‘Just Do It’, Ivie Omoregie on Moving to Nigeria to Become a Corporate Lawyer!

Homecoming Revolution recently came across this inspiring story on the movebacktonigeria.com website.

Ivie

This week we had a chat with Ivie Omoregie who moved to Nigeria having been born and bred in the UK. Prior to relocating, Ivie had only been to Nigeria on holidays and never envisaged living here on a permanent basis. Find out in this interview the series of events that led to her ultimate move back home, her thoughts on the differences between the Legal System in the UK vs. Nigeria (she is a Lawyer after all), and many other interesting points we hope you will enjoy.

Can you please introduce yourself and tell us who you are?

My name is Ivie Omoregie, I am a 30 year old Barrister currently working at a top law firm in Lagos. I have been called to the Bar in the UK, as well as in Nigeria. In my spare time, I manage a boutique in Lekki called Melissa Black Boutique.

Please walk us through your educational background.

I was born in Nigeria; however my family relocated to the UK in 1989. I went to St Martins-in-the-fields high school for girls in London for my GCSE’s and Richmond-upon-Thames College for my A-Levels. My University Degree was at the University of Bedfordshire and afterwards I went to Law School at the London College of Law.

What did you study at the University of Bedfordshire?

I did a degree programme in Law.

Could you kindly share why you chose to study Law?

It was either going to be Law or Medicine, but deep down I knew I had a natural disposition for Law. At College for my A-Levels, I did Psychology, Sociology, Law, Biology and Chemistry, and found myself better at Psychology, Sociology and Law, and that was why I chose to study Law professionally. I was also attracted to the opportunity Law presented by way of allowing me make a dramatic change and a positive impact in the everyday lives of the people around me and society in general; during my final year at university my special focus was International Business Relations. I thoroughly enjoyed my LLB Law course and graduated from University in 2005, finishing top 5 in my class.

Thank you! What came after the University of Bedfordshire?

I went to Law School for my LPC, which qualified me to be a Solicitor in the UK. Law School in the UK is very different compared to Law School in Nigeria, and we will talk about my Nigerian Law school experience a bit later. In the UK, the market for Law Schools is competitive and so the course content has to be of a certain minimum standard to attract the best students. It was a great experience for me and I got a lot of good knowledge and experience. On the first day, I was given all the materials I needed for the course, with access to online tutorials, DVD’s, and other interactive ways of learning. I was at the London College of Law for one year, graduating in 2007.

Growing up in the UK, did you have a Nigerian identity or did you feel more ‘English’ or ‘British’?

At secondary school I had a few Nigerian friends; however at College, University and Law School, I was rarely found around Nigerian folks. Growing up in the UK, I often came back to Nigeria on holiday with my family, but never envisaged living permanently in Nigeria. It came across as a totally different world that I did not understand. During those holidays, I stayed glued to my family, confined to the house in Lagos, I was very restricted in terms of what I could do. My parents were overly cautious, often empathising that “Lagos is a dangerous place”, hence I could not go out, especially not on my own. So to answer your question, yes I knew I was Nigerian, but I felt very much British growing up in the UK. My entire world was in the UK.

Interesting! After Law School what did you do next?

After Law School, I was called to the bar in the UK. Unfortunately, this period coincided with the onset of the global financial crisis, and it became increasingly difficult to find the kind of work I wanted to do and had been trained to do. I faced a catch twenty-two, where the larger firms were saying I lacked the relevant experience, which made me think “how do they expect me to gain the experience if they are not willing to give me work”. There were many cases where lawyers with 5 years work experience were having to apply for entry level jobs, taking a significant pay cut, in order to secure full time employment. Another difficulty I faced was the general social discrimination in the British Legal System. At Law School I had specialised in Commercial Dispute Resolution, however in practice, I felt I was being pushed into Family, Immigration and Criminal Law positions.

In the end, I spoke to an aunt who lived in Nigeria and she encouraged me to move to Nigeria, even if just to gain the experience I needed. Initially, I was not convinced but with deeper consideration, it turned out to be more logical to return home rather than being in the UK doing a job I didn’t want to do. I started researching opportunities in Nigeria.

So when did you finally make the move to Nigeria?

In January 2010;, I came to Nigeria for my grandfather’s funeral, I signed up for NYSC and got a job at Deloitte West Africa. At that point, I still was not sure I would be in Nigeria this long. The way I saw it, was to get very good work experience and see how things went. I realised my work experience at Deloitte would be relevant in the UK job market, in case I moved back to London. However, after some time in Nigeria, I fell in love with the country, and have been living here ever since.

And NYSC Camp, how did you find that?

