The role of lawyers and law firms in protecting the interests of their clients, as well as promoting the supremacy of the law in society, is crucial. But how equipped are law firms to carry out these functions – and  adapt profitably to the dizzying pace of change currently impacting the legal profession? That was the question the second plenary session of the first day of discussions at the 2021 Lagos Law Week sought an answer to, as it considered the topic,  ‘Built to Last: Creating World Class Law Firms in Nigeria.’

Discussants shared their respective experiences of building durable law practices and their challenges, as well as the future of law practice in Nigeria in the face of global competition, and the importance of succession planning. Asue Ighodalo, Founding Partner, Banwo & Ighodalo, was joined by Mrs. Myma Belo-Osagie, founding Partner, UUBO; Theophilus Emuwa,  Partner at Aelex; Mr. Adeleke Alex-Adedipe, managing partner, Duale, Ovia & Alex-Adedipe; and Moray McLaren of Lexington Consultants, who joined the moderator, Baba Alokolaro, in tackling this important subject.

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The key to durability, said Emuwa in his opening comments, lay in an organization’s ability to constantly and periodically evaluate and, if necessary, review it’s methods and tactics, but without losing sight of the ultimate objective – be it in the short, medium or long term.

Speaking in the same vein,  Alex-Adedipe recognized the critical role of technology in the evolution of his company. But although technological transformation will define outcomes in the emerging global marketplace, he added,  it will not replace old-fashioned values such as honesty,  diligence, integrity and the timely delivery of services.

Another factor that has also impacted the business of law firms – at least in the last 18 months or so,  according to Moray McLaren, is the Covid 19 pandemic. Otherwise, in his view, the challenges of the present-day are the same as in the last 10 years – or the last 100, for that matter. 

On the matter of succession planning and how that helps to concretise a firm’s long-term vision,  Dr.  Bello-Osagie was of the view that a proper succession paradigm must first of all prioritize the institutionalization of the vision, work culture and traditions the would-be successors are expected to carry forward. 

In his typically cryptic style,  Ighodalo declared his fellow practitioners as an endangered species, given the dearth of trained lawyers opting for other vocations outside of law. He put the blame for this state of affairs on senior lawyers, citing their failure to properly remunerate their younger colleagues. This, he said, has made it difficult – if not impossible – for brilliant young lawyers to combine passion with their need for survival. This he said is a great drawback towards building a law firm that can stand the test of time. Another thing that could jeopardize a firm’s longevity, Ighodalo added, is greed – that is, the refusal to delay gratification, especially on the firm’s founders – as well as mental laziness, as seen in many lawyers’ inability to recognize new opportunities and practice areas, notably in manufacturing, IT,  the creative industries, etc,  by which a firm’s market size can be grown, even exponentially.

The session also featured a lively question-and-answer period, during which a number of participants expressed interest or concern over issues like proper billing, the feasibility of law firms going public, high turnover of staff, as well as funding. 


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