Akufo-Addo spent years campaigning against military regimes that once led Ghana and now, with democracy firmly in place, he is hoping to emerge victorious in this week's elections.
His rimless spectacles and full, round face are well known in this West African nation, with "Nana", as he is commonly known, having previously been attorney general, foreign minister and presidential candidate for the New Patriotic Party (NPP) he still leads.
In the 2008 polls, he fell just short of a first round win, taking 49.1% of the vote, then lost in the second round by some 40 000 votes to former president John Atta Mills, who died in July.
He will be seeking a different outcome in what are expected to also be tight elections on Friday.
Akufo-Addo, (68) has repeatedly called the current President John Dramani Mahama a "caretaker" leader, destined to serve only between Mills's death and inauguration day next year.
Born in the east into a prominent family – his father was Ghana's president when the job was a ceremonial post – Akufo-Addo earned a law degree in the UK and later worked in Paris, where he became fluent in French.
Between 1966 and 1992 Ghana was under military rule, aside from a few short-lived civilian governments, and Akufo-Addo gained fame for his battles against dictatorship, including political organising and fighting human rights cases in court.
Running for president is "a piece of cake compared with what [he's] done in the past," said Jermaine Nkrumah, former spokesperson of the NPP's US chapter, who knows Akufo-Addo through party work.
Yonny Kulendi, a former student and colleague at the firm of Akufo-Addo, Prempeh & Co, described 'Nana' as a teacher and boss of rigorous intellect, who was capable of mesmerising a court with his oral arguments.
"He is probably one of the very few advocates in court who somehow can hold the courtroom spellbound and you hear a needle if it drops," Kulendi said.
Despite his very public career, some say Akufo-Addo lacks a populist touch and that his professonal manner has hampered his ability to connect with the average voter.
"What I always think is that [he] mirrors to me a certain painful truth about politics which is that you can be so public, and yet, be the least known. And that is Akufo-Addo," said Kulendi.
Analysts have characterised him as a broadly centre-right political thinker, with a clear faith in free markets, but more pragmatic that ideological.
The signature issue of his 2012 campaign is a pledge to provide free secondary school education, backed by revenue from Ghana's nascent oil industry. – Sapa-AFP