A CRITICAL LOOK AT THE NEED FOR LAW FIRM PARTNERSHIPS AND SUCCESSION PLANNING IN NIGERIAN LEGAL PRACTICE
We have to rethink the law firm business model in Nigeria. There is a great, all-encompassing need for strategic planning in order to bring about sustainable growth of law firms in Nigeria. For a Nigerian law firm to be able to achieve the status of being one of the largest law firms in Nigeria, this need is mandatory, not discretionary. And one of the ways to bring about a long-term sustainable growth of law firms in Nigeria is by introducing partnerships. It is worthy to note that many law firms across Nigeria die with the death or retirement of its rainer, and this is inclusive of law firms headed by SANs.
Currently, there is a littering of one-man firms and two-men firms all over the different and various metropolitan cities in Nigeria. In some cases, there may even be up to five different one-man practicing outfits in the same commercial building. I took special note of this fact. If anything happens to these owners, the law firm is gone, as the skeleton staff disappear to search for greener pastures. With this also comes the death of the Firm’s digital assets, if any.
What all these firm owners have no idea of, or what has not possibly crossed into their minds is the fact that they can conglomerate their resources together and form a stronger firm with higher numerical and practice-area strength than they already have going for them. In other words, by pooling their resources together, they can grow as a team. Law firms all over the world that has managed to grow exponentially grew as Teams, never as individualities.
Team work is the key. A firm can hardly ever grow if there is only one man at the helm of affairs, controlling everything. One man doing the entire work. Handling the entire clients. Working across different practice areas without concentrating on, and mastering any particular one. However, a team, diversifying itself across different practice areas and even strategic locations, can provide the strength which is needed for long-term scalability, growth, sustainability, wide-reaching visibility, alongside a whole lot of other benefits that will invariably be lost if current law firm owners in Nigeria continue with their sole practice. Unfortunately, this sole practitioner/proprietorship practice way of doing Law is the prevailing trend in Nigeria.
Many firms form alliances to gain critical mass and coverage. Some international alliances are available to also bring in valuable international referrals as another channel to market. Inevitably, a sustainable firm must have succession planning, otherwise, retention is a constant challenge – many operating models exist but usually a partnership allows for such table in regulation and flexibility. Those firms that don’t embrace succession will fade over time. As the rainmakers get older or diseased or dies, the firms tend to die a natural death because there is no one to come up and take over the reigns of power from the departing rainmaker.
In furtherance of the need for profound long-term development, some Nigerian firms have taken to the high-level partnership game by forming mergers.
AELEX: This firm which has offices in Lagos (Ikoyi), Abuja, Port-Harcourt, and Ghana, was birthed as a result of the merger of four well-performing firms. The law firms that merged to form Aelex are: O. Adekoya & Co., Victor & Charles, Anga & Emuwa and Adegbite Adeniji & Co. It currently ranks as one of the largest top-tier firms in Nigeria.
PRIMERA AFRICA LEGAL: Primera Africa Legal is a relatively new firm which was birthed in 2017 when the top rainmakers in Sterling Partnership (a top-tier firm in Lekki, Lagos) and the partners of an Abuja-based firm Wali-Uwais & Co. decided to merge into a stronger unit. With Boma Ozobia OON as the founding partner, this firm is the only ALFA Nigerian law firm. The merger has consolidated the two strong legal teams into a stronger team to further drive corporate-commercial law practice in Nigeria and beyond.
LAW FIRM PARTNERSHIP STRENGTHS
The formation of law firm partnerships has certain perks. For example, when different practicing lawyers form a legal partnership, each with core strengths in different areas of the Law, then each partner can complement the strengths of the other. Likewise, incoming associates can be trained in rotation under each partner to garner practice strength in the practice areas of the Firm.
Law firm partnerships can also lead to the garnering of more clients. The reason is simple: each person has a unique connection of persons and businesses affiliated to them, and which they can bring into the firm. With each contributing equity partner bringing their own clients into the partnership, it can lead to stronger, sustained business for the firm over the long term because of the fact that the clients are good referral sources who can bring in more clients into the firm.
People tend to have different opinions about how things are to be done. Some people are extremely good in management and organization; others are not. The list is endless.
When these apply to the formation of Law Firm partnerships, a multiple-structure problem can erupt.
Partnership Structure: Some people may wish to form partnerships with other lawyers, but, despite their intentions, they may be at a loss pertaining to how to go about creating a partnership structure that will be mutually beneficial to all the partners involved. Their problem could range from, but not limited to: partnership leadership, yearly capital contributions, intake of new partners, profit sharing margins, among others.
In spite of all these however, there is a solution. These can be decided from inception, but if the law partners are unable to work something out, the use of skilled consultants to create a detailed, interwoven structure will be instructive in solving this dilemma.
The time for so many one-man firms which die off with the death of the owner of the firm is coming to an end. In order to create a great structure that has numerical strength, long term sustainability, succession, there is need for regulated partnerships, with lots of structures put in place to grow the firm to possibly international heights.
Any law firm mentioned in this article is merely mentioned for analysis purposes. The author is not in any way affiliated to them.