A Prince and an erudite speaker,
Leo Benson Ogiegbaen is a Nigerian based in Europe.
He speaks exclusively to TMJ UK Lead, Tony Agbonasevbaefe on Legal Practice from Madrid.
“Right from my early childhood, I have always had a strong affinity for the legal profession. A feeling for the defence of the oppressed and downtrodden”. Those were the exact words from this young, ebullient Benin Prince when TMJ cornered him on the reason he decided to study Law. He knew he had the natural ability for this field of human endeavour. His desire for excellence knows no bounds. A product of the famous Edokpolo Grammar School, Benin city. he was an Assistant Senior Prefect at the school, and an alumni of the famed Law Faculty of Ambrose Alli University AAU, Ekpoma, Nigeria.
On legal training in Spain, he had this to say,”The legal profession is a regulated one hence foreigners have to go through some new training program. Recognition of previous educational qualifications obtained outside the European Union is also done as is the case across most parts of continental Europe, This practice is called homologation of degree (and in Spanish `homologacion`) which is and has never been an easy task for people with qualifications from Africa. It’s time consuming and applicants are required to take certain courses before full recognition is granted.However most foreign lawyers who successfully obtain an LL.M in Spain, may have a reduced procedure to obtain recognition of prior qualifications since during the LL.M most of the training courses are covered. In most cases with an LL.M, one could still work in the law firms as In-house lawyers, legal researchers, legal assistants or otherwise but will not be able to appear as a barrister in the Spanish courts to defend clients”. “As at 2011, Spanish law graduates didn’t have to attend law school in order to become barristers (liciencador). Once they graduate from the University, they register with the bar association and become barristers (licensed to practice law as barrister). There has been a recent debate and pressure from the European Union urging Spain to put in place a continuous legal education system like the law school to train its lawyers like many other European nations. Also, the legal education system is not uniform. Some universities take four and others five years before a student graduates with an LL.B degree. However the government has announced that there will be reforms to that effect”.
He currently works for a leading International Law firm in Madrid and specialises in International law, Foreign trade, Civil and Commercial law (including commercial litigation) as well as Advertisement laws. Quizzed about the similarities and differences between law practice in Nigeria and Spain, Barrister Ogiegbaen had this to say:” Under the Common Law Nigeria system, the adversary approach is and has been very wonderful and has allowed lots of challenges between lawyers, which has led to major test of the judicial process by adventurous lawyers with more radicalism and the likes. He went further, ”In Civil Law Spain, It’s more of a quiet process and puts more legal powers on state attorneys like the Prosecutor and the Police. I consider it quiet a boring system compared to Common Law in Nigeria. It’s very easy to be detained for a long period of time at the request of the Police to the Judge in the name of investigation which has been used to keep suspects in jail for lengthy period of time even for cases that are supposed to be bailable offences”. “But if you compare law practice between Nigeria and Spain, that of Nigeria is in my view much more interesting. The Common Law system which we practice in Nigeria has created room for more activism than the Civil Law system practiced in Spain”.
Elaborating further on the mode of law practice in Spain, Prince Ogiegbaen submitted, “the concept of having barristers and solicitors fused is more akin to common law jurisdictions especially England. This system is not predominant around a country like Spain which is a civil law jurisdiction. However, the big law firms normally have legal interns/researchers (more like legal assistants) who work with the barristers in dealing with cases. He then added, “One of the advantages of having to fuse between barristers and solicitors is that it can create less cost for legal services. Similarly, it can create more efficiency within the legal system and may even lead to a foundation training system that creates equal type of skills”. “The clients, I am sure would also be satisfied to deal with one kind of lawyer without been confused as to personalities with different skills and interests”. “One disadvantage I can imagine is that such fusion may lead to the creation of bigger law firms at the expense and survival of the smaller ones”, he concluded.
Speaking on the practice of immigration, Leo Benson Ogiegbaen said he doesn’t handle immigration cases.”As you know immigration has become one of the most controversial subjects across the developed societies and we know that across Europe, the higher population of rising immigration is from Africa especially sub-Sahara Africa. Consequently, it could be an issue of proximity between Nigerian lawyers and clients from the same background or better still what I call legal marketing within the legal system of the country”.
Similarly, in his assessment of Spanish cum European immigration laws and perceived discrimination against blacks, the eloquent lawyer had this to say; “Immigration laws of today across Europe are almost all the same. The European nations through the European parliament are enacting more laws in the forms of directives and regulations which allows the member states to continue to reshape their immigration laws against the backdrop of a common immigration policy across Europe, therefore the differences in immigration laws today in the European union is getting more minimal because of this system of reforms. The problem is about the effective implementation system and how the courts of the member states give meanings to immigration laws. In Spain for instance, it’s a civil law system that sees very little judicial activism compared to common law England that allows more judicial experiments. If you take a look at section 8 of the European convention on human rights, which talks about respect for private family life; under this section in the UK, the English courts have so far adopted liberal interpretations in favour of illegal immigrants who have effectively established families in the UK, especially in cases of deportation. However section 8 of the European convention on human rights has not prevented Spanish courts from deporting illegal immigrants with family ties in Spain”.
Going further, the Jurist added, “I always like to refrain from using the word discrimination except in very extreme cases, although in the past one could say that Spain has been more liberal in immigration issues but Spain under the previous government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has actually targeted foreigners including those of African origin. Most of the immigration reforms of today have targeted foreigners which include Africans not just on immigration but also on social security and benefits, health care and even jobs”.
In the area of e-practice, LBO as he is fondly called disclosed that Spain is way ahead especially and as he puts it, “With the availability of facilities including the e-practice legal framework enacted by the European Union which is also implemented in Spain and I will implore Nigeria to rise up to the occasion regarding same”. In the same vein, the fluent speaking Lawyer highlighted another aspect of practice which he enjoys but lacking in Nigeria. He asserted, “Actually, the antitrust laws which Europeans call competition law is very effective and I have tried to reach out to see our antitrust laws in Nigeria which we need to work on, I think as at 2011 South Africa already had an effective antitrust law system. I also think we need to enact effective consumer protection laws in Nigeria”.
On advice for Nigerian Lawyers willing to move over to Spain or Europe to practice, Barrister Ogiegbaen declared, “Nigerian lawyers are one of the most hardworking and most intelligent lawyers to deal with and wherever they find themselves they adapt and make the best use of their environment, so I encourage them to continue to possess the land wherever they find themselves and remain astounding”. As regards role models in legal practice, Leo Benson Ogiegbaen stated with a glowing smile on his face; “The late Chief Gani Fawehinmi definitely won my heart during his life time and I doubt if our country would be able to boast of such a legal hero in another generation to come. In Spain, I recall vividly Jaime Bragado, a frontline lawyer in International contract law as well as Natalia Gomez another leading lawyer in Commercial litigation”. “My hobbies include Football, Tennis and Wine tasting. I hang out too at my leisure with my friends and I enjoy good company”
First published in the Nigeria Lawyer Magazine