The Legal Practitioners Act provides that a person shall be entitled to practice as a Barrister and Solicitor if, and only if, his name is on the roll i.e a gentleman either in trouser or skirt, who is fit, proper and called to the Nigerian Bar. In essence, a young barrister has the right to establish his own law firm.
For one to open a law firm it’s never an easy task, I mean it’s not child’s play. It is only for those who are strong-willed, focused, strong-minded , because, time, efforts and commitment is required. Competence and experience also play a vital role in establishing a law firm.
Starting up a law office can be expensive or less expensive it all depends on what the individual can afford. Although you can start a law firm from your house like some folks do, but it is always advisable to separate business of this nature from your house. Running a law firm means that you will meet with all type of people; this includes ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’. So if you don’t intend to expose your family to possible threat and danger, then you must get an Office facility. The truth is that people will take you seriously when you own an ideal office befitting of the nature of business you are involved in.
The following points should be considered when starting up a law office :
Planning not procrastination
Almost certainly some level of planning is required to launch a firm, but the time frame should be finite, “I have found that some lawyers get caught up in the preparation stage so long that they never launch.
In a challenging economy and with a contingency fee model, Ifeanyi started his firm right out of law school. Writing a series of tips for the Business Insider he says, “98% of your law school classmates, lawyers, and professors honestly believe you can’t. Ignore them. Many attorneys are pessimists by nature and love to tell people what they can’t do. They never tried it so they don’t know. If you believe them, there is zero chance you’ll succeed. I’ve done it, and I know you can do it, too.”
Choose a practice area
“Focusing on a specific practice area allows potential clients and other attorneys to remember you as the go-to person for a particular legal problem,” lawyers with practice area focus gain “depth of knowledge” and are able to solve problems faster, more efficiently and therefore provide competitive pricing.
Choice of Location
Location is something to carefully put into considerations. Generally, businessmen are preoccupied with getting strategic and comfortable location for their businesses . Choosing a location for your business is as important as the name you give your business. Having carried out your feasibility studies, you should be able to pick out the areas where businesses such as a law office should thrive. It will be of no benefit if your law office is located where it cannot be visible to prospective clients. It might be expensive to secure an office space in the high brow business districts, but such investments will always be worth the while. You might not also go to those areas where the office rent is so highly exorbitant all you need is a good lucrative area where clients can have access to you.
Know the laws that exist there
it is always proper for you to know the laws and Court rules that exist in any state or region where you want to practice law. Know the right books to take to court for citations. Get them stocked in your book shelves for your use when needed, not going to court with your case file alone. I have seen so many incidents where judges rebuked or even asked lawyers not to appear before them because the lawyer failed to come to court with the Rules of Court, Or Evidence Act , it is really embarrassing. For someone who wants to practice in a state like Nasarawa, should have and know that it is the Criminal Procedure Code that operates there not the Administration of Criminal Justice Act. You can not be in such a state and you’re using laws or rules that are applicable in Lagos State.
Get Your Law Office Registered
Every business in Nigeria is required by law to be registered with the Corporate affairs Commission, and to comply with the relevant provision of the Companies And Allied Matters Act, 2004. Laws being practiced as business is also required to be registered as such. In registering such name as an individual you will only use Legal practitioner or LLp. Example Chioma Unini LLp or Chioma Unini Legal practitioner. The use of your name alone will not be registrable by Corporate Affairs Commission, example you cannot register your law office with the name Chioma Unini because you are already a legal person. When two or more people are to enter into partnership, then in registering the law firm with CAC the name must have “& CO” for it to be registrable. For example: Maryjane, Kate & .CO. Registration of your law office is important in starting a law office.
