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Law Firms: Any Vision For Your Practices?

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The age-old dispute whether Law is a noble profession or a business has been long laid to rest. Law firms are set up for the practice of law and to render legal services, just as hospitals are set up to render medical services. However highlighting the importance of the administrative and business aspects of the law profession does not diminish its nobility. There is the professional aspects and the business aspects of the law. Only a well-run business can be an efficient and successful professional firm. Law is both a noble profession and a multi Dollar business.

The Financial reports (2018 gross revenue) of a few law firms sufficiently attest to this fact -Kirkland & Ellis USD 3.76 billion, Latham & Watkins USD 3.39 billion, Baker & McKenzie USD 2.9 billion; DLA Piper USD 2.84 billion, Dentons USD 2.42 billion. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katzs’ turnover in 2018 -USD 763 million; $6.530,000 in profits per equity partner. Kirkland & Ellis profits per partner $5,037,000; Latham & Watkins $3,452,000, DLA Piper$1,757,000

The sizes and corporate structures of these firms also underscore the importance of the business and administrative aspects of law practice. In the UK despite the uncertainties of Brexit and the much touted impending recession, The Lawyer (a UK based legal research magazine) – reported that well-managed law firms continue to thrive in their practices and benefit from new opportunities in the UK. The research magazine published the 2019 gross revenue of 200 top UK law firms – DLA Piper was at the top of the list with a revenue of £1.946 billion, followed by Clifford Chance £1.693billion, Linklaters £1.628billion, Allen & Overy £1.627 billion, etc.

Coming home to Nigeria, though we are bereft of statistics on law firm, the financial value of a few reported legal transactions sufficiently proves that law is both a profession and a business.

The Business of Law

From the business of law perspective, a law firm is made up of a group of people working together to deliver legal services for profit. A law firm is a vehicle formed to earn profits that will increase the wealth of its owners, all stakeholders and the community in which it operates. A law firm is an organized effort or activities by lawyers working togther to provide legal solution with the intention of building a going concern, an enduring entity.

From the business of law perspective, a law firm is a professional service that must be taken to the market (consumers); therefore it is subject to the market forces of supply and demand. Consequently sound technical knowledge alone – howbeit in Latin and English (Certiorari, Ad litem, Habeas corpus etc.), legalese, wig and gown, the gavel, and other sacred ornaments of the legal profession alone does guarantee the success of a law firm.

A Law firm should be run on sound business skills, knowledge and practices to ensure its financial sustainability. No law firm can survive and thrive without the combination of multi-disciplinary skills and professionals – which the changing aspects of law practice today demands.

Front or Backend?

Every business has a frontend and a backend. Law is no exception. There is the professional aspects and the business aspects of the law practice. The professional aspects – constitutes the frontend and the business aspects constitutes the backend. Is the frontend of a business more important than its backend? Can the backend be overlooked or compromised without consequences? In business, the quality of the backend heavily impacts the frontend.

What constitutes the backend of a law firm? The “messy little details” like Human resources – people or talent management, recruitment, retention, training and development, welfare, compensation, performance management, career progression and development, succession planning. Office Acquisition, facilities management, space planning and ergonomics.

Strategy – visioning, policy formulation, goal setting, mission and objective.  Procurement, Logistics, operations, file management. Library and knowledge management.

Business/client development – value proposition, branding, website, social media, market collateral – brochures and newsletters.

Finance – budgeting, profit drivers, pricing, fee setting, billing and collection, cashflow management, tax, insurance, cost control and internal audit.  

Governance and structure. Information technology – Practice support systems; Computer hardware and software systems, Electronic privacy issues, Disaster management and Business Continuity Processes, Document and Knowledge Management Systems, Artificial Intelligence, disruptive innovation like the commoditsation of legal services Etc.

