The 4th NBA Ikorodu Branch WhatsApp Knowledge Sharing Session With Dr. Dapo Olanipekun SAN
Topic: The Relevant Lawyer: Post Covid 19
Held on the 14th of May 2020 on the NBA Ikorodu Branch WhatsApp platform @2pm
Compiled and Edited by
(Branch Executive Secretary)
Q1: Who is a relevant lawyer?
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: I would consider this from two perspectives- the Rule of Law and Business perspectives.
For the Rule of Law perspective, a relevant lawyer is one who stands and speaks for justice, good governance, etc. One who stands and speaks against abuse, tyranny, oppression, inequality, corruption, etc. I may extend the bounds of this perspective to say that a relevant lawyer must have jurisprudential footprints in their core expertise.
From the business perspective, a relevant lawyer is one whose services are needed by the client. This is a simplistic but trite description. Most lawyers are not conscious of the fact that law is both a profession and a business. As I often say – your knowledge of the law without knowledge of the market/clientele is of no use (and vice versa).
To be truly relevant, a lawyer must be relevant to the client and society. Relevance to only client or society would not be true relevance.
Q2: How do I market myself as a lawyer in a relatively rural area?
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: I should state that one of the factors changing the legal landscape is globalisation. At the core of this is that location is no longer particularly relevant. This is underscored by the growing impact of technology on legal practice. In the past 8 weeks, we have seen that physical location does not count as much as it used to. The lines that distinguish city and non-city lawyers will get increasingly blurred in the coming months and years. As such, seeing oneself as a rural lawyer becomes a thing of the mind rather than anything else.
My first tip is that lawyers practising in rural areas should see beyond their present location in terms of client portfolio. If lawyers outside are looking into the rural areas for opportunities, I do not see reason why lawyers practising in the rural areas cannot look the other way.
That said, I think there are opportunities in the rural areas also, the typical opportunities are in criminal law, family and civil law practice. It is good for lawyers to entrench themselves in these practice areas.
There are other opportunities that lawyers practising in smaller communities often overlook. Prime of these is in agriculture. The industry generated circa N300 billion in 2019. There are incidental opportunities for lawyers in conveyancing, estate/legacy planning, contracts, business formation, advisory services, agric-finance etc. In addition to the agric culture sector, small communities tend to be the base of MSMEs. Even if these businesses may not be able to afford much in terms of legal fees, it is undoubtful that they have many legal needs.
Many innovations that have already been tested and established in urban areas are now being extended to rural areas. This is also true of many large businesses now extending their tentacles to rural areas. These innovations and business spread have attendant legal Implications and needs that lawyers can leverage on.
For a lawyer practising in a small town, it is advisable to garner the requisite knowledge in relevant areas. It is also important to embark on legal education for the rural populace, in order to create awareness of the legal implications of their businesses and everyday lives.
In all, affordability and simplicity are important. It is pertinent to understand the peculiarities of rural clients for purposes of business innovation and client care.
Another factor that has been reshaping the legal market is consumerism. With the law school churning out thousands of lawyers yearly and new firms opening shop frequently, there is certainly a wide range of choice for clients. This is also fueled by increased competition from non lawyers.
Q3: What do most clients look out for in a lawyer?
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: The effect of consumerism is that client care has become the new marketing. Many lawyers and firms are becoming increasingly innovative in how they attract and provide services to clients. The ability to anticipate clients needs is very important.
To be specific, clients look for cost-effectiveness, relationship and capacity.
Q4: How can I be relevant and still make money?
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: Relevance and making money are intertwined. At the risk of sounding capitalist, a lawyer is not relevant if they are not making money. Put differently, if a lawyer is relevant, they will make money. I am not equating making money with being rich. I am only saying that the indication of a relevant lawyer is the fact of fee paying clients. A lawyer with a good mix of fee paying clients, pro bono and civil advocacy work is truly relevant. Of the mix of clientele, it is the fee paying that have a choice. In any event, civil advocacy and other pro bono work require money. From personal experience, I find that lawyers who do not have a good mix (focusing on advocacy alone) may have ulterior motives.