Law firm startup costs
Get what you need to start your practice: a website, a computer, a printer, a scanner, and practice management software, and get going. But there are basic equipments and furniture that are required in an ideal law Office. It all depends on the financial capacity of the individual. Chairs and Tables, Book Shelves, Cabins, Computers, Standard Library, Telephones, Photocopier, and Fax Machine (Optional),good Scanner, paper, file folder, envelopes, a vast supply of sticky notes, staplers, pens, date stamps, pencils, puncher, amongst others must be in place. Very important is having a good internet connection and a scanner to go with in the law office. This will enable you to go paperless.Scan every document and have it available on your computer for references, review or printing at any time. The legal profession is rapidly migrating to email as its primary and preferred mode of correspondence with colleagues, clients. Email attachments are increasingly utilized to move documents from point to the other. Soon all Courts will eventually move to electronic filing. The Federal High Court of Nigeria, last month recently lunched an automated system of filling cases by lawyers and litigants. The corporate Affairs Commission has already introduced the e-filing of documents. Get ahead of this curve. I believe you do not want to come by as shabby when you start out.
Additional Staff must be employed
You need an additional hand to help with the administrative and office task. There is no way you can do all these yourself. You need someone to help you with the clerical works in the office, clean the office, even to attend to the clients when you’re out of the office.
Consider the business structure
“Today, you have a number of choices when it comes to how you structure your law firm,” the decision boils down to two key factors: “(1) what is the best structure to shield yourself from personal liability (not including malpractice) and (2) which structure best addresses the foreseeable tax consequences of your practice?”
Develop personal technology skills
With wording reminiscent of Yoda’s quip, “Do or do not. There is no try”, particularly a young lawyer who intends to practice for many years into the future, must develop personal technology skills and pay attention to the powerful trends impacting the legal professional that are fueled by technology. Invest in your law firm technology processes for returns in the future.
Wary be the eye on expenses
“Even if you do acquire sufficient clients at the outset, count on it being at least six months before you begin to have a regular income coming in,” according to Peter Elikann penning a tips list for the Mass Bar. He emphasizes keeping overhead costs down until cash flow catches up with a new firm.
Hone those listening skills
If hindsight is always 20/20 then listening skills might be better than talking skills to improve that vision. Paul Wallin walks readers through things he wish he had known before starting a law firm for the Law Insider. “It is much more important to be a good listener than a good talker,” he writes. “The bottom line is when a potential client comes to you for legal help you should do only two things: a) Listen to his or her legal problem, and allow him or her tell you the entire story without interruptions; and b) Attempt to answer his or her legal problem in clear, understandable language. Make certain you ask many times if he or she has any questions about all of his or her legal options.”
Getting your first client
“Most of us don’t realize that having a successful law practice and being a good lawyer are two completely different things,” writes Sona in a contributed post for She Negotiates, a series by Forbes. With N1,000,000 borrowed from people and a healthy dose of fear, she attributes her first to clients to two activities: 1) collected business cards prior to opening a business and entering the information into a database; and 2) invested in stationary and sending a note announcing she was open for business. “I told the world that I was open for business and ready to take on clients. I got my first two clients from this single activity. One was a friend’s husband. The second was my mother’s friend (to this day my mom doesn’t know that I did her friend’s estate plan). Remember, you’re not soliciting business, but merely announcing that you’re open for business. Don’t forget to include the name of your law firm, location, type of clients you represent, and some business cards.”
In Conclusion, the main downside of starting on your own law office is that it will take a while for your practice – and your income – to ramp up. The eventual benefits may well be many, try to develop solid, direct relationships with key clients, relate to entrepreneurial-minded clients and prospective clients as a genuine and empathetic peer. Enjoy the gratification of building a practise that is genuinely “yours.”, build equity that will represent a saleable asset even at the time of your retirement.
Most importantly, let there be free flow of communication between you and your client. Make yourself available to them when they wants and needs to speak with you over their cases. You need to communicate with your clients as much as possible by email. When your client can email you and can get a quick response to his or her question, he or she will likely be your client for life and it will give you 90% edge above your competitors.
Unini Chioma K Esq.
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