The Balancing Act

Many law firms struggle with balancing the professional and business aspects of running their practice.Law practice have some inherent peculiarities that may pose as road-blocks to running a successful business. For instance, law firms are usually populated with very intelligent, opinionated and individualistic professionals. Independence is highly prized by lawyers. This is not a bad thing in itself but it can make governance a nightmare. Also, law firms can have highly politicised internal structures and decisions are usually consensus driven, which again, can make governance a nightmare. After “all said and done,” nothing is usually done because lawyers can have a particular strong aversion to taking directions–and management and administration is usually about directing, planning, innovating. Law firms can be individual client focused, with power usually based on client/revenue generation which is dangerous for firm cohesion. Another threat to law firm cohesion is the argumentative, competitive. Adversarial and even sometimes combative tendencies of lawyers.

Further, law firms usually are short-term focussed, bottom-line focussed and with poor investment mindset. In addition, it has been observed that lawyers are usually risk adverse.Another peculiarity is that most law firms have few role boundaries. It is typical to find lawyers in firms who wants to be the accountant, admin manager and human resources manager at the same time. Even some partnerships do not have and respect clearly defined roles. Unclear roles is the recipe for confusion in business. Importantly, running a successful business requires a lot of creativity and nimbleness. Law firms however are usually bound by precedents, are conservative, intolerant of mistakes – are trained to detect mistakes, impatient and pressurized because of deadlines. All these stifles creativity which is essential for business sustainability.

From the Back Office

From the Back Office will be focused on Law as a business. My name is Joy Harrison-Abiola, I have spent 21 years at the backend of law offices and have made some very interesting observations. Also, through the years, I have had the privilege of interacting with non lawyer (some lawyers) colleagues both in Nigeria and abroad who like me have spent years at the backend of law offices. These very seasoned business support professionals have shared their frustrations, observations and war stories that have helped in my journey. So I will be showing on this page what constitutes the back office of a law firm and how it can be effectively harnessed to make a law firm successful and sustainable.

Also Read: How Tech Is Enhancing Recruitment: An Interview With Sandy Simagwali, Co-Founder Of Graft Africa

The Trouble with Vision

A few years ago, I visited the back office of the 11th largest law firm in Boston USA – Burns & Levinson at the invitation of its CEO. I spent a couple of days and had the privilege of sitting down with one of its founders and of course my question was about Vision. What inspired the setting up of the firm in 1960? The “old man” gave me some very interesting perspectives on how they have navigated the very rocky American law business terrain for 50 years holding unto their vision. What is vision? Is there a relationship between vision and law practice? Does a vision drive a law firm or not? Is vision essential to the survival of a law firm? Who gets the vision? Is it essential that the vision is written and documented somewhere for easy reference? Who drives the vision? How is a vision communicated? Is it possible for a law firm to operate without a vision?

What is the vision of your law firm? Where is your law firm going? How far do you want to take your law firm? What will the destination look like? How will you know when you get there? A vision is an inspirational and aspirational destination on the horizon. The trouble with vision is that it is the thing lawyers typically omit to do when opening their law practice. Law firms ignore to articulate a vision for their firm. You find vision in very few law firm websites or marketing collaterals.

Meanwhile, Vision, if well crafted contributes to your brand – it has a way of carving out an identity for a firm – what it does, what it wants to become and what it believes in. Another trouble with vision I have observed from the back office is that even when a law firm articulates a vision, the vision is not translated to a shared corporate vision. Most lawyers lack the skill or the will to do this.

Why is vision, mission, values and a strategy document vital in business? The short answer is that without these, there is no direction, or there are several directions and confusion and wastage of resources follows. A good vision articulate’s the firm’s ultimate goals and objectives in a way that inspires and moves the firm in a specific direction. Any law firm that ignores this will do so at its detriment. A law firm that is serious about growth and success will pay attention to corporate visioning.

Article By: Joy Harrison-Abiola, a leading legal management professional and the Practice Administrator of Adepetun Caxton-Martins Agbor & Segun- ACAS-Law

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Developments in competition law in post-pandemic Africa

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Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

With the growth of economies across Africa, competition law has remained one of the key drivers for effective market participation, consumer protection and fair business practices. However, the global pandemic introduced new challenges for competition authorities in Africa and abroad, with each enforcer pursuing the most beneficial enforcement method for its national or regional jurisdiction.

