BUILDING A 21ST CENTURY LAW FIRM: THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUNG LAWYERS IN NIGERIA
Section 24 of The Legal Practitioners’ Act 2004 defines a legal practitioner (a lawyer) as a person entitled in accordance with the provisions of this Act to practise as a barrister or as a barrister and solicitor, either generally or for the purposes of any particular office or proceedings. In Nigeria, by virtue of the classification by the Nigerian Bar Association, a Young Lawyer is a lawyer who is not more than seven years old at the bar. The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines ‘build’ as to create over a long period of time. Challenge maybe defined as a test, barrier, trial, etc. Opportunity on the other hand means chance, prospect. A community reading of Section 3 of the Partnership Act 1890 and Rule 5(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct 2007 suggests that a law firm is the relationship which subsists between lawyers carrying on a business together with a view to profit. This article will focus on the barriers, prospects that confront and present themselves to lawyers who are not more than 7 years old at the bar in their goal of building a 21st century law firm.
One challenge, a Young Lawyer in Nigeria will face while building a 21st Century Law Firm is deciding on the form of legal practice he would practice through. Would it be sole-practitionership, sole-proprietorship, partnership, associateship, etc? Despite the proliferation of sole-practitionerships and sole-proprietorships in the practice of law in Nigeria, the Young Lawyer who aims to build a 21st century law firm will be well-advised to consider associateship or partnership because of the opportunities they provide in creating economy of scales, opportunity to leverage on the skills and other resources of partners/associates and to specialise, etc. The 21st century law firm in Nigeria must be unlike its predecessors which died when its founder died or became sick when its founder was sick or was not strong enough to pay its bills. Young lawyers need to enter into strategic partnerships and/or associations with the aim of building law firms that will overtime grow to become institutions that will not just meet the demands of their clientele but also those of their employees, regulatory agencies and their Corporate Social Responsibilities. They will face the obvious challenge of recognising fellow lawyer(s) they can partner or associate with.
Nigerians have greater access to information in the 21st century than they have ever had in all centuries both before and after the death of Christ. Every professional including the Young Lawyer faces the challenge of proving their relevance in solving the problems of their clients. The field of legal practice in Nigeria is still largely untapped. Many areas of law still remain unexplored in Nigeria. Despite the relative success of general practice in 20th century Nigeria, the Young Nigerian Lawyer who wishes to build a law firm that will be relevant to the needs of Nigerians today must take the paths less trodden in Nigeria’s legal profession like Medical law, Defamation, Taxation Law, Aviation law, Mining law, Environmental law, Copyright Law, etc. As a result of paucity of Nigerian academic and/or judicial elucidations on these areas of law, it would no doubt be challenging for the Young Lawyer to develop these areas of law and become an expert therein. He will have to pay for continuing professional development and books and pour his energy and time into studying the books. In the same way, a cancer patient will not consult a general practitioner but an oncologist, Nigerians are in need of experts in various areas of law and not just general practitioners. The Young Lawyer is capable of meeting this need.
A 21st century law firm in Nigeria cannot successfully operate without the use of various Information and Communication Technology tools. They provide cutting edge solutions. Epileptic power supply, finance, learning these tools will provide challenges but he should not be deterred. Such renowned tools as Wikipedia, Law Pavilion, LinkedIn, Google, email, LexisNexis, Microsoft office etc. would be needed if he would be able to carry out his noble duties to the Nigerian society. These tools provide opportunities that will no doubt end up offsetting the cost and/or challenges he would face.
No law firm exists without people. A Young Lawyer would naturally find it difficult to attract professionals and provide platforms for them to grow within the law firm while still achieving the firm’s goals. The Young Lawyer desires to build a law firm but he faces the challenge of how to attract the best available hands. He will need among others — lawyers, a litigation secretary, Human Resource Officer, cleaner, an accountant, etc. The Young Lawyer will need to pay the monthly emoluments of members of staff and be a source of inspiration to them. While, he may not be in need of all these professionals initially, he will need them overtime if his firm will be the best.
Nigerians’ dependence on the advice of lawyers before taking steps and their increased awareness on their rights in the lawyer-client’s relationship means the 21st century law firm in Nigeria must be strong enough to withstand claims that may arise with loss that its clients may face because of the advice given by the firm. If a loss occurs as a result of the advice proffered by a lawyer, he could be liable in negligence which could leave his law firm vicariously liable. The 21st century law firm should thus take up a professional indemnity insurance package that will provide security against the risk of a claim against it. He will thus enjoy much needed security to practice his profession.
The Challenges and opportunities are enormous. Nigeria’s 21st century law firms must be built. Young Lawyers owe it to posterity to build it. They will.
PS: This article was submitted to the Nigerian Bar Association — Young Lawyers Forum as a condition for sponsorship to the 2018 Conference of the NBA-YLF! The article was selected by the committee as one of the top ten articles!