TIPS FOR CREATING WEALTH IN PRIVATE LEGAL PRACTICE A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE BY G. I. ABIBO, SAN, KSC. LEGAL PRACTITIONER

  1. INTRODUCTION:

 

The profession of Law is a very tedious one.  What, with the trying economic times in the Country and the mass production of Law graduates by the Universities and the Law Schools. It is a battle ground for the survival of the fittest. This indeed a tough period to survive but the golden truth is that tough times do not last, only tough people do. Therefore, for the survivalist legal practitioner, he must bear in mind the principles of hard work; persistence and consistency in respect of legal work.  The truth basically is that the height achieved by great men was never attained by sudden flight but, that they, while their mates frolic away, burnt the midnight candle. For a private Legal Practitioner, therefore, to be able to make even he must create wealth from Legal work. In a chambers environment therefore, whether as a Managing Solicitor or as an Associate in Chambers, you must imbibe in your practice pattern, an attitude and an appetite to create wealth from active and rigorous legal practice. This talk is primarily on the tips to “create” wealth in litigation and Arbitration practice drawing from daily personal experiences.

 

To a legal private practitioner the “wealth” therefore is the income from Clients. This talk is on how to get income and keep it flowing as a private legal practitioner.

 

  1. CREATING WEALTH

 

Two basic principles must be borne in mind to “create” wealth in legal practice. Both are interrelated. To get the Wealth and to keep the Wealth. We shall discuss each seriatim –

 

2.1    GETTING THE WEALTH:

 

Law is a conservative profession. There is no doubt about that. By the Rules of Professional Conduct in the Legal Profession for Legal Practitioners, 2007 (hereinafter called the “Rules”) precisely, Rules 39 – 49, a private legal practitioner cannot advertise for business or seek to obtain business in unorthodox and brazen ways which will amount to “professional misconduct”. In this situation, how can the private legal practitioner get legal work in order to “create” wealth?

The following may be tips inter alia:

 

  1. Accessible location of practice.

 

A lawyer practicing in an obscure environment surely cannot be accessed for legal work. He is like fish out of water. This could draw you down for so many years. This, to my mind, is the first hurdle to be crossed by the upcoming legal practitioner.

 

  1. Introductions

 

These may come in various forms. Those eager and willing to introduce you must not be in any doubt that you are involved in active legal practice. These introductions may come from

 

  • Classmates/Schools mates.

 

  • Church members/fellowship groups

 

  • Club members, Polo Club; Golf Club; Social clubs, etc.

 

  • Rotary Club and such other service delivery groups like Jaycees; Rotaract; Sigma Clubs, et at al.

 

  • Fraternal brothers.

 

  • Court Officials in your practice environment.

 

  • Community/family/kinsmen/close relations.

 

  • Political groups, et at al.

 

  1. Retainerships/Listings:

 

While some Lawyers are not quite comfortable with retainershps/listings that may tie them down to the apron string of a client or company, there is nothing really wrong with accepting retainerships and listings. There is indeed nothing wrong in seeking retainerships/listings initiated through the introductions mentioned in (2) above.

 

There are various types of Retainerships; general and specific but for our own purposes, it is important to get some retainerships for legal work in your areas of practice. Over some time by the way your retainerships grow so also your Clientele may grow. It is also important to know that a particular retainer can provide so much legal work that may last you a life time of income. Some companies insist on listing lawyers, a pool of legal practitioners each of whom they assign specific legal task as the case may be. This is prevalent with Banks and financial companies. To be able to merit your listing, you must be accessible, available and also in touch with the client to obtain jobs.

  1. Collaboration with Colleagues and other experts:

A lawyer must not be a jack of all trade and master of none. He is an expert in his own right but must be prepared to work with other experts in various fields including professional colleagues. He cannot know it all and go it all alone. The current reality is that legal work is a team work. That is why most Sole (one man) proprietorships/practices are fizzling out. Therefore, it is important to know your areas of expertise and recognize those of others. So doing, it is necessary to work together and in concert with professional colleagues whose expertise in the particular area of law is at an advantage. You can charge fees to include what is to be paid to colleagues with whom you are to collaborate in respect of particular tasks. What is important to the client is ultimate result to be delivered to him. In such a situation, the end justifies the means as far as the client is concerned. The areas of collaboration with colleagues include technical or specialised areas such as sports law, tax law; telecommunication law, CAC practice, while others may include Briefing Writing; garnishee proceedings; execution of writ of fifa; Maritime/Admiralty practice, amongst others. The tendency to go it alone is a minus for wealth creation in legal practice. So doing, many colleagues destroy the good case of their Clients. The trend must begin to gain ground to engage retired Judges, Magistrates and Seasoned Arbitrators in Chambers as Consultants and Experts to enhance productivity as is now prevalent in Lagos and Abuja.