According to Lerisha Naidu, Partner in Baker McKenzie’s Competition & Antitrust Practice in Johannesburg, “These efforts were aimed at curbing the persistence of unjustified price hikes, anti-competitive cooperation between competitors and other harmful business practices that sought to undermine competition. In addition to the urgent responses to the unprecedented impacts of the global COVID-19 crisis, competition authorities in countries and regions across Africa continued to introduce new laws and amend existing legislation as a sign of the rapidly increasing prioritisation of competition law enforcement on the continent.”

COVID-19 Responses

Competition authorities across the continent had already established strategies for maintaining competition and limiting instances of customer exploitation in their respective countries by early March 2020.

“Competition authorities in Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria and South Africa reacted quickly to pandemic impacts by introducing new guidelines and regulations,” noted Angelo Tzarevski, a senior associate in Baker McKenzie’s Competition Practice in Johannesburg.

Amendments to existing laws

Various jurisdictions have recently strengthened their competition law regimes by way of amendments to the existing legislation or by introducing entirely new laws to facilitate their enforcement efforts.

“For example, Botswana’s Competition Act came into force at the end of 2018.  Kenya recently introduced a host of new laws, guidelines and rules that relate to buyer power, the valuation of assets in merger transactions, block exemption of certain mergers from notification, merger thresholds and filing fees, market definition, and new guidelines for the determination of administrative penalties. Ghana’s Draft Competition Bill is currently before parliament awaiting passage into law, and Egypt and Mauritius amended their competition legislation by introducing or giving effect to new provisions and regulations. In South Africa, price discrimination and buyer power provisions that were previously introduced by the Competition Amendment Act have since come into effect. Regulations were also issued to facilitate the interpretation and application of these provisions,” said Tzarevski.

In addition to country-specific regulation, a number of regional competition regulators in Africa are impacting domestic markets. Such regulators include the West African Economic Monetary Union (WAEMU), the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC). While not a regional regulator, the African Competition Forum, an association of African competition agencies, promotes competition policy awareness in Africa and the adoption of competition policies and laws. The Forum also facilitates regular contact between authorities, creating a platform for the sharing of best practice and domestic competition trends.

“African competition law continues to develop at a rapid pace, boosted by the implementation of protective strategies necessary during the peak of the pandemic. An increasing number of jurisdictions have adopted laws and regulations, established authorities, secured membership to regional antitrust regimes and ramped-up enforcement of suspected violations of prevailing competition laws at both domestic and regional levels.

As such, organisations transacting across borders in Africa must ensure they are compliant with a myriad of local and intersecting regional competition laws to avoid facing the wrath of the continent’s competition authorities. Access to standardised, cross-border information on the latest competition law developments in Africa has become essential for those transacting in the region,” added Naidu.

Baker McKenzie recently produced a comprehensive guide covering the latest developments in African competition law in 25 countries across the continent – An Overview of Competition & Antitrust Regulations and Developments in Africa: 2021

By Angela Matthewson for Baker McKenzie Johannesburg

 

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Tiyani Majoko: New York City based legaltech startup Founder on 10 years in the legal industry

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Tiyani Majoko is a lawyer and the Co-founder of New York City based legaltech startup Anü, a legal services marketplace. She is experienced in product design, identifying customer segments (user and buyer personas), data analysis and Agile. Tiyani talks to Alaba Ayinuola on her 10 years journey in the legal industry, starting from Biglaw, to in-house counsel, to running a small firm, to starting a legal tech company and I am always exploring something new. Excerpt.

In the beginning:

Life in Biglaw

On 3 January 2011, I pulled up to 22 Fredman Drive which were the offices of Eversheds (now Hogan Lovells). It was my first day at work as a Candidate Attorney, a 2-year journey as an apprentice in a law firm which culminates with passing the attorney bar/board exams. I bounced out of bed both nervous and excited that I was taking the first step in my career. I asked my dad to help me iron my outfit for the day; white shirt and black slacks, then I tied back my dreadlocks and put on my sensible black heels that he had bought me.

My dad, who is also a lawyer, was visibly beaming that I had been selected as a Candidate Attorney at an international law firm and I was following his footsteps. He had taken 2 weeks off to help me furnish my apartment, get comfortable with the route to work (though I didn’t have a driver’s license yet) and settle into my new life as a solicitor. Then he returned to his own law firm and practice in Zimbabwe.

