In the world today, many people have different views on their personal experiences working alone and working with others. Their recommendation would largely depend on their unique experience. In legal practice, especially in Nigeria, the proponents of partnership would give several reasons why this form of legal practice is better than the solo practice. However, a man who practices alone after some unpleasant experience with partnership may never have anything good to say about partnership no matter how effective.
Solo practice is the most common form of legal practice in Nigeria and entails an arrangement where there is only one lawyer who is the owner of the firm while all other staff in the office are not lawyers but support staff. This aspect is similar but slightely different from the sole proprietorship arrangement where there is a lawyer boss that owns the firm who then employs other legal practitioners as employees. Most law firms that engage in litigation in Nigeria fall into the sole practitioners or sole proprietors categories, perhaps because of the belief that clients retain litigation lawyers based on their individual advocacy skills.
Some of the advantages of solo practice are; fast decision making without having to endlessly consult and debate. There is no place for squabbles, smooth running of the practice and most importantly solo entitlement to profits from the practice. However, in my humble view the disadvantages associated with this kind of arrangement far outweigh the positives. Depending on whether the lawyer practises as a sole practitioner or sole proprietor, the disadvantages may include a reduced ability to handle so many clients at the same time, reduced knowledge sharing and reduction in time available for work scrutiny to ensure quality output, lack of succession arrangements, etc
Partnership is the process of two or more people coming together to do business with a common goal and with the aim of making and sharing profit. In a partnership, two or more legal practitioners pull resources together, source for clients together and share profit according to their agreed terms. Some of the benefits of partnership, especially in legal practice includes pooling resources together which eases the financial burden of practice on the individual lawyer; The opportunity for higher returns on investment in the practice through legal work coming into the firm through multiple sources; The partners can pull in their individual goodwill, experience and social influence; Partners can take vacations in turn and in cases of illness or death the office need not be closed down; Opportunity for growth, if associates in the firm can grow into the partnership, therefore ensuring the posterity of the firm; Knowledge sharing opportunity and high likelihood of client satisfaction.
Some of the disadvantages of partnership are; Loss of personal decisions making especially when it has to do with expenditure and financing; No financial independence financial decisions regarding the firm will affect all partners, so agreement required on spending, distribution of funds etc; Joint liability – the partners are jointly and individually liable for the actions of other partners in respect of the business of the partnership; Delay in decision making – This is due to the fact that in some instances, all the partners must take certain decisions with respect to the practice. Disagreements and frictions progress and where there is distrust between the partners, there is a likelihood of division and eventual collapse of the firm.
Having discussed both practices, what then is the way forward? It is possible to start off as a sole practitioner but you need not remain one forever. Many people start off with solo practice but then because of the great need for expansion, they venture into partnerships. In order to make the right choice of a partner (s), you need to attempt to work with your intended or proposed partners on a case or a project, doing this would enable you know some things about them and whether or not you can cope with such person as a partner. Not only are two heads better than one, two ‘good’ heads are better than one.
Venturing into ‘Sole practice’ or ‘Partnership’ depends on a lot of things and the interests of those who would love to get involved in either of them. They both have their good sides and their bad sides and so it is left to individuals to make the choice that best suits their desires or plans. Things such as finances, space, location, trust, interests should be taken into consideration when making the decision of what form of practice to venture into as a legal practitioner in Nigeria.
Failures of law firm partnerships in Nigeria are usually a result of either ego or greed. Therefore, where a partnership is preferred, it is desirable that a partnership agreement should be carefully drawn up as to leave no doubt about the rights and duties of the parties. The provisions dealing with finance, e.g., signing of cheques, payment of money, keeping and rendering accounts, should be particularly detailed and unambiguous.
Abigail Somoye (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graduate of law from the University of Sheffield UK.
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