My first introduction to Derin Fagbure was through her social media platform on Instagram @inblack_and_white. Here, Derin waters down complex legal jargons and breaks them down into bite sizes so that owners of SMEs are able to grasp and utilise them to the benefit of their enterprise. Not only does she write and create her own digital content, she speaks at various fora and business summits on the importance of a legal structure towards ensuring business perpetuity. Derin is passionate about advising small businesses with a view to ensuring that they outlive their founders.
When Derin is not dishing out legal advice to businesses, she’s making ‘money moves’ in her career as a Senior Associate in the Transaction and Business Support Practice of Esher and Makarios.
By all definitions, this woman is all about not only pressing for progress as an individual, she is bent on making social impact and pulling many along with her.
In this interview, she talks starting ‘in black and white’, digital marketing and the importance of legal for businesses. Read the interview below.
Please tell me about yourself
My name is Derin Fagbure and I am a lawyer. I love singing and dancing. These hobbies were noticed as far back as when I was in Nursery school. My Dad on reading my teacher’s report, made it clear that he would not support my taking a career in entertainment. I also love gardening, greens make me happy.
I also love to write. I started writing for Junior Guardian at a young age and currently have a column in Thisday Lawyer which is called “In Black and White”
I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 3years old. Staring at my Aunt’s portrait at her Call to Bar ceremony, I was fascinated by the wig and gown. ‘Where is your uniform?’ I asked my mum. Her reply was that as a Chartered Accountant her uniform included her suits and formal outfits. I found that and the doctor’s white overcoat a bit too regular.
I knew from then on that I wanted to don the wig and gown someday and in spite of being in the science class, I did.
Many people including my guidance counsellor believed I was too quiet to be a lawyer and they thought I would change my mind. I never did! However, maybe that’s why I am not so interested in “Mai Lord” matters. I am a corporate lawyer.
Growing up with parents who are both Chartered Accountants, and who were always talking about the balance sheet and profit and loss account, shaped my decision to specialize in corporate law.
You started a social media page entitled: ‘In black and white’ where you break down the law into bite sizes for the average entrepreneur. What prompted it?
In black and White is a product of my passion to see small businesses outlive their founders. I am particularly interested in companies and their successes hence my passion for company law, finance and corporate governance. I not only studied these at the University, I was born into them. I love simplicity so I decided against using complicated words and Latin maxims to explain these business law terms. In black and white tries to explain the otherwise complicated legal jargon in the simplest of languages.
Why are you bent on helping small and medium enterprises?
I love gardening; I keep indoor plants and I am excited to nurture them and see them grow. The lifecycle of most plants including the Chinese evergreen at my work station is similar to that of a company which is born at incorporation. The plant has gone through phases, sometimes it bends towards the source of light, at other times is turns yellow because of a lack of certain nutrients, and sheds its leaves often. Businesses go through these phases too and it’s important to take each step with sound legal advice. Business promoters need to understand the legal obligations of their businesses at every stage of development.
From incorporation, partnerships and related business relationships, signing contracts, securing investment and raising finance, selling the business to compliance and regulatory bodies to boards and directors to succession planning and directors responsibility , I am keen to be part of these bold steps. I am excited when I see businesses that have outlived their promoters and have become household names with each generation. My grandmother knew them, my mum could swear by their products and I too can identify with this company. What have they done to make sure my daughter knows about them? It is simple, yet complicated. Basically, they have done things right. My desire is to see African businesses in general and Nigerian businesses in particular embrace corporate governance.
Over and over again, I find myself being asked questions like, ”Lawyer, who should be my directors”? or, “Barrrister, what are my duties as a director” etc. In Black and White seeks to answer these questions and many more.
Digital marketing, to some degree, has played a role in increasing your followership on social media. Would you say it is a necessary evil for businesses hoping to thrive in this era?
Yes, it is a necessary evil. Every business should use social media to its advantage by creating value. Social media provides a ready market for businesses. However, the fad to build a virtual brand or should I say a digitally attractive brand with several followers should never overshadow the need for traditional business structures. We must not forget that our dear country has a population of over 150 million people, a large percentage of whom are not on social media. I sometimes wonder what will happen to certain businesses if Facebook or Instagram were to shutdown.
What are some of the most common legal problems small business owners encounter?
There are several. The first thing is many Nigerian businesses do not have any legal structure.A large number of business owners do not even have registered businesses. They are neither registered as a business names nor incorporated as limited liability companies.
I always say that if your business is not recognized by the law, it is merely a hobby.
Another common problem is entrepreneurs entering into oral agreements or even signing contracts they do not understand. It is unfortunate to find big shots complaining that someone they are in contract with has taken advantage of them. Sadly, after discussing with such people and looking through the relevant agreements, it becomes clear that the contract the entrepreneur signed allows for the very conduct for which they are now seeking legal counsel.
Would you say it is absolutely necessary for every business to have its own legal counsel?
Yes, I would say it is, as long as the business can afford it. However, I understand that affordability is relative. The importance of a good legal structure cannot be over-emphasized. It is important for business owners to understand the importance of engaging professionals particularly with respect to their financial, legal and human resources requirements.
For businesses that can’t afford to have a lawyer on their payroll, what would you say a possible solution might be?
I usually say everyone should have a lawyer friend. It is best to reach a convenient arrangement for payment with this lawyer friend.
You will be contributing to Flourish Africa on a Bi-monthly basis, what can readers hope to see?
legal tips and advice for their businesses at their fingertips.i hope to discuss a wide range of topics using real life stories. Some of my favourite topics like getting ready for investments, laying a legal foundation for your business, tips for setting up an advisory board will be discussed in detail. I hope to write on non-traditional fundraising methods, intellectual property and succession planning. I would also be willing to answer legal questions that the audience may put forward. I expect my column to be interactive, which means that I look forward to hearing from the readers too.
What are your long term plans with “in-black-and-white?”
hmm! that is in God’s hands. For now, I guess I will keep creating legal awareness among entrepreneurs through social media.
As a Senior Associate in the Transaction and Business Support Practice of Esher and Makarios, any advice for a woman hoping to move up the corporate ladder in her workplace?
We are all gentlemen at the bar so I guess it is safe to say that the legal profession provides fairly equal opportunities to both men and women. However, my advice to women including myself is to constantly strive to be the best.
Life is a school, woman, keep learning.
This means that we need to keep improving our skills by reading and attending seminars and courses, regularly. Personal development is key and so everyone should draw up a personal development calendar which helps you to keep abreast of latest developments in the profession and ensure that today’s you is much better and much more informed than yesterday’s you.
What drives you?
The desire to help people and to make an impact. I believe my knowledge of the law stands me in good stead in this direction because there is always someone who needs pro bono legal services or advice.
If you had to offer a word of advice to your 21 year old self, what would it be?
Face your fears. Many times, our fears stop us from reaching our maximum potential but the love of God makes it easier. I wish I had understood that a lot earlier.
Derin Fagbure will be sharing some legal tips that might help small and medium enterprise owners. Her advice isn’t only limited to business owners. It cuts across several other aspects where the law may be concerned and we can’t wait to have you read all that she has to offer. I suggest you keep your eyes peeled!
We’re excited to bring her on board and not only have her as a contributing writer but one who so humbly imbibes the words ’empowerment and inspiration’ so effortlessly.