At the end of orientation week, I knew the law firm life was not for me. I started my first 8 months rotation in a litigation team, where the only highlight of that rotation was the team and free lunches at advocates chambers. During that rotation I may or may not have forgotten to go to court to note a judgment. The daily time sheets, indexing and pagination of court files, carting files up and down to advocates offices for a 0.4 time entry and forced interactions at month end drinks were the bane of my existence. People would look forward to, or dread, the month end billing report as it revealed who was rising or bubbling under budget.

It was only later when I learned what really matters isn’t what you bill, but what you invoice and eventually collect!

I also learned about office politics and the power players of the firm if you wanted to be offered a position as an associate at the end your 2 year period as a Candidate Attorney.

The rainmaker whose team operated by its own rules (coming in at 10am and leaving at 4pm), the partner who had been at the firm all his 40 year career, the partners who struggled to make budget and how we all tried to stay away from them because they wouldn’t be in a position to retain you as an associate. There was also the partner who never took on a female or black associates, the partner who only took on LGBTQ associates and so I made a concerted effort to join the team of the partner who only took on Black associates.

She ran the mining team, working with international mining companies in helping them to obtain and retain their licenses to operate. This was the first time I felt like I was doing something I enjoyed- it was an all Black, female team. We would go on long road trips to visit mining clients, communities or regulators. I got to spend a lot of time out of the office- away from my time sheet, going to mines and meeting regulators- often these trips would allow for some sight seeing, such as visiting the Big Hole in Kimberly and going underground in a coal mine.

As a mining lawyer I felt like I was doing something important by contributing to the development of communities. I got my first glimpse into politics in the wave of Marikana, investigating unsafe working conditions, developing environmental plans for rehabilitating mine property, working with corporate executives to understand their strategy and the adrenalin of speeding down the N1 from Joburg to Pretoria to meet arbitrary regulator deadlines for various submissions.

I loved the centrality of the role and how each matter brought new challenges.

Each client had a different problem and the partner I worked for gave us free rein on matters. This built my professional confidence to execute and communicate as a professional. Although she would manage the relationship with the client, I would send the emails, they clients would call me if they had questions, etc. My criticism of the team was that it was too familial for a work environment and we could have used more intelligent tools to track matters, create reports and be efficient- which would have helped us to bill more. In 2013 the Black bubble was burst and the gang broke up.

Throughout my career I wanted to maintain that feeling of being connected to people, processes and policies while creating a product that’s profitable.

Going In-House

After Biglaw, I tried a couple of different things. I went in-house in an oil and gas company, where my boss lived in Durban and I was based in Joburg- so basically I have been remote since 2013. It was my first time working alone, after being accustomed to an office with 400 lawyers. I had to learn to trust my work, be thorough, do research and create my own support network of mentors. I was running legal and business affairs- so I would put together decks, find co-investors on projects and lead meetings after a short phone call with him. He was part of the young, new money Black elite that had made money from government contracts and had former President Jacob Zuma on speed dial. He opened my eyes to a whole class of Black, young, rich entrepreneurs that traveled to Bali on private jets. In those environments I quickly learned how political favor is volatile and qualifications to do the work are optional. At the time Zuma was ousted, a lot of them- including my boss- went broke.

Starting Out

I was 5 years into my career and had been disappointed by employers, so I made a bet on myself. I had some savings, worked out a rent free living situation and talked my varsity best friend into starting one of the first legal consulting firms in South Africa. I learned about finding clients, keeping clients, expanding revenue streams, business models, leadership, networking and expansion. We were so adorable when we started, see our launch video below.

I also launched Africa’s first lawyer on demand service. As a founder, I was able to find that feeling again, but I quickly realized that our service was too manual for scale in a way that mattered. Part of it was not knowing what tools we could use for a small services focused businesses and as I set my sights on moving away from a lifestyle business- I knew that technology would essential to our success. I was 8 years into my career at this point, running a good profitable company and contemplating the hard pivot to grad school in a foreign country, with a 6 figure price tag.

Starting Up

Ultimately I made the decision and attended Cornell with the vision of going back to my business then things changed. Instead, I become a founder- again- which I wrote about here.

