Graham Hayward, management consultant and former chief operating officer for one of Nigeria’s premium law firms, Olaniwun Ajayi LP, says many lawyers called to the Bar in Nigeria have little or no knowledge of business. They also did not know how to harness their training to develop and implement growth opportunities.
“Most lawyers like to practise law rather than do the critical parts of creating a sustainable business like building their market and developing talent,” he says.
Busola Ajala, a business lawyer and the host of the Business of Law Conference in Lagos, a recently launched annual event aimed at enabling lawyers to improve their business knowledge, agrees.
“This lack of business knowledge among lawyers is rooted in their training which is only about practice and procedures of the profession.
“Lawyers with business development expertise help their firms in different areas ranging from strategically sourcing briefs to pricing and ensuring the retention of big clients.”
She suggests that business-related courses should be introduced into the Nigerian legal education curriculum, especially at Law School level.
“Attend a business school, take a course in entrepreneurship/enterprise management or get a business coach or business consulting firm,” she advises.
Hayward adds, “Most partners like to practise law but, in reality, the work is done by the lower levels for them, albeit they may design the right approach for them to follow. Hence they should limit their own billable time to about 40% of available hours.”
The rest of the time, he suggests, could be spent on leveraging and building new business connections (30%) and building people or attracting new talent (30%).
“This is critical for future growth as typically we are not constrained by market but by talent.
“Lawyers need to understand the target sector, business issues and matters arising. Typically, every sector is going through one of three cycles: Growth, Transition or Restructuring. The first and third are an easy legal services fit…this is why having deep capability in a number of sectors allows for continued growth.”
Ademola Adeyoju, associate at ǼLEX , one of Nigeria’s full service commercial law firms, agrees that business development skills are important for every lawyer and should be taught as modules in the law curricula.
“Ultimately, one realises that, without business development skills, all the years spent on acquiring knowledge of the law come to naught.”
Ademola further encourages young lawyers to build their business development capabilities.
“Their ability to attract and retain clients ultimately determines whether they achieve their business goals or not.”