Law firm succession strategies: guide to top law firm succession planning in Nigeria

By Kingsley Ugochukwu Ani

Top law firms in New York, London, and several parts of the world have clearly defined succession strategies. Many law firms are currently setting up formal law firm succession strategies and rigorously planning partner succession in the event of retirement or death so as to be prepared for the transition process. That enables them to handle multinational businesses and client briefs easily. Some leading law firms in Nigeria have already successfully transited from the first generation owners of the law firms to another generation of fee earners and managers that will continue the law firm. In the same vein, other top-performing law firms in Nigeria are defining their law firm succession strategies.

Disruption of Law Practise across the World

Law practise has been successfully disrupted across the world by a myriad of factors, the top of which is the prevailing “Fourth Industrial Revolution”—the Internet Age. Practise models have changed. Clients face multifaceted problems that require lawyers with interdisciplinary focus working in teams to get the work done.

Lack of Succession Planning in Nigerian Law Firms

Many law firms in Nigeria are sole practitioner firms and sole proprietor firms. For the former, many of them have that structure because they are unable to scale due to lack of availability of the type of clientele that will help them scale. For the latter, many of them maintain that structure because the founders of these firms want to retain control over everything and maintain a hold over the client count. The firms which have a sole proprietorship structure usually have a high turnover of lawyers because the lawyers working in such firms don’t see room for long-term career growth in these firms and they end up leaving to either start up their own firms (which, in many cases, is usually the same sole proprietorship structure earlier mentioned) or join other firms where they may get semi autonomy.
However, there are some law firms that have defined partnership structure, and this is usually seen in the top commercial law firms in Lagos and Abuja.

Nigerian Law Firms are Not Designed for Differentiated Branding

Sadly, many law firms in Nigeria have the naming style that usually goes thus: Okoro Chambers, Benson Ibeziako & Associates (Grace of God Chambers), Ani Chambers (Law Firm of K. B. Ani, S.A.N.), Ituma, Ituma & Associates (Legal Practitioners and Corporate Consultants). It goes on and on.

From the above, it becomes glaring that the branding of the law firm is irremovably tied to the names and personality of the founders of these law firms. Law firms in Lagos and Abuja usually try to different the branding of the partners from the overall Firm branding to make for long-term continuity, but elsewhere across the country, the situation is different.

Because of this lack of differentiated branding, if the founders of many Nigerian law firms dies or reaches retirement age, the firm either closes shop immediately or goes downhill from there because the “Name” associated with the law firm is no longer available to oversee the running of the law firm.

Planning Long Term Succession Strategy

Creating a Law firm succession strategy is not a strategy plan that can be done within a day or a week. It requires a long term effort on the part of law firm Management to identify potential key leaders in the team that has the potential capacity to lead the law firm over time. Or, even if there is a lot remaining to be done before identifying potential key leaders in law firms that will potentially take over management of the law firm in the future, it will make a lot of sense for law firms that have the intention of creating a transition from the first generation handlers to 2nd generation managers over time to develop streamlined processes for everything they handle.

The last part could be illustrated with a “thriving” law firm situate somewhere in Lagos. Everything seems to be working perfectly for the law firm in their Lagos offices. Mr A is a client of the firm. He routinely visits the Lagos Island offices of the law firm in question to get advised on legal matters. He has noticed that every time he comes to the law firm, he has to see the principal owner of the firm. Furthermore, he has noticed that this principal owner is always answering phone calls on his phone ceaselessly for different issues; he is always bombarded with calls from the associates. It seems like a very busy beehive of activity. Mr. A had recourse to come to the law firm when this principal travelled to London for a function. It seemed as if the clients had fled. Decisions were ground to a halt. Associates seemed to have little to nothing to do on their hands. Associates had to call their boss in London for the little decisions they could ordinarily exercise their discretion on.