While in school I thought of becoming a Product Manager, however it wasn’t presented to the law students as a career option, it was solely for Engineers and MBAs. Initially, I didn’t care because I didn’t understand most technical terms and I was just trying to keep up with my own course work. In January 2020, the blitz interview season was upon us, the technical students and MBAs were filling up their diaries so fast and law students were high key scrambling. I started to look at the PM job requirements and I was like “Hey, I know this stuff.. well some of it.” I went to the career services office like:

I have always been of the opinion that whatever an MBA graduate can do; a lawyer can do- just with a calculator.

I was benched very hard and told to stay in my lane- to look for roles in legal tech companies- maybe doing business development, or sales if I no longer wanted to practice law.

If the school didn’t see what I saw for myself, then I had to make it happen. All this was happening on the backdrop of a Coronavirus outbreak, BLM protests and many graduates being unable to find work. I half-heartedly applied for jobs, while I turned my full attention to a class project that had some real-world traction. When I went full time with Anü, I looked at this as an opportunity to do 2 things — either run a successful tech startup or have enough skills to rebrand myself as a PM. Either way I was setting myself up to win.

Next

My 5th pivot is loading as I am staring down another path. It’s less scary because I have learned how to get good at taking wild bets on myself adaptability. In contrast, my father has been a lawyer his entire life. He graduated from law school 32 years ago, each year he has renewed his practicing license and I honestly envy him for finding the thing he is good at, that he also enjoys. I enjoy certain aspects of the law, but not all the ways that it is practiced. I need room to experiment, to be playful and to also not always follow precedent. I am extremely blessed because my dad has supported these expeditions. Now it’s time for his investment to pay off.

5 Tips on Making Career Pivots

  1. Create A Big Vision for Your Life.
  2. Be Intentional About Skills To Acquire.
  3. Know Your Core Competency.
  4. Network Like Crazy.
  5. Community (I created The Legal Werk for mid-career legal professionals who want to make a pivot, switch, climb or reset their careers to have a source of support.) If you want to join us sign up for updates here.
  6. Know Your Tolerance for Pain.
  7. Have Faith.

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Derivatives: Enforceability of Close out Netting in Nigeria

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By: Olayemi Anyanechi, Managing Partner at Sefton Fross

The Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA 2020) is a game changer for derivative transactions in Nigeria. It introduces innovative provisions that will impact financial collateral arrangements typically used by parties involved in derivative trading. This article will examine the novel provisions introduced by CAMA 2020 as it relates to financial collateral arrangements.

An examination of financial collateral arrangements under the CAMA 2020

Until recently, the enforceability of derivative transactions in Nigeria had lingering questions. This was mainly due to the uncertainty over enforcement of the close out netting provisions. To mitigate this, counterparties were typically advised to pursue the Automatic Early Termination route.

Netting is a reconciliation and payment mechanism which involves the aggregation and conversion of mutual payment obligations into a single claim, so that the party owing the greater aggregate amount makes a net payment to the party owing the lesser aggregate amount. Forms of netting include contractual/settlement, insolvency and close-out netting.

Netting under extant Nigerian laws

Prior to CAMA 2020, Nigerian laws supported contractual netting and insolvency netting.
Insolvency netting is a mandatory right of set-off that arises when a company goes into liquidation. It is automatic and applies at the date on which the liquidation commences

Insolvency netting is recognised under the provisions on mutual credit and set-off in section 33 of the Bankruptcy Act 1 and implied by reference in the previous CAMA 2. Section 33 of the Bankruptcy Act provides that where there has been mutual credits, mutual debts or other mutual dealings between a debtor and any other person claiming to prove a debt in the debtor’s liquidation, an account of what is due from one party to the other in respect of such mutual dealing and the sum due shall be set off against any sum due from the other party and the balance of the account and no more shall be claimed or paid on either side respectively. Thus, it required the claim and cross claims to be between the same parties in the same right.