I was lucky with camp because I didn’t have to sleep there. On the day camp started, I arrived late and was told they had no more accommodation space and so I got an exit to reside outside the camp. I finished my NSYC at Deloitte in 2011 and was retained to continue working there. After a while, one of the Partners at the firm advised me to go to Law School. It was an idea I wasn’t keen on (once again), however she convinced me and I decided to enrol and started Law School in July 2011.

What was life like at Law School in Nigeria?

It was a difficult experience but what I gained from it was worth the pain. As I mentioned earlier, in the UK there is a competitive environment for law school education, whereas in Nigeria, one institution has monopolised the entire system.

I found a lot of the staff uncooperative. Might I add that this was my first experience of education in Nigeria and it felt like the system was deliberately designed to be difficult, to test one’s endurance.

For example, coming from a UK background, I just couldn’t get the point behind the whole black and white uniform dress demand at post grad level. I felt that at this stage in our careers we should be afforded the benefit of doubt that we knew exactly what we were doing. The teachers spoke to us like we were children in High School; perhaps that’s why they call it ‘Law School’ as opposed to “College of Law” (laughs).

Another difficult thing to understand about the Nigerian system is; from a UK perspective, if you are qualified to practice law in a commonwealth region and then relocate to the UK, you are only required to do a 6 month bridging course to bring you up to speed. Whereas in Nigeria, we had people in our Law School class who had been called to the bar in the UK since the 1990’s and had their own chambers in the UK, being spoken to like they were children.

Despite the difficulties, I do believe Nigerian Law School made me understand the system in a way that I would have never have been able to. I learnt a lot from that course and am glad I did it. I have no regrets what so ever.

Wow what an experience! Glad it all worked out though. What came afterwards?

After graduation, it took a few months before I got my first job as a Barrister; in that period I was offered a random opportunity to rent a fully furnished shop space, and so I opened a boutique in Lekki. During Law School I had always bought and sold clothes to supplement the income I was receiving from my parents at the time. So when the offer was made I had quite a strong client base and also had a lot of stock on ground.

My first job as a Barrister was at a Law Firm that did a lot of litigation work which involved going to court quite a bit. Let me say my experience there was not great. The legal system in Nigeria is extremely different to what I was used to in the UK, with a lot of bureaucracy and unnecessary bottlenecks that could sometimes make things take far longer than they should.

At the moment, I do Corporate Law and specialise in Energy and Projects, and Finance. My role in the projects I work on involve drawing up various contractual agreements, advising in regards to project structuring, advising in regards to compliance related issues, reviewing corporate documents etc. I have worked on transactions cutting across different areas of law and with cross-border perspectives, for instance, I have been involved in the acquisition of Oil Mining Leases (Oil Blocks) by large indigenous oil companies; I have also worked on other landmark Independent Power Project transactions. It is very interesting work and I get to liaise with colleagues at some of the biggest law firms around the world, the majority of the transactions we do are cross border in nature.

Earlier you mentioned you have a boutique on the side. Do you want to talk about that?

The boutique is called Melissa Black Boutique. I take it more as a hobby, as it is mainly borne out of my love for fashion. It is a small boutique specialising in exclusive female clothing items. Currently, my target clients are in the Lekki, Ikoyi and Victoria Island areas of Lagos, however I intend to branch out in the very near future. Everything we sell is from the UK, so we keep our quality very good; we also make our prices as reasonable as possible for our customers. The kinds of brands we showcase are like what you would expect in the ‘Boutique’ section of Top Shop.

You’ve been back home for 4 years. How have you found the general day to day dynamics?

I am well adapted to it now. Initially I found things in Nigeria difficult, but not any more. The light situation is something that needs a lot of patience and perseverance, also I live on the Island, so don’t really have to face the morning traffic from the mainland to the island. Although I go to the UK often, as the majority of my family are still there, fundamentally I believe Nigeria is the place to be right now.

If you really have the conviction, you can adapt to life here and endure. It’s taken me a few years to get to where I am and the key is to focus on the long term goals and then it’s worth it.

Ok having said all of this, do you ever see yourself leaving Nigeria?

I am in Nigeria to stay. The quality of life in Nigeria is much better. People are genuinely happy here, whereas in the UK, people are not happy, they have a better standard of living, but the majority are not happy.

In terms of money, how much should one expect to earn as a corporate lawyer in Nigeria?

The pay is not enough at all. Although I am very lucky in that my current employer pays extremely well, it is never enough. And that’s why I stress the point about having a residual income. Of course if you can come in as an expat then that makes life even better. But expat deals are not very common these days.

Thanks, and finally what advice will you give people thinking about coming back home?

Just do it. If you think about it too much and plan for your coming to be perfect, it will never happen. I don’t know anyone who has regretted moving back to Nigeria; it was the best decision I could have possibly made.

Many thanks and all the best moving forward

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