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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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Legal Business

SMEs: Avoiding the legal pitfalls of giving away goods and services on credit

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Image credit: entertainment malawi

A lot of businesses have experienced hard times in the current economic climate. Conversely, the business of some SMEs is booming now more than ever before. The issue I want to write about today is related to managing success and covers some legal issues which come to play when an SME is giving services and goods away on credit.

Giving goods and services away on credit simply means selling goods and services to third parties while they defer payment. It can be an outright deferred payment which can be stated in a contract or receipt or a less obvious form of deferred payment in the form of a post dated cheque. When a business starts accepting transactions like this  they are open to a lot of risks and the most notable risk is what if the creditor does not pay?

It is therefore imperative that before  an SME gives away goods on credit, the SME fully understands the debt collection process in their country. What remedies would be available if the creditor defaults in payment? The answer to this question differs from country to country but usually the options are:

  1. Filing a court case against the creditor
  2. Reporting the creditor to the police
  3. Reporting the creditor to his professional organisation

When you are thinking of deferring payment, you ought to make amount to be paid on the later date higher than the  payment to be made if payment was made instantly: This is because you must ensure that in case payment is not made on the due date, you have charged enough in your deferred payment sum  to cover hiring a lawyer to help you get your money back or cover your administrative costs when taking options 2 and 3.

You should also take into consideration the time it would take to exercise any of your debt collection options. Our firm GM George Taylor & Co. specialises in debt collection and we have observed that even in the simplest of cases it can take 1-2 months to recover your money. The question for you SME owner is can you afford an additional delay of 2 months after the deferred date to get your money for the goods you gave away on credit? If the answer is no, then you should not be giving away goods on credit.

Another thing to bear in mind is that where the creditor does not pay, you will need to pay someone to help you get your money back. Apart from any recovery percentage you agree to, you would need to initially pay some money. Can you afford to do that? Before you give away any good or services on credit you need to have this in mind. Only give away sums that you can comfortably afford to recover if need be, the hard way.

Specially drafted contracts by a qualified lawyer will also ease recovering your money if the creditor does not pay. The contracts can create new remedies not listed above which may enable you get your money back faster if the payment is not made at the right date. In summary, even where you are excited for big business as an SME please be careful when giving away goods and services on credit and ensure that you only do so where you can truly afford to do so. Don’t hang your entire business on the promise of a creditor without fully appreciating the debt recovery options available to you. Finally, as I always say, get good legal advice.

Also Read Looking Back, Moving On: My little entrepreneurship journey in Africa

Author

Morenike Okebu is the founder of Reni Legal, a law business focused on connecting SMES with high quality legal services they can afford. She is also a partner in GM George Taylor & Co. a full service law firm which specialises in debt recovery. She graduated top of her class at the University of Sheffield and has since then undergone professional training at the University of Southampton, World Intellectual Property Organisation Academy and Harvard University she practiced for years at a tier 1 law firm belonging to an SAN before taking on her current roles..

She hosts free legal awareness seminars for SMES every month. If you would like to attend one of these classes or have any further questions about debt recovery, please send an email to [email protected]

Visit Reni Legal

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Legal Business

Legal Marketing 101

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Vector round web banner of judiciary service. Modern thin line icons in three colors. Big white letter LAW and icons of scales, courthouse, attorney, jury and prison on a black chalkboard(Image: Demoflick)

A lot of practicing lawyers often do not pay attention to the business development aspect of running their firm. Nowadays, It is no longer sufficient to set up a law firm with a small and modest sign board, and then expect clients to somehow find you. It now takes a lot more than that to let clients know you exist and will do an excellent job. As a lawyer, legal marketing entails connecting with your prospective clients on their terms, earning their trust and having them see you as someone who can help them when they need help.

Legal Marketing is a broad term that refers to practices such as client relations, public relations, networking, participation in professional organizations, etc. It generally includes business development activities and efforts to build the brand of your firm and win more clients, thus increasing revenue.

