Roundtable On Legal Practice And Entrepreneurship 1st March, 2012

INTRODUCTION

The legal profession faces the huge challenge of reinventing itself in response to a number of factors that are affecting the way we do business. The world has seen in the past four years a near global economic meltdown which has affected nearly all professions. Hitherto, wealthy nations have experienced  shrinkages  in their economies  leading to sever cut backs in the demand for services including legal. Hitherto, unquestioned concepts especially the principles upon which capitalism is founded have come under serious scrutiny forcing nations to rethink their strategies for survival.

In  1995,  Nigeria  signed  the  treaty  that  gave  it  membership  of  the  WTO.  One  of  the obligations  of membership  of the organisation  is for countries to increasingly  remove  the barriers to free movement of goods and services. Amongst these services are legal services. This singular act has transformed the way legal business is conducted. Fierce competition for the world legal market has meant that only the fit survive. Nigeria has not been immune from this threat. Even though the NBA has championed an awareness campaign on this subject, it is very evident that the Nigerian legal market is fair game to the rampaging invasion from foreign law firms. All these go to shrink an already difficult market.
In recognition of the central role entrepreneurship  plays in legal practice and the apparent deficiency caused by the lack of entrepreneurial  skills in the legal profession, the Nigerian Institute  of  Advanced  Legal  Studies  on  1st  March  2012  hosted  a  Roundtable  on  Legal Practice  and  Entrepreneurship  under  the  auspices  of  the  Abdullahi  Ibrahim  Centre  for Litigation and Case Law.
Discussion centred round the: The Challenges of Running a Successful Law Partnership; The
Anatomy of the Legal Profession: Investing the Proceeds of Legal Practice; Legal Practice as a Stepping Stone to Building a Business Empire; From Law Practice to the Board Room: A Paradigm  Shift or Natural  Transition;  Grooming  Law Students  for Entrepreneurship;  The Lawyer as Chief Executive of Regulatory Business Concerns and Shaping the Mindset of Lawyers for Entrepreneurship.

THE ROUNDTABLE OBSERVED AS FOLLOWS:

1.         Prior  to  the  establishment  of  the  Nigerian  Law  School  in  1962,  the  training  of
Nigerian Lawyers was done mainly in the United Kingdom.
2.         In England, the Legal profession is divided into two classes, Barristers and Solicitors. A person can only train and practice either as a Barrister or a Solicitor.   There is a marked difference  in  the  legal  duties  performed  by  each  class.  In  Nigeria,  however,  the  Legal profession is fused and aspirants to the Bar are trained as Barristers and Solicitors.
3.         The history of legal practice in Nigeria has been intricately webbed with litigation practice. The early lawyers were deeply involved in the struggle for independence and used the law as viable tool to press their point.
4.         Nigeria has remained trapped in its history. With the swelling numbers of lawyers and limited places at the top, it was only a question of time for diversification to be put in the front burner of our discourse
5.         Between January 1963 when 8 students were admitted at the Nigerian Law School
and 2012, the Nigerian Law School has graduated over 50, 000 lawyers.

6.         On the average,  the Nigerian  Law School  produces  an average  of 6, 000 lawyers every year.  Despite the high number of law graduates both within and outside the country, the Nigerian Law School is unable to absorb all law graduates.
7.         A student seeking admission into the Nigerian Law School must obtain a law degree of an approved University.  In the case of Nigerian Universities, there are minimum standards now called Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS) prescribed by the National Universities Commission (NUC).  Under the BMAS, there are compulsory   courses made up of core courses and compulsory non-law courses and optional or elective courses.
8.         Unfortunately,    Introduction    to    Entrepreneurial    Skills    and    Introduction    to Entrepreneurial Studies are part of the General Studies programme; they are not part of the compulsory non-law courses.
9.         Rule 7 of the RPC provides for engagement in business. Thus unless permitted by the
Bar Council established under the Legal Practitioners Act, a lawyer shall not practice as a legal practitioner at the same time as he practices any other profession.
10.       There  are  legal  impediments   to  the  practice  of  a  trade  or  business  by  legal practitioners but a legal practitioner can run a partnership for the purpose of legal practice.
11.       At the Nigerian Law School and faculties of law, there is poor and inadequate training of entrepreneurial skills.
12.       The Bar Finals is made of up of Property  Law Practice,  Corporate  Law Practice, Criminal Litigation and Civil Litigation.   This programme is weighted heavily in favour of training of Barristers than Solicitors.  The Moot Trials, court and law office attachment are all geared essentially towards litigation and training of Barristers.  It appears that legal training in Nigeria is just for Barristers.
13.       In the last 10-15 years, there have been changes for law firms, with the phenomenon
of globalization and convergence through the platform of IT and integrated markets, Governments  imposed  restrictions/trade  barriers  on  exchange/movement  of  services  and goods between  countries  have collapsed.  This in turn has led to concentration  in the last decade  with  the  emergence  of  global  mega  firms  such  as  Clifford  Chance,  Eversheds, Linklaters etc.
14.       Globally, the concept of legal partnership is an accepted convention. The very first
Nigerian Partnership was established in 1917
15.       A  law  partnership  faces  a  myriad  of  challenges:  Ownership/partnership   related challenges;  Strategic  Challenges;  Human  Resources  Challenges;  Challenges  of continuity (succession  plan);  Challenges  of  marketing/rainmaking;  Administrative/operational challenges and risk management challenges.
16.       The concept of legal partnership and the responsibilities,  rights and obligations are statutorily defined by CAMA, it however remains that the quintessential consensual nature of the relationship leaves many areas to the agreement of the parties. There is no contractual fundamental document regulating the relationship of the parties.
17.       Unfortunately,  particularly where the partnership anticipates the joining of external partners as opposed to “home grown” partners who grew under the said vision, there may be serious challenges as to culture and values
18.       The succession plan of successful partnerships is not particularly appreciated for now in Nigeria in view of the traditionally personal/family nature of the practice.
19.       Successful marketing is a very crucial component of a partnership, it is an indicator of the sustainability  of the growth  of the business  as well as the long term viability  of the partnership.
20.       It is also the yardstick for the performance and appraisal of the partners, promotion, increase in responsibilities  and priviledges  and basis for renegotiation  of the terms of the partnership

