Owning a law firm in Nigeria is as simple as waking up and identifying that you have passed bar exam. There has been clamour for some form of licensing to regulate legal practice in Nigerian, however, nothing concrete has been done in this regard.
While the agitation for regulation continues to gather momentum, we have complied a list of law firm models exclusively found in Nigeria and their characteristics.
Please don’t take this too seriously. Because we are Nigerians and we are a little bit too extra.
The “One Man Show”
The “One Man Show” model is a type of law firm that has just one man running the affairs. He is the conceiver and executor of the practice. He is the lawyer, litigation clerk, process server, receptionist, cleaner and everything below, in between and above.
Their offices are typically one room shop located in a building you would never expect would house any corporate establishment. Those in this category would usually not have computer in their office. Even if they have, it is either they have not settled down to learn how to operate it or they can operate it but are too busy to. Why not, they are everything in the firm. To make up for this, they usually have a particular business center nearby where they have a folder created for their law firms in one of the systems there. Service of court process to them is a herculean task because you would have to be sure they are not in court, otherwise, their offices are temporarily shut for the period they are not there. They would give millions of excuses to justify this law firm model, yet, come back in ten years, they are still running the same model.
PS: While most people in this category give the excuse of frustration and desperation, there is no justifiable reason for a lawyer who cannot afford to employ at least a receptionist to set up a law office. Non!
“Do Your Thing Model”
These ones want desperately to become Principal Partners but lack the courage to carry the responsibility. So, they typically rent an office and then make it an all ‘comers affair’. They have high employee turnover because they do not pay salary or stipend. They do not wish to be responsible for anything.
The firm has no structure, no books, the files are always inside the Principal’s office and they are treated like gold. Whether your house is at Ikeja and the office is on Igbosere Road, you must report to the office first to collect the file and go to Ikeja to conduct matter. When you are done with the matter, borrow yourself brain and ensure you collect the appearance fee from the litigant because that is what guarantee you will collect your own ‘T’fare’. If you become unlucky and the litigant fails to attend court, you will wait for whenever he pays to collect your transport.
The lawyers in this category are the greatest ‘endurance story tellers’. They will tell you about all the offices they have worked in and how it was their own hustle that sustained them. You will be tutored on how to multi-task; prepare, file and serve processes and many others.
The worst part of working for these kind of people is that they will get angry the day you inform them you have decided to move on. Like, who does that? You will not even allow me to go in peace?
Law Firm with Only Address for Service
Plenty upcoming juniors are on this table. We know ourselves. Those with PPs and side hustles, because, man must have to survive in this profession with plenty ‘stingy seniors’. These ones only have address for service, mostly in their friend’s or acquaintances’ law firms. You would have a court process for Ajenikoko & Co of No 20 Garage Road and when you appear at the address, you would see on the said address boldly written on the door; ‘Stainless Partners’, then you open your eyes wide and look again to be sure the address on the process is the same as the one you are looking at. For the reason that you are already there, you ‘sha’ knock. If the receptionist in the firm is an old one, then it’s your lucky day; she will receive the process from you without story. However, you would definitely be reporting to the court that the counsel on the other side lied about his office address if the receptionist has just been employed and has not been properly briefed of the number of firms that exist at the address. She will look at you like you are a dumb ass, then she will show you the sign over her head reading ‘Stainless Partners’ before saying to you; “This is not Ajenikoko & Co.’
These are the ones that wait behind after work at their salaried office. They always have something up their sleeves. By the way, anytime you see a younger colleague arguing so much about date to the annoyance of the judge and the counsel on the other side, please stop getting mad, he is just trying to take dates that would accommodate their side hustles. Stop taking these things too personal huh, be your brother’s keeper and understand that the hustle is real. One very certain thing about these ones is that they would already have a resignation date and are just trying to assure themselves that side hustle will sustain their launch out. Forget it, their eyes are always outside.
The “Come and be doing litigation” model
These law office owners are accidental lawyers. The do everything except the practice of law, yet they have law firms. They are estate agents, surveyors, care dealers, brothel owners, business negotiators, importers, exporters, politicians etc. Do not bring that story of what the RPC allows lawyers to do or not, they will not hear that one. They want to be lawyers but the trouble of life will not allow them to be great. To get by, they set up a very standard law firm; big conference room, well equipped library with complete NWLR subscription, LFN, All England’s, text books on every aspect of law, there wig and gown would be conspicuously hung behind them in their lawyer like office but they are not even aware that Justice Oke has retired and handed over to Justice Alogba as CJ. They are that clueless about court practice. What matters is that they are making money and they are “the LAW”.
Then on a good day, they will come to their senses and realize that they were meant to run a law firm. The realization may come from a harmless joke from business colleagues iwhile they are relaxing at the other ‘Bar’. That friend may have made a joke like; “guy, if dey call lawyers no dey talk abeg, you no be lawyer na, you wey dey follow us drag customers”. The thing will sink in kike thunder bolt and someone will immediately start thinking of how to avoid this type of expensive joke.