WHAT A LAWYER SHOULD KNOW ABOUT MARKETING

A lawyer doesn’t have to be a sales expert, naturally outgoing, or excessively charming. Instead, growing a law firm starts with a strong marketing plan that uses successful strategies targeted at the right audience and performed consistently. While you may not see results overnight, given time, new clients will be calling up your office. The more transparent your marketing efforts, the clearer it is about the type of cases and clients you want.

Some of the mistakes made in legal marketing include:

  • Marketing for general practice
  • Not sure of your target clients
  • Not paying attention to marketing analytics and results
  • Not conveying a clear marketing message
  • Poor website design and social media presence
  • Trying to do everything at once
  • Ignoring the world of mobile technology

Some tips for legal marketing:

  • Know your target clients
  • Being active on social media is a must!
  • Attend bar association events.
  • Create a blog for your website and add new content on a regular basis
  • Give away free resources in your community to connect with individuals and professionals you may not be able to meet otherwise.

Running a law firm is running a business. Your clients are your customers, and you need customers to remain in business. A lawyer can’t exist without clients and clients can’t find you if they don’t know you are in practice.

Also Read SMEs: Carefully Navigating The Loan Agreement

Author:

Kelechi Achinonu

Founder Techlawyered | Technology Lawyer | LegalTech Advocate | Software Developer

Visit: TechLawyered

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Legal Business

SMEs: Carefully Navigating The Loan Agreement

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Morenike Okebu, Founder at Reni Legal

If you are an SME owner and you are thinking of taking a loan from a commercial bank, you should read this informative article focusing on the key terms to negotiate. It is necessary to read any legal document before signing it, but reading is not enough, you may have to take things a step further by negotiating the terms to better suit your interest.

One of the documents that most Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) will come in contact with is a loan agreement. In many cases, these agreements will come from financial institutions and would be largely non – negotiable. While this is often the case, this is not always the case. Before you get a loan from any commercial institution it is fundamental that you try to negotiate the key terms. Before you sign any legal document, I would always advise that you contact a lawyer; the lawyer should review the agreement and explain to you exactly what you are getting into.

Having said that there are some key terms that you should focus on in any loan agreement.

1. The time frame for repayment: Ensure that you understand and can see clearly spelt out the time frame within which you must repay the amount that you have borrowed. If you have discussed one thing with your bankers, and another thing is reflected in the document, this is a BIG deal. The bankers you negotiated with today may lose their jobs and all your oral assurances may go with them, but you will remain bound by your written agreement.

2. The time frame for demand of late payments: I remember reviewing a loan agreement for a client and the time frame for demanding for late payment was only one week. This was ridiculous, according to the agreement if he missed paying an instalment by one week, the entire sum of money advanced to him would become immediately recoverable and the security he provided would be lost. Ensure you get a fair amount of time. At least a month is reasonable.

3. Waivers of your legal rights: You will find that in many loan agreements, the bank will urge you to waive rights you have under the Conveyancing Act or Property and Conveyancing Law. Kindly consult your lawyer and see how you can waive as few rights as possible.

4. Rights to direct debit unrelated accounts: Watch out for any clauses giving the bank the right to debit accounts that are unrelated to the loan transaction which you or other directors in your company may have in the same bank.

I could write a book about some of the outrageous and unfair clauses included in some of the standard form loan agreements in circulation today. You should obviously pay attention to what happens if you do not timeously repay the loan for example, insurance obligations and so on. Regardless of how desperate you may be for funding, you do not want to do anything that would be counter – productive to your business. Therefore it is important that you negotiate and review your loan agreements properly. If you do it NOW, you will thank me about this later.

Also Read Meet Sivi Malukisa, The Congolese Entrepreneur Whose Food Startup Is Promoting DRC Cuisine

If you have questions about loan agreements and how they are reviewed, you can always contact me. An SME owner needs all the legal help they can get to prevent and avoid mistakes and costly litigation.

 

Author

Morenike Okebu is a qualified Legal Practitioner that graduated from the University of Sheffield at the top of her class. She has several years of experience practicing in leading law firm owned by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and now is a partner in a law firm GM George – Taylor & Co. which powers her own business, Reni Legal. A law business which focuses on uniquely solving the legal problems facing SMEs and Start-ups. Send an email to [email protected] and she will be in touch.

 

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