Contractual or settlement netting is the netting of reciprocal deliveries or payments which are due on the same date. It provides for mutual payment obligations of contracting parties to be discharged by a single net payment obligation from one party to the other. This form of netting addresses the risk presented when parties’ obligations are not performed simultaneously, particularly where payment obligations are in the same currency to be performed on the same date. It assesses the parties’ mutual payment obligations and requires physical payment only from one of the parties, usually the one with the larger debt. 
Close-out netting on the other hand, is typically employed to minimise the risk of exposure to an insolvent counterparty. It applies to contracts having different settlement dates and results in dealings between the counterparties coming to a close.

Prior to CAMA 2020, insolvency netting was mandatory and it was not possible to enforce certain provisions under such agreements after the commencement of winding up without a court order. This was because under Nigerian law, any disposition of the property of the company made after the commencement of the winding up shall, unless the court otherwise orders, be void.

Furthermore, in line with the provisions of section 499 of the erstwhile CAMA, where the termination of obligations under netting agreements do not occur prior to commencement of winding up, the liquidator may have been able to “cherry-pick” and require the performance of contracts that he deemed beneficial while disclaiming the onerous contracts.

New close out netting provisions

CAMA 2020 now recognises and provides a legal framework for termination and close-out netting.

Close out netting is defined under CAMA 2020 to include the occurrence of “the termination, liquidation or acceleration of any payment or delivery obligation or entitlement under one or more qualified financial contracts entered into under a netting agreement”. Netting agreements are recognised to include a ‘master netting agreement’, a ‘master-master netting agreement’, and a ‘collateral arrangement’.

Section 721 of CAMA 2020 further provides that:

(1) “The provisions of a netting agreement is enforceable in accordance with their terms, including against an insolvent party, and, where applicable, against a guarantor or other person providing security for a party and shall not be stayed, avoided or otherwise limited by-(a) Any action of the liquidator;(b) Any other provision of law relating to bankruptcy, reorganisation, composition with creditors, receivership or any other insolvency proceeding an insolvent party may be subject to; or(c) Any other provision of law that may be applicable to an insolvent party, subject to the conditions contained in the applicable netting agreement.”

With this provision the perennial issue with derivative transactions in Nigeria, which was to the effect that only insolvency netting was possible, has been addressed.

In terms of obligations of the parties to a netting agreement surviving the commencement of insolvency proceedings, the only obligation/right, if any, of either party is to make/receive payment or delivery under a netting agreement which shall be equal to its net obligation/entitlement with respect to the other party as determined in the netting agreement.

Furthermore, the provisions under CAMA 2020 limit the liquidator’s powers to disclaim netting agreements as onerous contracts. It provides that:
Any power of the liquidator to repudiate individual contracts or transactionswill not prevent the termination, liquidation or acceleration of all payment or delivery obligations or enforcements under one or more qualified financial contracts entered into under or in connection with a netting agreement, and applies, if at all, only to the net amount due in respect of all of such qualified financial contracts in accordance with the terms of such netting agreement”.

Section 721(6) of CAMA 2020 also provides protection for netting agreements in that a liquidator is prohibited from avoiding the terms of such agreement unless there is clear evidence that the enforcing party made such transfer or incurred such obligation with actual intent to “hinder, delay or defraud any entity to which the insolvent party was indebted or became indebted”. The relevant time period is the period on or after the date that such transfer was made or such obligation was incurred.

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

These new provisions mitigate the risks hitherto inherent in “qualified financial contracts” which includes a whole range of derivatives and will go a long way to enhance financial stability and investor confidence in the Nigerian financial sector.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that with the improved regulatory landscape, the CAMA 2020 has commendably set the tone for the actualisation of key innovations in the market, providing enabling legal backing for netting, bankruptcy remoteness and attendant regulatory frameworks for the smooth functioning of financial markets in Nigeria which would ultimately impact positively on transactions between counterparties and other participants in the market.

The Companies and Allied Matters 2020 is currently awaiting gazetting as the last step to its effectiveness. 

Ref:

1. The Bankruptcy Act, CAP B2, LFN 2004, s 33.
2. The Companies and Allied Matters Act CAP C20 LFN 2004, s 493.

3. The Companies and Allied Matters Act CAP C20 LFN 2004, s 413.
4. The Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020, s 718.
5. The Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020, s 721(2),(3).

6. The Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020, s 721(4).

Article by: Olayemi Anyanechi, Managing Partner at Sefton Fross

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