21.       Marketing is a very delicate and sensitive issue that has been the undoing of many partnerships. The major problem is the tension that is created where only when one partner is the rain maker and the others are not meeting up with targets.
22.       Partnerships should have a clear structure of the partnership in terms of policies and procedures, internal processes, communication channels, document management, cost issues etc.
23.       Structures  help  the  management  of  a  partnership  and  stabilize  the  work  and  the partnership itself, It also encourages the medium and long term success of the partnership and increases the accountability aspect of the relationship.
24.       Employers take the short sighted position not to invest in employees development and mentoring but rather use employees as disposable assets which eventually affect the strength and  stability  of  the  firm  and  elevates  the  one  man  syndrome  risk  (why  train  my future competitor)
25.       The business of legal practice must have a vision and mission, business development strategy;  turning  strategy  into action;  building  the  business  empire;  re-investing  in Legal Practice and Corporate Social Responsibility
26.       The entrepreneur lawyer is a concept that is acquiring ground and is the future of the legal profession.  Nigeria is yet to have a structure for it as there are a number of lawyers who have made this transition
27.       An  entrepreneur  is  one  who  initiates  and  assumes  the  financial  risks  of  a  new enterprise and who usually undertakes its management.
28.       Inefficient  justice  system  militates  against  economic  growth.  There  is  loss  of confidence in the administration of justice which is unpredictable and corrupt.
29.       Economic growth has a direct bearing on the success of law partnerships; partnerships thrive when there is economic growth.
30.       Even though NBA has championed an awareness campaign on entrepreneurship, it is evident that the Nigerian legal market is fair game to the rampaging invasion from foreign law firms.  This is as a result  of lack of requisite  entrepreneurship  skills  which  makes  it difficult to compete internationally.
31.        The  legal  profession   in  Nigeria  has  not  done  well  when  compared  with  its counterparts, such as the accounting profession and their associations.
32.       The expansion of the essence of the legal profession will not be captured if we do not expand the horizon of the profession.

AT THE  END OF DELIBERATIONS  THE ROUNDTABLE  RECOMMENDED  AS FOLLOWS:

1.         The Nigerian Universities Commission should include entrepreneurial skills as part of the compulsory non-law courses for Law students. The curriculum should be restructured to include more practical courses such as managerial and administrative skills, deployment of technologies. Skills of leadership and management should be imbibed.
2.         First and foremost, it is interesting to ascertain whether the graduates of the Nigerian
Law School are fully equipped to practice as Barristers and Solicitors.  Secondly, we believe that the time has come for us in Nigeria to revisit the curriculum for the training of lawyers so that there is an option for those who do not intend to be called to the Nigerian Bar.   Thirdly does legal training or any formal training equip the graduates to be entrepreneurs?
3.         The Nigerian  Universities  Commission  should also review the curriculum  of legal education to prepare aspiring lawyers for entrepreneurship or other enterprises.