At the heart of this is realising the distinction between law as a profession/calling and as a business. They go hand in hand.
Q5: What is the effect of the COVID 19 Pandemic on the legal profession and how should lawyers adjust to the new normal to stay relevant
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: The pandemic is unprecedented. Its effects transcend health to various other facets of human endeavour. It has been said that this is the worst shock to the world economy since the Great Depression. Many have predicted that this may be worse than the Great Depression. Already, major sectors such as aviation, oil and gas, manufacturing, entertainment, sports, tourism and finance have taken the hit (and heat). Undoubtedly, the legal profession will be affected, since we source our clientele from these sectors.
As resources get scarce, clients will have less money to splash on legal services. Put differently, clients will only spend on services they consider essential. Clients will source for alternatives. Where they must use the services of a lawyer, they will go for the best service at the best price.
Already, there is competition in the legal market from non-lawyers, paralegals and foreign lawyers. This means that there are alternatives even within the legal profession, where it appears the supply of lawyers exceeds demand.
The good news is that there is research showing that litigation lawyers tend to fare better in a recession. Their businesses tend to be steady as legal disputes typically escalate as resources dwindle.
The key to survival and relevance is professionalism. I will consider professionalism in two parts: excellence and efficiency.
Excellence is now more important because clients will demand maximum value for their money. I do not see any client wasting hard-earned resources on mediocrity. Efficiency is important because clients will demand more for less. Hence, while we start to pay attention to more detail and honing our lawyering skills, we also need to pay attention to productivity as opposed to activity. Nothing will change the eternal values of hardwork, integrity and excellence. If anything, they are more important now that clients need lawyers they can trust. However, we need to embrace technology in order to simplify our otherwise arduous tasks.
Ongoing health concerns have also affected the way we work. We now have limited access to court rooms, office premises, staff and other resources. The new normal will be emphasis on technology for the conduct of our business. Unfortunately, this will result is less need and demand for man power. Again this lays emphasis on excellence. Only the best will thrive. The law firms will need the best lawyers. The clients will need the best firms. Everyone will go for value optimization – getting more for less.
To stay relevant, we should be more business minded, build more resilient and forward thinking practices and be more receptive to change.
Q: Going by your practical experiences as the then Alternate Chairman of one of the Disciplinary Panels of NBA, kindly share with us the importance of character, integrity and decorum to the relevance of today’s lawyer against the backdrop of your discussion.
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: Thank you for the question. I consider this apt.
As I have said, so many things are changing. Our territory is being encroached upon by so many other professionals who can do what we do. The existential challenge for us is to show that while they may be able to do what we do, they may not be able to do what we do how we do it. This is where professionalism and character come in. Those ethos of integrity, hardwork, attention to detail, scholarship, doggedness etc are in the lawyers DNA. I believe that these values are interminably relevant, particularly as resources get scarce and options proliferate. If we lose them, there will be little or nothing left to distinguish us, apart from the wig and gown.
Q: In the quest to focus on meeting the needs of clients, i.e Consumerism; customers/clients satisfaction, can we say the sky is the limit? If not what safeguards must legal professionals apply in an increasing competitive global market environment?
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: Client satisfaction is circumscribed by ethical considerations. Before a client can be described as one strictly so-called, they must have passed ethical checks. Client satisfaction must entail meeting the clients objective within lawful limits. Also, experience matters. Objectives may be achieved while leaving the client with an unpleasant or indifferent experience. Client-care is an integral part of client satisfaction. This is where the difference is between repeat and one-off clients. For client care, the sky (being cost) should be the limit. A client who has had a good experience and who trusts his lawyers competence may return, even if the ultimate objective is not necessarily met. It is about a service-oriented approach to practice.
Q: In running legal practice as a business; we all know that the training of lawyers both in the University and at the Law school strictly does not include training on business ethics. What would be your tips/advice to lawyers to enable us run our practice as a business without running fowl of the ills associated with “business” in this part of the world?
