Mar 7, 2016

Lere Fashola on how law firms can make their Nigerian Legal Awards entries standout and get the judges’ positive nod.

The Nigerian Legal Awards (NLA) is not based on sentiments, not on how much you pay, relationship with ESQ, size of the firm nor volume of the transactions that you do. It is based on specifics as contained in your submission. 

You are called to explain in short words what it is that you have achieved for your client and how this has impacted or is likely to impact on their business. Since words are the most important tools of advocacy and lawyers are expected to be men of words, the Award judges are looking forward to seeing in your own words how legal service that you deliver is in tandem with commercial realities.

Our judges are usually very busy and have limited time to devout to reading long epistles but trust me, they do study the entries carefully, often burning through the midnight oil in the process as they juggle with their busy schedules.

Given that well over half of the Nigerian Legal Awards judges are heads of the African Practice Group of the major International Law Firms or CEOs of major companies with years of interaction with Nigerian Lawyers, while leading teams or companies, this presents law firms with the opportunity to tell a select group of partners or prospective clients how well they are doing. Conversely, if they submit ill-thought out entries they may end up damaging a valued relationship.

This is a very important business

Nigerian legal awards is not for joke. It is indeed a very serious business. If you're not going to take the process of entering awards seriously, then leave them well alone. Boilerplate entries obviously modeled on directory submissions where the only variation is the name of the awards entered - and sometimes even that detail is overlooked - will simply reduce the value of your nomination.

Choose the categories you enter carefully:

Generally, some categories attract more entries than others. This should be expected as some areas of the economy are usually more active than the others. In the past, the Oil and Gas Team Award was the most popular category attracting higher number of entries. Other popular practice area categories were Banking, Finance or Restructuring Team of the Year and Dispute Resolution Team of the Year and the Capital Market Team of the Year.

Competition is obviously a good thing and the steady rise in the number of entries for the Nigerian Legal Awards has no doubt helped raise the standard of the shortlisted entries, a phenomenon several judges remarked upon last year. That doesn't mean you shouldn't enter the most hard-fought categories, just that you need to enter the competition with your eyes open, aware that you will need to have an exceptional entry to succeed. Conversely, it will surely pay off to focus on some of the less popular categories to see whether they clearly show your leadership strength within the league.

“All over the world, there are similar respectable ceremonies that grant prizes but this offer another flavour as it is specifically for Nigerian lawyers and because most Nigerian firms are playing at home, in front of their public, their audience, their clients, their colleagues, their neighbours, their bosses, the acknowledgement is even greater. As we stick very closely to the new trends in the market, we are able to see before anyone else and spot the new “kids on the block”, see how the “old guys” are doing in their traditional areas of practice or in new areas in which they are developing and see what innovations the new players are bringing to the game as well as the influence of the international players in the market.” Lere Fashola stated.

Criteria are important

Study the criteria and make sure the entry addresses all the points. All evaluations and nominations are done online. Judges will be given a score sheet that lists the criteria and invites them to mark each entry against them. Each Criterion has a maximum score of 10 points. We therefore expect that each nomination will adequately address all the criteria fully. The score that you get for one criterion may not count for the other. so you have to do justice to all and in short words.

There will also be a day roundtable for judges where we invite the judges to meet and debate who should win the Law Firm of the Year Award. The final decision on the winner of the award will be decided at the one day judges' conference where judges will meet to justify their votes.

Shortlisted nominees will be informed before the award ceremony. The final decision on the award winners will be made by the judges when they meet, and their decision will be final. 

Dare to be different

Your submission must be precise and address the issues. It should be easy to read and understood and should state specifically what is significant about what you have done. Be different and see this as an opportunity to market to a new or prospective client who may end up needing your services.

Remember its about the clients

All that the judges are looking for is how your service is helping the businesses to grow. It is expected that the solutions that you offer must be in tandem with commercial realities. Show to the judges what it was that you were called to help the client solve and how this is impacting or likely to impact on their businesses.

Write in plain English and avoid jargon

No law firm or legal department can succeed without being able to communicate effectively and this should be reflected in the quality of the submission itself. Lay out can also help. For example, sub-headings that speak to the criteria will reinforce the message that the entry has been well-structured. It is not part of the entry criteria for entries to be well designed. But submissions from law firms that have not been sent to a design department are becoming increasingly rare.

Does your firm need to be big before you can win?

The Nigerian Legal Awards is not based on the size of your firm nor the volume of the transactions that you do. The past award has seen a firm win the award on the strength of the very first deal they did under a specific category. All the judges are concerned with is whether the deal is novel, does it set new standards, the turnaround time, positive benefits to the clients business, how professional you were in delivering this service