Although Chief Oladipo Odujinrin and Prince Adeyemi Adefulu had similar backgrounds, both men did not meet until university. The duo were children of accomplished educators with a passion for academia, with each graduating top of their classes at university. Chief Odujinrin was a German Scholar at the University of Lagos and Secretary of the National University of Nigerian Students (NUNS), and Prince Adefulu was named the best graduating student at the Nigerian Law School.
However, it took a chance encounter facilitated by a mutual friend, Chief Yemi Ogunbiyi, to establish a close friendship that would launch one of the oldest legal partnerships in Nigeria.
“I was on a bus from University of Lagos’ Yaba campus when I came across a fellow King’s College alumnus, Yemi Ogunbiyi, and he introduced me to his friend, Yemi Adefulu,” Chief Odunjirin.
At the time, Chief Odujinrin was already a law student at the university, whilst Prince Adefulu was interning at NBC-Television as a film librarian, awaiting his admission.
“I remember he paid the bus fare for all three of us, and I was impressed with his kindness,” Prince Adefulu.
Breaking The Mould
The Nigerian legal system had replicated the English model with firms focused on either advocacy/litigation or commercial law. For example, during Chief Odujinrin’s time as a commercial lawyer with Chris Ogunbanjo & Co, the firm had to forward its clients’ litigation cases to other firms.
The English legal system dividing the profession into two parts which Nigeria rather opaquely practised, was different from what Chief Odujinrin had witnessed as a student in North America. While studying at Harvard Law School and working at a law firm in the U.S., Chief had observed how advocates and solicitors (commercial) worked together in the same firm to bring different clients, cases and opportunities. This previous experience inspired him to approach his friend, Prince Adefulu, to start a legal partnership that would combine advocacy and commercial law.
Although Prince Adefulu had just finished in the Nigerian law school, his experience pre and post law school at the offices of Fawehinmi & Co. had helped him become a budding litigator with a critical grasp of the profession.
Still, two daring young men, very young in the profession, armed with sheer gusto to succeed and a desire to change the profession seemed like a crazy thing to do. However, what they lacked in experience, they made up for in total and unflagging commitment.
Audacious Youg Men
Chief Odujinrin and Prince Adefulu were only 26 years old when they established the firm. Dubbed ‘precocious and audacious kids’ by their older counterparts, nobody expected the partnership to survive. But, while most people predicted failure, the men knew what they wanted to achieve and fought for it.
“You have to know what you want and put your whole heart into it, and we knew what we wanted to build,” Prince Adefulu.
Even with their little start-up capital, they decided their office must be in the business district, right in the heart of Lagos Island, to be close to future clients.
The first few months were a whirlwind.
“We did not even have a phone!” Chief Odujinrin laughed as he recalled the day they received their first phone call.
”It was tough to get a phone back then, but the office right across from ours had one, and Mr. J.A. Cole, an advocate and senior in the profession to us, allowed us to use his phone for free.”
A Shared Goal
The two young men wanted to build something respectable worldwide. So, as they began building their clientele, they attended numerous cocktail parties and social gatherings where they met friends and made connections that would last decades.
“We met one of our first clients, Alani Bankole, at a cocktail party. Till this day, he remains our client,” Chief Odujinrin stated. This dedication to maintaining relationships is at the core of what Odujinrin & Adefulu stands for.
Both brought up with homegrown values, Chief Odujinrin & Prince Adefulu applied integrity and tenacity to everything they did. Over the next decade, this combination resulted in a meteoric rise that shocked all of those who had doubted them.
By the late 1970s, they were dubbed ‘the millionaires of Broad Street’. Their determination and respect for the law had helped them prove themselves.
The Important Ingredient
“Back then, partnerships did not survive,” Chief Odujinrin reiterates, “it did not matter if you had formed a partnership with your friend or brother; it ended up failing and ruining the relationship”.
How then did Odujinrin and Adefulu form a bond that spanned five decades?
“A partnership is like a marriage”, they both said. “You need trust, honesty and mutual respect for one another.”
When Odujinrin & Adefulu was formed, both men had experience in two different subsects of the legal profession. This allowed each partner to bring valuable expertise and opinions into every decision.
“Shared values and total honesty, that is the only way a partnership can survive,” Prince Adefulu.
Service and Integrity at The Core
“The greatness of a country is dependent on the greatness of its’ institutions,” according to Prince Adefulu.
Given their shared background, it is clear that one of the shared value is the duo had was the desire for service. For them, law was a means to higher service to the society.
“When we began, we wanted to serve society. We wanted to build something that was a contribution to the economic health of the country. We wanted to contribute to the legal profession,” Prince Adefulu continued.
Each of them went on to receive the Member of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (MFR), in recognition of their service to the development of the legal profession.
They also went on to serve Nigeria in different capacities.
Chief Odujinrin was sworn in as a Senator of the Federal Republic on October 1st, 1983.
Prince Adefulu served as Commissioner for Health & Social Welfare, Commissioner for Forestry & Water Resources and Commissioner for Home Affairs (Local Government) in Ogun state from October 29th, 1979, until December 31st, 1983.
Whether in the legal profession or in public service, integrity was always at the core.
Fit and Proper
For Prince Adefulu and Chief Odujinrin, the legal field requires top expertise with quality service. Therefore, each person sworn into the Supreme Court of Nigeria takes a vow to remain fit and proper due to the profession’s seriousness.
Proper legal etiquette requires each lawyer to represent their clients to the best of their abilities. Still, Odujinrin & Adefulu wanted to go further. They had a “24-hour rule” that they must get back to their clients within 24 hours.
”It is about the client,” Prince Adefulu.
Rather than adopting the standard work approach of the time, one in which top lawyers worked mornings and evenings but took a long break in the afternoons, Chief Odujinrin and Prince Adefulu chose to keep their afternoons available and work when their clients were working. This meant they could close earlier and go home to spend time with their families.
This shared value system is what has kept their professional relationship and personal friendship alive for so many years.
Building a Legacy
“We did not intend to build any kind of legacy when we started the firm,” Prince Adefulu. “Of course, we desired to pass the firm on to the next generation eventually, but we did not expect that next generation to be our children. My son, Deoye, always says: I’ve heard you wax poetic about the law since I was born. So, of course, that was where I was headed,” he laughed.
The same was true for Damilola Adetunji. She shared that she wanted to be a commercial lawyer for as long as she can remember, just like her father, Chief Odujinrin.
The founding partners believe their legacy was to train other lawyers and create a template for work. Their focus was never about making money but adding value to society one day at a time.
Today, their approach to law has been adopted by several law firms across the country, now becoming the standard path within the profession.
A New Generation
Today, the firm is largely run by a new generation of partners. Damilola Adetunji, Dr. Adeoye Adefulu and Lucky Ayeki, and Olubukola Olabiyi.
“They are going to make mistakes, just as we did, but they are entitled to those mistakes,” Prince Adefulu. “I don’t have to come in every day, neither does Chief Odujinrin, because we know the firm is in good hands.”
The firm has gone through different political regimes, leadership changes, and more. Still, the vision has remained the same: a mid-sized, close-knit firm committed to delivering excellent service to its clients.
Although some of the changes can seem quick, especially with technology, both men encouraged it. Chief Odujinrin joked about when his daughter, Damilola Adetunji, insisted that they must both get computers.
This was new territory for them. But they transitioned and adapted to their new systems smoothly.
The immense trust and professional respect each of these great men has in their children turned colleagues is indicative of a reverence for the legal profession, the kind that is taken for granted by many but remains at the core of the Odujinrin & Adefulu values: Curiosity, Entrepreneurship, Innovative, and Collegiality.
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