LEGAL IDEAS FORUM

Charting a Viable career path within the Nigerian Energy Sector

 

“Those who choose to advance their practice vistas will benefit from the boundless opportunities within the profession, and those who choose not to advance will, well, be left behind.”

Things are changing so fast People! One of the impacts felt in the 21st century is the reshaping of commercial operations, and the legal profession is not exempted from this subtle disruption. From automation to the advent of new practice areas such as FinTech, the profession is witnessing fundamental reformations prompting lawyers as well as legal aspirants to readjust ‘business models’ and objectives respectively in order to become compatible with modern commercial needs. There is no better time than now for professionals to utilize career advancement opportunities and stay ahead of this disruption. It needs little stating that those who choose to advance their practice vistas will benefit from the boundless opportunities within the profession, and those who choose not to advance will, well, be left behind.
From this background, we can identify two categories of people to whom the call for upward career progression are directed; the first being those already in the field as lawyers, firm administrators, advisers, etc and the second, those who are undergoing the mandatory training programs required to practice law. Our discourse is relevant to the latter, especially young students in need of guidance, clarified personal objectives and seeking to explore the Energy landscape in Nigeria.
The Shift in Career Perspective

“Success in today’s legal climate comes with great cost that must be paid for starting from the undergraduate level.”

During the pre-university days, I was very much excited at the thought of studying Law. The driving force then was looking up to experienced legal luminaries who graced the courts and TV news with effusive grandeur of wit, knowledge and oratorical prowess. The societal impression of law as a noble profession, coupled with the perception of lawyers as thought leaders with institutional influence were added incentives. Eventually I achieved my goal and was admitted into the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in the year 2014 to study law.
The orientation I received from the early days centered on a recurring theme: Law is a conservative profession and requires conservatism in addition to observing ethical rules for one to succeed therein. The lesson grew on me in no small way and was formative in my early outlook about the legal practice.
Fortunately it took series of mentorship by my seniors to understand that success in today’s legal climate comes with great cost that must be paid for starting from the undergraduate level. There is more to law than is taught in school. The global economic ecosystem is fast paced with changing commercial values. Very significantly, legal employers in the top echelon expect prospective employees to be armed with vast knowledge compatible with that level of practice. The expertise needed to survive the in legal market today is not entirely incorporated in the university curriculum; at best one can get ‘foundational’ training and character development. This eureka moment caused a personal shift in perspective; propelled me to reevaluate objectives and utilize, as much as I can, platforms that would increase my commercial awareness.
I then had to consolidate my ‘class room studies’ with seeking internship opportunities, building a decent résumé, creating a LinkedIn account, researching legal influencers and following websites dedicated to legal commercial awareness. The goal then (as it is now) was to complement my study with sufficient work experience.
The Oando Experience

“The principles of ownership and kindness are essential to an inspiring corporate culture, treating everyone with dignity reflects positively in their individual as well as group performance irrespective of position”

Building from the perspective shift, I can say 2019 was a very interesting year for one reason: I was curious about the Energy sector, particularly Oil and Gas practice, and sought to obtain invaluable experience from the key organizations therein. Fortunately, I secured an internship opportunity at Oando PLC. The distinctive mark about the company is its culture of excellence and teamwork. Working with a group of people who are one of the best in their fields and are committed to seeing you learn as much as you can was an awe inspiring encounter. I can recall discussing with Dr Alex Irune, and he told me this “the principles of ownership and kindness” are essential to an inspiring corporate culture, treating everyone with dignity reflects positively in their individual as well as group performance irrespective of position. Because the organization is like a human body, every part of it must be well taken care of, so the company is committed to taking good care of its staff.
The internship program was instructive in improving my outlook on the oil and gas sector, and being mentored by the best set of professionals equally rubbed off on me. It is against this backdrop that I would love to share some important points on how one can build a niche for himself or herself as a student eager to explore this industry.
Starting the Journey to Navigate the Energy Landscape

“A good law student must be very versatile and understand that almost every aspects of law are interrelated.”

