocracy, celebration of diversity, and aspirations for the future.
Lex Mundi’s STARS initiative is one that Ukpanah believes will help his young associates to fulfil their future aspirations as they progress towards becoming the leaders of tomorrow. STARS is designed to equip associates with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful on their path to partnership, and Ukpanah encourages all his associates to get involved.
“I’m very proud of the Lex Mundi STARS programme,” he says “which, I think, is ingenious and a very timely development in the legal sector. I think it is a first of its kind specialised training opportunity that equips associates with the skills and knowledge required on their journey and it is an initiative I encourage every associate at UUBO to be part of.
“Becoming a Lex Mundi member firm has been very positive for us. The benefits are far reaching and there is nothing better and more comforting than knowing you are working with the very best law firms and best lawyers in jurisdictions all around the world. Membership has certainly contributed to our bottom line and there’s genuine value in being able to benchmark and measure our performance against the lest legal firms in the world.
Looking to the future, Ukpanah concludes: “I would like to ensure that in the next five years the culture of the firm, the diversity of the firm and the work ethic within the firm is not only maintained but continues to be strengthened. I’d like to see a firm that is a great place to work - a fun place to be - which is technologically innovative in delivering its legal services and able to maintain its good reputation within the African jurisdiction and in global markets through Lex Mundi.”