How to sustain partnership in law firms
Running a law firm is not a mean job. It requires resources, skills and training. In order to have law firms that outlive their founders, lawyers form partnerships. However in some cases, some of the partnerships crumble in the long run. A former president of the Commonwealth Law Association (CLA), Boma Ozobia, in this interview with Joseph Onyekwere says only standardised procedures will ensure that partnerships are sustained. She also spoke on leadership succession in the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) among other issues.
We know how the traditional law firms in nigeria operate; however in recent times the dynamics have changed. On the issue of not advertising, what is the present position with lawyers putting their firms up there?
In fairness, there are two arms to this. There is the individual practitioner either working as a sole practitioner or with others and then there is the Bar Association, which is our collective voice. I think it is important that we engage with the people, those who we are meant to serve. I would like to go back to history and talk about this profession. This profession is not just a 21st century profession, it is an evolving one. The principles that brought us into being in the first place have not changed. The profession is about the rule of law, about access to justice for all and that is where we started. I show a lot of the young lawyers our gowns and I say to them “look at the gown, that back of the gown was where our fees used to go because we didn’t charge, we advocated and then if you were happy, whatever you felt, you put it into the back of the gown”. But at the same time, we were held in such high esteem that you couldn’t give money to the lawyer. So that is our history! Having come from there, we now have to run businesses in the same reality as every other business. We have to rent a space and pay salaries, because the reality of today’s world is that you cannot work on your own, you need a support system, you have to buy books and so on.
It is also easier in a cooperate firm than an individual, because the same number of books and the same resources I have to subscribe to, the next lawyer has to subscribe to them. But if we pull our resources together we have then managed to reduce the burden on each and every one of us. So if for nothing else, that is something we commend- working together. The other thing is that the world is getting more and more sophisticated, which means that the law is getting more sophisticated too. The implication is that there are areas you cannot be a jack of all trade because you will now be a master of none. You really need to have expertise in some areas. That being the case, it is important we have subject matter experts coming together because some transactions would require expertise in different aspects of law. In other to give a complete service to your client and if you are unable to put all of that together under that one umbrella, then they will take their business elsewhere. That is what has been happening to the Lagos services industry in Nigeria and Africa in general. I think the only part of Africa that has succeeded in retaining a lot of their transaction is South Africa.