Over the past few years, the focal point of most arbitration conferences and discussions in or about Africa revolved around ways to deepen and enhance the practice of international commercial arbitration on the continent. While African practitioners regularly clamour for resolving “African disputes” in Africa and by Africans, there is always the corresponding emphasis on the need for continuous capacity building for practitioners in Africa. These are some of the considerations that necessitated the inauguration of the Lagos Court of Arbitration Young Arbitrators Network (LCA-YAN) in August 2016.
The LCA-YAN, like most institutional platforms for young practitioners, is a group for young practitioners (ideally below 40 years of age) and law students. Since its inauguration, the LCA-YAN has organised a series of programmes aimed at exposing young practitioners and students to the practice of international commercial arbitration. One such programme was the maiden edition of an arbitration moot competition, which was held at the Lagos Court of Arbitration on 28 July 2017.
The event attracted participants from some of the leading universities and law firms in Nigeria, while an impressive crop of experienced practitioners acted as arbitrators in the preliminary and final rounds of the competition. Each participating team was entitled to present two young practitioners (ideally less than three years post-call) and a student for the oral hearing.
As the commendations continue to pour in for a well-organised event, there are a few points of interest that have been brought to the fore as a result of the competition.
Legal education in Nigeria
It has been made clear that the future of the competition lies in exclusive student participation, with practitioners limited to coaching roles. With this in mind, the performance of the students at the maiden edition gave an encouraging insight into the current standard of legal education in Nigeria. Indeed, some of the arbitrators had difficulty identifying the student member of participating teams in the course of the hearing. This is particularly encouraging given that the moot problem involved an international sale agreement which, in addition to subjection to International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) arbitration under the ICC Rules, necessitated regular consultation of major international commercial treaties and conventions including the UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG), UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law, International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) Principles and the Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits, 2007 Revision, ICC Publication No. 600 (UCP 600).
Notwithstanding the impressive showing of the student participants, the call for inclusion of arbitration in the curriculum for undergraduate legal studies in Nigeria remains valid. It is important to recognise the ever-increasing growth of arbitration as a specialist area and afford students an opportunity to be formally educated in this field.
It is remarkable that the LCA-YAN has already unveiled plans to extend next year’s competition to participants from other African countries and it will be interesting to see students of Nigerian universities go up against counterparts from neighbouring jurisdictions.
Increased advocacy opportunities for young practitioners
The outstanding advocacy displayed by young practitioners at the competition reveals that there is no shortage of advocacy skills in the Nigerian legal profession, but there is clearly a dearth of opportunities for these young practitioners to showcase their oratorical prowess. It is quite disturbing that Nigerian courts, for a variety of reasons, do not afford counsel adequate time for oral submissions since the prevailing disposition is for counsel to simply “adopt” written submissions with little or no additional elaboration or probing questions from the tribunal.
It is important to implement pragmatic reforms in the Nigerian legal profession to open up more opportunities for young practitioners to display and improve their advocacy skills. It is no longer acceptable for a young practitioner’s role in a law firm to be restricted to serving as research assistant or escort to hearings without any real responsibilities.
LCA facilities underscore the need to have more international arbitrations seated in Africa
The impressive quality of the LCA facilities used to host the competition lends credence to the clamour to have more arbitration disputes resolved in Africa. There is now no tenable suggestion that such disputes should be seated in Europe on account of inadequate arbitration infrastructure on the continent. The LCA facility in Lagos effectively rebuts such suggestion.
As the entire event was planned to take place in a day, the six preliminary rounds as well as the final hearing took place in separate hearing rooms of the LCA. Each hearing room is fitted with a break-out room for any deliberations the arbitrators may wish to have. There are also a good number of meeting rooms for parties and their legal representatives to discuss strategy before, during and after hearings.
It is expected that subsequent editions of the LCA-YAN moot competition will continue to have the desired impact of availing young and aspiring practitioners with practical exposure and experience of international commercial arbitration.