NIGERIA CALLING: From A Far Off Land Comes a Music Lawyer

By Moses Avalon

Boycotting the social incarceration requisite at an American Bar Association Conference I trolled past many panels for something original to write about in the Sports & Entertainment Division; something beyond the usual wrap-up of new law and speculation. (See next post.) Suddenly, at a marketing panel a young woman in the audience raised a question. The question was irrelevant. She was a music lawyer from Nigeria, she said.Heads turned.

Her name is Dolapo Kukoyi.Her firm, Detail Commercials Solicitors, represents the Nigerian artist, Ara.Detail paid $750 ticket plus expenses to send her half way around the globe for this event, after which she’ll be expected to de-brief her small firm about what’s going on in the US; a world of rising advances and diminishing CD sales.

I caught up with her to reverse the process and find out what challenges artists and attorneys face in her nation; one bordering the Third World. “Nigeria has a fast growing music industry that is only just emerging,” Dolapo told me, “I was looking for short courses on music law, but they were all for a master’s degree. Then I saw the ABA.”

Unlike many a music lawyer in the US whose day begins with a hangover remedy, Dolapo is on the phone at 4:30 AM.Her billable day continues until 9:30 at night, by which time many of her US contemporaries are settling their golf bets over a Manhattan, while they ponder which of their clients will be filing Chapter 11 next.

One reason she has so much to do is the lack of regulation that Nigeria currently enjoys. “As an attorney you can help an artist procure work and directly invest in their talent.There are no regulations [for lawyers] like you have in the US.”

Sounds like an entrepreneurial wet dream, but… “One major challenge is the lack of managers and agents like you have here.” Thus the shopping process is even more “Wild West” than in the US. Instead of labels or LLC entities there are individuals who call themselves “marketers.” They will finance the artist’s first work and they have exclusive rights for three years. “That’s the standard practice,” says Dolapo.

What she was learning at a conference of and by the most litigious people on the planet.“The Ethics forums taught me that no matter how long you’ve known your clients, get everything on the record.Keep the informalities to a minimum.Also, the session about Smart Money versus Dumb Money [led by Miami super lawyer Leslie José Zigel— Mo] was great stuff.”

In Nigeria, where a Starbucks cappuccino costs about $6 US she is billing the not-so-third-world rate of $300 an hour as an associate partner.But in most cases she is doing flat rate work. Contracts for about $400 and such.All contracts are in English.

With US labels seeking new outlets for music sales it’s no surprise that a country as small as Nigeria would be also be looking to compete in our major league ball park.And with their work ethic and still evolving legal Ethics, they may have a major competitive edge.

The radar expands.

Mo out.

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