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: Your question lays bare a major deficiency of our legal education/training. There is emphasis on knowledge at the expense of business. Both are equally important. The difference between the law as a business and other businesses is that we have our code of ethics (written – RPC and unwritten). This helps us to steer clear of trouble. That said, we have to be business minded in every other sense.
Prudence, efficiency, effectiveness, business continuity/succession planning, commercial awareness ( understanding our business and our clients business) are important.
Q: How can lawyers key into global legal practice to expand the volume of client base and targeted legal market?
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN:
- Be updated on global trends in service areas and delivery.
- Build strategic relationships across jurisdictions.
- Be a thought leader in the profession and in strategic subjects.
- Gain traction by writing on topical issues.
- Focus on retaining existing clients and securing referrals.
- Make use of online resources.
- Always make an impression on your client and opposing clients. This way you will get word-of-mouth referrals.
- Integrity. This is a rare value, even in a global market.
Q: Will it be true to say that a lawyer that has no sizeable number of service paying clients will definitely be an irrelevant lawyer as such lawyer will have no financial resources to run both the pro bono and civil advocacy together ?
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: Yes, maintaining the balance is key. The resources are necessary to run the firm and fund the pro bono work. Also required for personal professional development. Fee paying clients are the indicator of the lawyers intellect. Pro bono work is an indicator of the lawyers heart.
Q: Having said that post Covid 19 era will bring about people generally paying attention to ‘essentials’. Sir, do you not think that lawyers should be classified as part of essential services provider as relating to commercials /contracts /labour related Covid 19 aftermaths?
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: Lawyers are essential. I think that there are opportunities for legal services at this time. What is unclear is whether the work will be evenly spread and whether the clients have resources to pay. Clients will certainly be shopping for best value at the best price. This is why a strategic reset is necessary for lawyers.
Q: I am particularly worried about the gradual degradation of professional ethics in the legal profession. Do you think the NBA is doing enough in ensuring that practitioners uphold the Rules of Professional Conduct?
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: I do not think they are doing enough. I understand the disciplinary panels were inactive for some time (perhaps till now). Res ipsa loquitur.
Q: Its one thing to read law, its another thing to know how to make money decently out of the law you read. Where does a young lawyer begin from? What is the best advise on how a young lawyer can grow, win client confidence in the face of ever domineering seniors in the profession.
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: It’s the most opportune time for young lawyers. In the emerging order many dominant orders will have to reinvent or fade away. In a manner of speaking, we are all starting afresh. No one can claim to have been here before.
It is important for young lawyers to be strategically placed to meet the demands of the new market. Young lawyers must also realise the importance of excellence. Employers need less lawyers, so do clients. You must have something extra to offer.
Q: 1) What is your opinion on whether it is safe to make the Laws, Rules or Practice Direction in respect of technology-driven court proceedings now or tarry until after the pandemic with regards to the margin of likely errors and 2) what areas of law and practice is easy, easier or easiest for a local practitioner to log unto in the international practice sphere?
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: 1) We should start from somewhere. I will recommend a gradual introduction of virtual hearing measures, taking into cognisance our constitutional, infrastructural and other peculiarities. In any event, we cannot afford to have our courts shut. Its taking a toll on access to justice and lawyers earnings.
2) local and international appear as an oxymoron to me. We should not see ourselves as local in a global technology- driven market. However there are advantages of proximity in SMSEs and agriculture, which I have discussed earlier.
BAYO AKINLADE: Will you like to share any last words with us especially regarding our NBA Branch and what we can do better as an association
DR. OLANIPEKUN SAN: I will take the opportunity to ask us to focus on leadership. Events of the past 2 months have shown how important leadership is in every sphere of life. As the age progresses, we will find ourselves in situations where it is irrelevant whether we know what to do. This is because we have yielded our collective will to someone or a group called (a) leader(s), who will have to make decisions on collective issues/challenges. This is when we pay the price or reap the benefits of (in)attention to leadership.
Please let us take leadership seriously at the NBA and other levels.
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