Choosing Firm leaders

It is not easy to start looking towards the distant future to touch on issues pertaining to the successors of the principals in law firms, but it is a necessary evil. Are you a law firm principal? Have you asked yourself whether your law firm will continue working perfectly like a well-oiled machine if you are not there or whether it will be plunged into lethargy? If the law firm is going to operate optimally if you are not there for a while, then congratulations, you are doing a good job of setting structures in place. If your law firm will be plunged into lethargic inactivity when you are not there for some time, then note that there is a serious issue that needs urgent consideration.

You have to start early to define and scrutinize the crop of lawyers working with/for you to know who the shoe will best fit amongst them in the event of your (prolonged) absence. Is there a book of business that a future leader can flip through to see the past and current clients of the law firm? Has the firm kept an email list of leads, prospects and clients they sell directly to through email marketing? Is there a unified Knowledge Base in the law firm systems that can be accessed if need be? Is there a Process Manual that details the processes to be taken in the event of the occurrence of any event or in the course of handling client files at the law firm?

If there isn’t, then ask this very pertinent question: what will happen if the law firm principal becomes indisposed and cannot be in the thick of things anymore or if the law firm principal dies?

Succession Planning

Law firm succession planning entails the detailed monitoring of staff where they are measured in terms of productivity, drive, leadership qualities, alongside several other custom metrics that will help you determine those who are “Leader Material” amongst the crop of lawyers already working within the law firm.
Furthermore, monitoring the client satisfaction rate with the lawyers can point to great interpersonal skills that can translate to having the people skills needed in a leader to make a difference.

Challenges

In Nigeria, lawyers and law firm owners want the entire law firm operation to revolve around them. Sadly, many of them do not believe in “outsider” succession—which would mean being succeeded by people who are not family members. Principals in law firms usually want only their children to “inherit” their law firms. Because of that, they maintain an iron hold over the affairs of the law firm by refusing to identify younger lawyers with leadership potential to groom them for leadership roles. Even if there are potential leaders, these upcoming leaders become eased out when they feel these other lawyers are becoming bigger Names. In many cases, there is a knowledge deficit, because many lawyers tend to horde pertinent client information from associates because of the (irrational?) fear of the associates making away with their client lists and files.

Furthermore, many law firms in Nigeria do not know how to transition from one age of principals in the law firms to another age of principals. This leads the firms to “die” natural deaths with the death of the principals in these firms. Stemming from this, there is usually a scramble for files by associates; clients also come for their files if they perceive the principal of a law firm is either under the threat of retiring or has lost his life.

Sadly, this scenario is replicated in many law firms across the country at scale.

The Business of Law

Lawyers in Nigeria are not usually equipped to handle the business of law. Most are trained with the mindset that they need great analytical, problem-solving and legal skills that will enable them to handle their client deliverables with the utmost professionalism. Most of them are not tutored on the business side of the Law, wherein they learn the best client intake strategies, rainmaking qualities, creating innovative solutions for client problems, alongside the deep understanding that Law is like any other business and should be treated as such if they want to maximize the practise.

Why Kabbiz

Law firm marketing agency

At Kabbiz we are committed to helping your law firm streamline its processes and succession planning so that you spend more time clocking in billable hours and not having to worry about the non-legal areas of working within the legal services industry. We have solutions for small and medium law firms in Nigeria that were created with creative input from our creative director who is a lawyer and backed by a determined and highly focused support team.

Next Steps

For more valuable insights on law firm management, law firm succession, law firm branding and online portfolio management to get your law firm prepare for the rise to leadership status as a top law firm in Nigeria, contact us on info@kabbiz.com or call us on +2347015142687

Have any thoughts on this article? Please leave a comment below.

Other Strategy Articles and Resources:

How to Use Influencer Marketing Strategy for Inbound Marketing

The World is Your Oyster, Making an International Career Move

Benefits of Using Google My Business for Your Local Company

Law Firm Business Models in Nigeria: Are the Law Firm Partners doing it wrong?

More articles by Kingsley Ugochukwu Ani on Strategy here

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