There are three salient points to note. First, being enthusiastic about the Oil and Gas practice should not limit you from learning about other practice areas, or not keeping an open mind. A good law student must be very versatile and understand that almost every aspects of law are interrelated. Oil and gas transactions as a case study cut across project financing, taxation, corporate governance, contract law, intellectual property, shipping, international law, accounting, etc. Therefore, it is imperative to expand your knowledge base in addition to your study of the industry.
Secondly, the term ‘Energy sector’ is broad and encompasses the Oil & Gas, Power, Renewable, Servicing and even Regulatory sub-sectors. The point being that an aspirant need not limit opportunities to oil & gas companies alone, he or she should explore the GENCOs, DISCOs, Companies investing in Renewable power, Regulatory agencies (e.g. NERC), government companies (e.g. NBET) and many others.
Thirdly, this article on progression tips applies equally to almost every other aspects of law that a person may want to explore. Thus if you can apply some of the lessons here, with requisite modifications under peculiar circumstances, you will find them very helpful.
With that being said, here are some lessons I have learnt and am sharing as tips to start a good career in the energy sector:
1.     Research deeply into the industry: This is the basic and cost effective way of understanding its operations. For instance studying an oil and gas related course in school is advisable if you choose to do so. In the same vein, offering online programs could provide one with a comprehensive theoretical framework about the field.
2.     Know what the Industry leaders saying (and doing): Oftentimes, the bulk of practical developments in the energy sector are gleaned from news reports, articles, journals, and on social media platforms. You must frequently read up contents from thought leaders, companies and regulatory bodies on salient industry issues. A good example is the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in transforming Oil and gas practice, this trend inspired myriad of publications because of its relevance to exploration & production, in-house operations, customer interface and many other activities within Nigeria and the global market.
Understanding the disruptive nature of AI incursion can give you an edge with regards that topic, a case in point being the Oando Legal Intern search 2019 which centered on discussing the relevance of AI to the industry. Similarly, following updates on key regulations locally and internationally are very important, I cannot overemphasize this.
3.     Network: Your network is simply your net-worth! Making progress in the field is sometimes correlated with the pool of people that can help you grow. One may start by connecting with leading experts on LinkedIn, but you must be professional in your approach to them; follow their updates and learn how exactly they have come to be where they are. Attend symposia where issues are deliberated upon by experts; this is equally important because you can get personal insights into the industry and of course share your modest knowledge with people, you never know who may take keen interest in you.
4.     Get a Mentor: This is closely tied to the preceding point about networking. A good mentor is a person that will guide you and advise you. I must say there is nothing as good as having to be directed in the right path by a person with far better experience. Your uncertainties and confusion about career choices are laid to rest with the right mentor as he or she can calibrate your mind in the proper direction. More so, it is priceless if your mentor has sufficient knowledge of the energy industry. You must note however that your mentor is your guide, the bulk of the work still lies with you!
5.     Internships: I believe this is obvious and there may be little need explaining how important interning with companies and law firms is in relation to career development generally. What I might add is that you must be strategic in your application, understand when to apply, know what the employers want and be ready to show how you can be an asset to their organization. Even if you are successful in your application, you must utilize the internship program optimally and learn as much as you can.
Internship programs within the industry are highly competitive and streamlined. This means you must be prepared and resilient all through the processes of application. There would be challenging times where applications may be refused, but consistency and improving the quality of your applications make you stand out from the crowd.
6.     Build your personal brand: Try to stand out positively by building a brand which is unique and essentially integrated with your goals. Online and offline activities play vital roles in this regards. I often advise, use your social media accounts positively to target specific audience and carve your niche. You never know who may be watching you. When I started at Oando, I once met a senior staff member who said he read my works on LinkedIn and encouraged me to keep up the consistency. My use of the platform created a positive impression of me in his mind. And so, you should be willing to utilize social media to its fullest.

“Career growth is not a random process but scientific, every step you take must in a way be tied to the big picture.”

7.     Be intentional and strategic: Strategy brings all the above factors together. In essence, planning ahead and setting specific goals require you to work hard, be flexible, and ready to utilize opportunities. Career growth is not a random process but scientific, every step you take must in a way be tied to the big picture. It therefore follows that you cannot be spontaneous in approaching the energy sector but rather you should be very strategic, know what works for you, create a plan, consult with mentors and execute that plan.
Being intentional also means you must step out of comfort zones at all times. You must develop a tough skin for rejection, because, I must admit it is not all rosy journeying on this path, but the payoff is huge.

Apply career foresight and plan ahead!

In conclusion, the Energy sector is a lucrative sector and the best way to carve a niche is by applying career foresight and planning ahead. Start doing all you can to acquire relevant experiences before graduation (neither is it late even if you just graduated). Keep an open mind though; the future may still present circumstances that would require you to specialize in other areas. But for now, learn as much as you can and have an amazing career ahead. 
 
About the author
Ezeoha MarkAnthony is a graduate intern at the Oando Nig PLC. He is a refined legal scholar and writer. He writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
 
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