  1. Building goodwill relationships:

A Legal Practitioner in private legal practice must continuously build, nourish and forster goodwill to be able to survive. This can come in various forms and facets including inter alia:

  • goodwill in the environment you live in.

People must be able to trust you; work with you and rely on you and so be able to introduce you for legal work.  You must emit and radiate goodwill to the high and mighty; the low and meek and indeed all strata of people around you. The measure of goodwill you radiate and give out is the measure you are likely to get in good measure. You must not be stingy; greedy and incredulous in your relationship with people especially regarding money.

(ii)     goodwill in the Court Environment.

Within the jurisdiction you practice and beyond, you must always emit and radiate goodwill and candour in your dealings with all the stakeholders in the Court system be they Judges, Magistrates, Customary Court Judges, Registrars; Legal Assistants, Marriage Registrars, judiciary staff; book sellers, NBA Staff inter alia. This is your major market and so you must deal here with honesty, truthfulness and trustworthiness. By far a major tip to create wealth is the age long statement that honesty is the best policy. Most of the time, unknown to you, recommendations for legal work that can come to you come from the goodwill you have invested here. Again, wear into doing your level best to be kind, friendly and give freely into the genuine needs of these persons and also sow into the events affecting them such that you can reap it on a rainy day. Cases flow to a private legal practitioner more from these people who ofcourse are the first bus stop of justice seeking friends and relations and potential clients.

Also, in receiving recommendations from these persons, be generous to reciprocate these gestures and water the goodwill already created for another day.

(iii)    goodwill amongst colleagues.

By far the greatest source of wealth you can get (ofcourse as a senior lawyer) in private legal practice is the goodwill you radiate with colleagues. There is a huge constituency to obtain legal work from colleagues may be younger ones who know that you are available to help them learn and earn income symbiotically with you. If you create such an amiable atmosphere, these colleagues are more than eager to introduce you to their Clients with the big briefs and you can both work together.

Just incorporate your younger colleagues in the assignment and carry them along. What we see in actual practice, where some seniors take the introduction done by the younger Colleagues with no effort to integrate them into the proceeds of the Brief or outrightly to shortchange them in terms of payment contrary to the provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct at that Bar, is shocking. As aforesaid, greed and stingy attitude have no place in wealth creation in legal practice. Over time, lack of goodwill from Colleagues may unwittingly put such a lawyer out of the market. It is suggested that any junior colleague who takes a Brief to a senior Colleague should be able to share in an agreed percentage of the net payment to the Senior. This tip is again a fall out of the age long admonition of Live and let live.

In a chambers situation in practice, there is always the acrimony for sharing of income between the Associates/partners and Managing Solicitors. This relationship in actual practice have been very frosty with the junior accusing the seniors of taking it all, while the seniors retort with the tag of juniors do not do any work. The Seniors also complain vehemently of the refusal of the juniors to bring any work into chambers, but leech on work primarily belonging to the Seniors. To strike a middle course in this argument, it is important to suggest that both should work together to first create wealth substantially before the talk of sharing the proceeds of that wealth. One clear way to achieve this, is for the juniors to actively go all out to create wealth by the methods aforestated before worrying about sharing of the commonwealth of the Chambers. Also, the said juniors can factor into their terms of engagement a percentage to be paid direct to them for actual legal work brought into chambers and exploit that clause. This provision, more often than not, is not promoted by the juniors in enhancing the wealth of the chambers and is a source of friction between them and their Senior Colleagues in Chambers. How many retainerships; Town Union, or Community cases have been brought into Chambers by the juniors before the clamour for an increase in monthly allowances based on the income generated solely by the work of the Senior?

  1. Proper Investment of earned income –

A private legal practitioner must always be interested to save and invest for the future. This is because there is no gratuity and pension for him except the plan he works out for himself while he is capable. Therefore, he must be interested to invest in real properties, (the more the merrier); capital market funds and savings. There must be a conscious plan to keep income for the rainy day. No other person will do it for him.

  1. Properly concluding engagement contracts.

By far this is another undoing of the income lawyers can generate in private legal practice. It is important to note that –

(a)     no need for free legal work because a cluster of such jobs can enthrone permanent poverty on the lawyer. Besides, the place for free legal services is the Legal Aid Services Scheme. This principle must be differentiated from pro bono services which is incumbent on legal practitioners by virtue of the NBA Continuing Legal Education training scheme. It is a thin line that must be drawn properly. However, generous discounts can be granted in deserving cases.