4.         The  curriculum  for  corporate  law  practice  should  be  developed  and  expanded  to include modern trends in corporate law practice especially optional law courses including entrepreneurial skills.
5.         Training Institutions  like the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and the Industrial Training Fund should introduce courses aimed at the acquisition of entrepreneurial skills.
6.          The Chamber of Commerce should also take interest in the grooming of law students to be entrepreneurs.
7.         The Small and Medium Enterprises  Development  Agency of Nigeria  can design a programme geared towards grooming lawyers for entrepreneurial skills.
8.         With the number of lawyers produced by the Nigerian Law School yearly especially
with  the  opening  of  the Bayelsa  and  Adamawa  Campus,  and  those  graduating  from  the Universities without being absorbed by the Nigerian Law School,  there is thus  the need to revisit the curriculum of Universities especially that of the Faculties of Law
9.         While it is conceded that the Nigerian Bar Association will not sit over the collapse of legal practice in Nigeria, the Bar Council should be a bit more flexible in developing the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners.
10.       Technology is a basis for growth and is pivotal to managing a medium-sized law firm. Therefore law firms should invest in technology.
11.       More attention should be paid to the partnership deed, there is a need to go back to the drawing  board  and  feed  the  defect/gap,  engage  in  consultations  and/or  come  up  with  a working  document  that would  eventually  be  finalized  and  regulate  the relationship.  It is important to get a formal commitment from partners in the partnership business by way of the signing of the partnership contract.
12.       A partnership must run in the same direction, the vision must be the same and shared or agreed to voluntarily, the mission or objective also albeit the personal motive or approach may be different as amongst the partners but not the overall objectives and methods: In other words there must be some personal alignment of personal a
13.       Lawyers are usually known to be good at the productive level but not good at strategic levels in terms of management  of the business of the partnership: a successful partnership requires however for the partners to think strategic
14.       Partners have to identify new markets for their practice and then determine their short
term, mid-term and long term goals, the methods/approaches  they choose to use to achieve these  helps the partnership  with respect  to its vision/mission  as to where the partnership wants to be in the next 10years
15.     Partnerships must strive to identify the marketing strengths of each partner or develop/support some of them to enable the partner function appropriately (articles, speech writing, networking, socialite, lectures, and sponsorship into board of companies.
16.       Systemic branding by the partnership even though in Nigeria there are still certain restrictions relating to the conservative nature of the profession. The partnership must strive to brand its partners and its associates individually so that their individual brand would also reflect on the firm (publication, presentations, website presence)
17.       Partnerships  should  develop  access  and membership  of international  networks  for
some of the partners
18.       Structures should be put in place to retain and diffuse the knowledge and mentor some associates under such partners to stand in the gap or take over
19.       A  partnership  that  intends  to  be  successful  on  the  long  term  has  to  rethink  the relationship with its fee earning and non-fee earning staff and particularly how to retain them, this is attributable to the fact that lawyers are leaving in droves because of such issues such as work/life balance, poor remuneration in a very challenging Nigerian economy

20.       There is a brutal competition for legal talent and skilled young lawyers. It is crucial for the firm to acquire the right set or mix of skills in its associates
21.       In Europe, there is a departure from the traditional restriction on law partnership to the creation of Alternative Business Structure combining variety of professionals (marketers, management, financial expert, corporate highly trained in house counsel) for services in the banking, insurance and financial services.
22.       The structures process of selection of talents and resources that would add value to the firm, must be objective and standardized and not based on personal relationship between a partner and an employee
23.       Successful  strategies  of retention  of good hands  must  be hinged  on offering  staff incentives beyond their remuneration that would cause them to stay and grow within the firm by aligning their personal growth with the firms growth
•          Offer them a more compelling professional case to stay-not just money
•          Give them study leave and invest in their career path
•          Offer them social services
•          Develop a good mentoring system, both professional and personal
•          Give formal commendations from time to time
•          Develop   and   document   formal   career   management   plans   and   set   out   clear requirements and expectations for advancement to partnership
24.       There should be strong communication amongst partners and maximum transparency both within and without the partnership for it to succeed.
25.       Proceeds  of legal practice  should  be used to establish  legal bookshops  and online libraries; Human Capacity Development; ICT Software & Applications for Lawyers; Research/Career Development Centres and Publications of Law Reports (NWLR)
26.       The  lawyer  as  entrepreneur  has  two  choices;  he  should  either  look  within  the profession to broaden his horizon or look outwards.
27.       It is absolutely  essential  to develop  skills that appeal  to prospective  customers,  a lawyer must understand the concept of client care, marketing, the power of persuasion, negotiating skills, being savvy (well dressed and well spoken) etc.
28.       It  is  essential  that  law  students  should  be  mentored  at  the  universities.  Younger lawyers should be encouraged to venture into new areas of law that have not been explored.
29.       Nigerian legal practice should be expanded to include foreign participation.
30.       A stronger partnership between the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and the Nigerian Bar Association is required for strengthening the legal profession.

Signed

Prof. Epiphany Azinge SAN Director General