Next day ‘business tycoon lawyer’ is out there on the street looking for a young brilliant chap who will join him “to be doing litigation”. Two things usually happen to this model of practice eventually. It is either the one brought in to be doing litigation ends up getting so much from the firm to enable him set up his own practice and abandon the owner, or the owner abandons the practice ‘las las’ when he realizes that this pretense cannot last forever. Either way, one person ends up abandoning the other in this model.
Communal Law Firm
This practice is typically run by nobody and everybody. There is no principal, no partner, no managing partner, nothing. The only common thing they have is a secretary/receptionist and the litigation clerk and a conference room that is as empty as ‘space’. The most confused person in the arrangement is usually the litigation clerk. He will be deposing to affidavit for about five law firms and does not even know who his ‘oga’ is. The first person to get hold of him becomes the ‘oga’ for the moment until another person takes over. The receptionist has all the “Received” stamps scattered on her table waiting for whichever firm gets served with court process. It is not strange to return to the office from the firm and realize that a stamp used to acknowledge your process belongs to a strange law firm; it is just the receptionist being human.
Fridays and annual vacations are fun moments in this firm model. The lawyers would unwind and throw major jabs from their various cubicles. When there is a client with the potential of bringing ‘the brief’, the other lawyers become associates of the ‘about to blow counsel’ who automatically becomes the Principal. He would boss them around until the client is gone. When the deal eventually clicks, he would be just one person down. The hunt for his replacement is always major because, if he is not replaced, it means the contribution to pay the receptionist and clerk’s salary will be increased. These guys usualy don’t afford the sudden increase in monthly overheard cost. The good thing about this model is that it is like an incubator of a sort, the lawyers are usually young and stay together to cut cost pending when they are ready to move up the ladder.
The “Oga and servants” Model
My unverified statistics reveals that about 80 % of Nigerian law firms are on this table. Before you start abusing me in your mind, let’s run through these quick chec; how many of your juniors have standard employment letter? What does your employee handbook look like? What is the growth and promotion plan for your employees? How many partners do you have and what is the promotion process in your firm? Who do you plan to hand over your practice to when you retire? Oh did you think lawyers are not employees? So, now that I have your attention, let’s talk about the “oga and servants model.
The Principal is the alfa and omega, the beginning and the end, the rise and down fall of the practice. There is no partner, no managing partner, no promotion. All you have is the principal and the lawyers in chambers; sometimes they start to deceive themselves to name some people partners but it is just a title as the partnership status comes with no benefit. Nothing is structured in this type of firm. Just do the work and collect salary and go to your house. If you query this arrangement, you will be sacked. Many of the lawyers in the firm do not have employment letters and their salaries are fixed in accordance with the mood of the principal when you came for interview. This salary by the way does not increase and it does not reduce. The Principal is not responsible for anything that is your need except to pay you salary; no tax, no pension, no HMO, in fact, sometimes you wonder if are an employee.
Don’t mind but this is not because the “Oga” does not have money, actually some of them are SANs but beyond being SANs, they have enough money to travel abroad with their family during annual vacations; they have status cars; their children study abroad; they have nice apartments in choice area of town and have decent life style by all standard, it is only the case that you were not factored into this life style when they were planning their lives. You are actually meant to support their lives and make their lives meaningful. When you are tired of ‘eating crumps’, you would carry your bag and step up. Some of them would keep you until you are wasted. What do you call a law firm that keeps a lawyer that is 15 to 20 years post call who is not able to rent a decent apartment?
Many of these firms do not have succession plan. There is nothing to keep the practice beyond the principal. The funniest part is that they sometimes have children who are all not lawyers and you watch them from afar and wonder.
Guess what, majority of law firms in Nigeria are in this category. I don’t actually stand to be corrected; even though my statistics is unverified, I know they are in the majority.
“The Law Firms”
I could mention names, but don’t worry. These ones have everything on point. They are structured and are your corporate establishment by all standard. These kinds of law firms would never have vacancy because all the lawyers in the firm the moment they are offered employment simply dig the ground and sow bottle; na when bottle germinate they go resign or retire, abi who no like better thing? We die here!
Apart from aspiring to become a partner, these ones have something for everyone to look ahead for. You can grow to become an associate, a senior associate, head of corporate practice, head of dispute resolution, partner, senior partner, managing partner etc etc.
The only ‘but’ here is that these law firms will use packaging to kill you for no reason, you go work tire, so, if you want free lunch do not remember to think about them. Another one, they are always certificate and qualification crazy, like how do you even expect me to have first class in the two places and still expect that I would have gone abroad for one or two more qualifications? When they interview you for work, the last lap of their interviews would have you responding to questions like “do you have a car?” “how do you intend to carry files to court?”
These ones are in the minority and they even know themselves.
See enh please do not take all these things too seriously. We are just trying to make you relax. This life is becoming too seriously.
But then, do you identify your firm in any of this? We would like to know.