*Nigerian law firms are not operating at their best yet–Fola Akande
*A good economy driven by good leadership is key for the success of the law practice as a business–Seye Kosoko
The Law practice management committee of the NBA Section on Business Law in collaboration with the Association of Law firm Administrators of Nigeria (ALAN) organized the program tagged- “Realigning Business Strategies For Law Firms” in Lagos today.
The event was aimed at exposing law firms to the huge opportunities that abound in the law practice industry, steps they need to take in order to have a share of the trillion-dollar industry and for law firms to move away from the mindset of law as just a profession to law as a business.
The Chairman of the NBA-SBL, Mr. Seni Adio SAN assured everyone that the discussion will not end in the room but steps will be taken for the recommendations that will emerge to be syndicated and disseminated to the appropriate quarters for the benefit of the entire law practice in Nigeria.
The event featured 2 plenary sessions discussing same topic but from 2 different perspectives. The Macro issues comprising Environmental, economic, political issues hindering law firms from running as a business and the way forward.
The 2nd session looked at the internal issues, that is, within the law firm, what they can do to position themselves better, having a global mindset, how technology can really help their operations and the need for having good structures in place for sustainability.
The sessions were moderated by Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede FCIB, CON.
The first session, discussing the macro issues had the following panelists:
Mr. Soji Awogbade; Seye Kosoko; Fola Akande; Ademola Akinrele SAN.
During the discussion, Fola Akande, Company Secretary of Cadbury said in her own opinion, Nigerian law firms are not operating at their best yet. Though a couple of firms are improving, there is still a long way to go especially in the aspect of incorporating technology into their processes, which can significantly turnaround time in business. She added
Seye Kosoko shared his thoughts on why the law firms cannot tap into the huge legal market in the country owing to the fact that there are only about 100,000 mortgage contracts available for over 200 million Nigerians, about 2 million registered SMEs with less than 1% of them using lawyers, and many other areas.
He said unless we begin to see the enormous opportunities that abound in the law business beyond practice, we will continue to settle for crumbs. He continued by pointing out the fact that we have a much bigger problem to deal with, the economy of the country. A good economy driven by good leadership is key for the success of the law practice as a business.
The UK, the second-largest legal market, had similar challenges but was able to deal with it with the Clemente Report.
The NBA-SBL must play a very aggressive role to see that the reforms needed for a smooth business environment come to be.
Aigboje added that the rules and regulations in place now allow only a few to thrive. Even the few thriving are thriving on crumbs.
During the Question and Answer session, Soji Awogbade asked the SBL how they could widen the discussion to reach other states because the problem faced is a national one, not limited to law firms in some parts of Lagos state.
Mr. Bayo Akinlade, Chairman NBA Ikorodu Branch, asked when SBL will move away from a centralized perspective in holding her programs to reaching other members at NBA chapters as there are no capacity building programs for them.
Mr. Seni SAN responded by saying the section on business law, when discussing on a particular subject matter, considers holding their program at a location with a huge interest in the area of that subject matter. For instance, if they will be discussing on issues around the oil and gas sector, they will definitely hold their program in Bayelsa or Rivers state.
Mr. Okey, lamented that legal fees some 10 to 15 years ago were far better than what it is today with reference to doing business with the multinationals and banks. They pay foreign lawyers far better than Nigerian lawyers, which is not helping the business here. Nigerian lawyers need to be encouraged by giving them a good fee for their services.
Fola Akande responded using her company, Cadbury as an example. If her firm is in need of a foreign counsel, they made it mandatory for them to work with an in country law firm. For them at Cadbury, there have been too many regulations that have gone ahead to impact their business thereby making the management consider cost reduction. The same will also impact law firms too.
Joy Abiola, asked what could be done about the parochial nature of lawyers since it is as a result of their training.
Responding, Ademola SAN said what needs to done is Reform in regulation, curriculum change in the universities. The Justice Reform Group, working alongside the NBA are really working on the reform angle to make things right.
Dr. Adeoye Adefulu, the Secretary of the NBA-SBL have his contribution to the discuss and said billing is quite a big issue among law firms and needed to be dealt with.
Also regarding the parochial nature of lawyers, the SBL has come up with a tool called Business Law Competency Framework for law firms to use in identifying technical and non-technical skills lawyers need for them to have a broadened mindset. The tool will be provided for free to SBL members.
Chuba contributed to the discussion by pointing out the fact that the same challenge the legal profession has, also affects other professional bodies like COREN, ICAN, so the problem is needed to be solved with a holistic mindset and not just for lawyers only. Also, the NBA should think of becoming a pressure group and constantly engage the politicians who make these policies, if we will have the desired change.
Responding, Mr. Seye Kosoko the issues are truly foundational and most times it is the symptoms that are being treated. In Nigeria, we know how to build businesses but translating them to become an institution is a challenge that is attributed to our short-sighted nature.
He also added that when there is a big transaction, it just cannot be given to a small firm of like 5 lawyers because they lack the capacity to handle such and that it is very important we revisit the way we train lawyers in the country.
On their final thoughts, Fola Akande said the profession has to evolve, it should be seen as a business, law firm owners must think like a CEO. There is need for a mindset change and law firms must have an array of commercial scale in their business.
For Soji Awogbade, we do not have the actual data to determine the real growth in the economy lawyer’s service and so we need more data than we have today. We also have to price open the economy and learn to value their services appropriately.
Seye Kosoko advised lawyers to make personal development a priority. The reality of life is multidisciplinary and therefore collaboration is necessary. He continued by saying when you bring value to the table, you will dictate your terms.
Ademola SAN said at the peak of practice, investment is necessary as it will help in the rainy days. Law firms must learn to save, to watch their overheads, to practice delayed gratification and finally build good partnerships.
Aigboje concluded by asking some key questions as a form of recommendation.
Why can’t we adopt technology, use mobile phones as the only infrastructure needed to expand our reach?
Why have we not made compulsory the registration of every law practice as a business?
Why can’t our Nigerian law firms have a presence in the UK or other countries to benefit from trade finance?