(b)     proper remuneration  must be charged commensurate with the legal work. If you charge peanuts for your work you can only get Monkeys and ultimately poverty. Be guided properly by the extant provisions on Remuneration and Fees as provided for in SS.48 – 53 of the aforesaid Rules.

(c)      Conclude agreements on fees and get same properly documented vide a Clients Instruction Form Agreement giving a copy to the Client. Also, issue receipts for all payments. Avoid payment of your fees in kind or gifts as much as is possible.

(d)     in respect of contingency claims, which must be avoided as much as possible, because it breed future problems, if it is the agreement of both parties, the terms must be spelt out quite clearly such that each party is from the onset abreast with his/her responsibilities. It must be properly signed and if it is vide a Power of Attorney please get a Magistrate or Judge to counter sign same and get it registered. Clients can be slippery at unexpected times.

  1. Identifying your talent early and developing that talent positively.
  2. Being at the right place, with the right persons at the right time.
  3. Pray for good luck always including windfalls.

The foregoing can be referred to as the 10 Commandments of wealth creation in private legal practice.

3.1    KEEPING THE WEALTH

To get the clients and therefore the wealth is one thing; to keep it is another kettle of fish. To keep what one has is to treasure it and work harder to ensure it is safe in one’s custody.

Again, the tips to keep this acquired “wealth” include inter alia

  • Create easy accessibility for Clients so as not to lose them.
  • Work hard to satisfy the needs of your clients and deliver promptly on requested services.
  • Be courteous, kind and friendly.
  • Engage in constant continuous self development, upgrading and training.
  • Be up to date in respect of office appliances and equipments including emails, phones and other gadgets.

A little more need to be said about (d) and (e) above. In respect of (d) Constant professional self development is a sine qua non for a private lawyer. This can take various forms. First is educational advancement to obtain a higher degree and a larger perspective of legal work and practice. This may be a full course of study to obtain LL.M; Ph.D; LL.D; MBA or other related areas. It can also be to obtain another certificate from training programmes in Arbitration practice; Tax Law and administration, Secretarial practice, Maritime Practice, Stock Exchange Regulations, etc. So doing, the private legal practitioner can diversify to other areas of practice or expand the scope of his practice. It may not be wise to remain cocked up in only litigation practice having regard to the current trends in the profession. Legal Practice is multi-disciplinary in nature. Therefore, its practitioners must emphasize constant, rigorous and continuous training. Another facet of this is attendance at Conferences and Seminars. These are many, some international, some local. If you cannot afford the International ones, attend the local ones such as NBA Annual Conferences, Chartered Arbitrators Conferences, etc. We must get out of the garb that these cost so much. It is training. Knowledge is priceless. It has been proven times without number that the shape of the current law on topical issues emanate from these Conferences and Seminars. If you miss out on it, you may be citing the old; out dated and discarded law, to your embarrassment. To keep clients and remain active in legal practice is to be involved constantly in training and retraining as a lawyer. Imagine for one instance, what a one month of rigorous training at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Lagos on Advanced Appellate Practice – Criminal and Civil – can do to your overall practice. The list of courses for each year organised by the Institute are usually published in advance yearly. Take the plunge.

In respect of (e); above, ie modern office gadgets the sad truth is that most lawyers do not have functional emails while some do not know  what emails mean, how much more Twitter, Linkedin or BBM. Also, the kind of phones the lawyer use must be checked for efficiency. It must have facilities for prompt response to clients calls, enquiries and requests for actions. Some phones are worse than analog; and analog cannot produce more than analog. A lawyer should be able to have his/her personalized IPAD and/or Laptop which should be in current form. You must invest in these items and even more including books, law reports and journals to be able to create wealth in legal practice and to keep that wealth so that it does not move away from you.

In this clime, to get income, you must spend money. Therefore, a modern Lawyer without these modern gadgets is like a farmer without any tools.

  1. CONCLUSION:

The foregoing are tips and they are not fastidious. By that I mean that the categories to “create” wealth in the legal profession are not closed but these are time-tested and from actual personal experiences. A lawyer must first be deeply concerned with how to get the wealth before worrying as to how to share it. He must also be concerned as to how to keep it flowing in private legal practice. So doing the skyline is his limit. The road to the top in the Legal profession is in sum total embedded in prayerfulness, hard work; perseverance; resilience and kind disposition towards others.

I thank you for your attention.

God Bless us all.

*The Author is the Managing Solicitor, Granville Abibo, SAN & Co. Legal Practitioners, Arbitrators & Consultants. He holds LL.B. Hons. Ibadan (1984); B.L. (1985); LL.M. (Ife) (1989); ACIarb (2009); MCIarb (2015); KSC (2009), Elevated to the rank of SAN, 2011 and an Associate Member of over (5) five professional bodies.*  

 

 

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