Building a law firm is one thing – anyone can do that. On the other hand, building a successful 21st-century law firm, in a highly competitive marketplace is an entirely different thing. The young lawyer faces diverse challenges on the road to building that, sometimes misunderstood, big and modern legal practice.
My aim is to highlight the challenges common to young lawyers who venture into – solo – practice. I also attempt to bring to the fore, profitable opportunities available to those who would dare to try.
This list is by no means exhaustive but narrowed down to the most critical ones for our purpose:
a. Knowledge/Skill Gap and Limitations
Lawyers in Nigeria and indeed young lawyers are inhibited by the educational system and structure. It is safe to say that the Nigerian Universities and Law school curricula are fast becoming obsolete in view of the emerging trends in our economic and social environment. As opposed to our counterparts in other jurisdictions, many Nigerian lawyers struggle to grasp the intricacies of contemporaries shifts in the society. It is no longer enough for lawyers to have knowledge of issues bordering on simple contracts, criminal law, property law etc. Most young lawyers do not possess the relevant skills and knowledge needed to thrive in the 21st-century economy.
In close relation to the challenge of knowledge and skill gap, the structure in the Nigerian legal educational system gives little or no room for specialization in a practice area. This is despite the fact that most modern law firms usually have its partners and associates, specializing in different practice areas.
c. Financial Literacy/Commercial Awareness
An important factor in building a law firm, and indeed a sustainable business anywhere in the world is financial literacy and commercial awareness. Over time, most Nigerian lawyers have unconsciously imbibed the mentality of not “being good with numbers”. This is a major challenge and shortcoming because, in the 21st century, it is no longer optional to be business savvy and financially literate.
Most startups and entrepreneurs save capital for their business through savings from previous paid employment. Sadly, young lawyers in Nigeria are paid poorly. It is not uncommon to find a young lawyer in Nigeria, earning as low as N240,000.00 per annum. This is undeniably inadequate, let alone build a law firm. Although it might be unfair to compare our pay to that our counterparts in some countries, the difference is still too wide and this is hoping that the Nigerian Bar Association will finally make feasible plans around the welfare of its young members.
Highlighting funding lastly as a challenge, is a deliberate act, as I am of the opinion that knowledge, skill and specialization outweigh the need for funds.
The economy of Nigeria and indeed the whole world is today, drastically, different from what it used to be. It is important that young lawyers identify new trends, proactively anticipate where the economy is headed, and equip themselves with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in a fast-paced economy. Law practice in Nigeria is gradually moving away from the conventional, too far more complex issues with some areas of the law becoming more obsolete and less profitable. Some new trends that will shape the future of Law practice include, but are not limited to;
- Technology – Technology has become the drive to changing global economies with variations in FinTech, Technology and public policy, Data protection, Intellectual property rights in Tech, etc. It would certainly be an anomaly for a 21st-century lawyer to have little or no grasp of legal issues bordering on the application of technology in today’s world.
- Entertainment: Young lawyers can develop competencies around legal issues in Sports, Media, Content creation etc.
- Finance– Likewise in asset finance and management, Project Finance, investment banking, taxation, Capital markets, Treasury Bills, mutual funds, bonds, equities etc.
- Energy: With the global agitation for departure from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy, it is important that young lawyers tap into this area.
In concluding, I will attempt to enumerate a few practical ways to take advantage of these opportunities. To build a 21st Century Law firm, there are three key major players, and each has a contributory role.
a. Lawyers: The bulk of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the young lawyers as the importance of continuous learning and personal development cannot be overemphasized. Thankfully, technology has created a system of learning that transcends distance, locations and on-site classrooms.
- Taking online courses, not just for certifications but for knowledge. There are lots of MOOCs g. Coursera, Alison etc., available on a wide range of subjects. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) offers Intellectual property courses on its e-Learning, with some free courses and some at a price. There is also a free course on Natural Resources which is a joint collaboration of the Natural Resource Governance Institute, The Columbia Center and The World Bank.
- Taking the road less travelled and acquiring multidisciplinary skills e.g. Financial Management, Risk Management, Project planning and Management etc., to have an advantage over others.
- Universities/Law School: A review of the curricula in the Nigeria Universities and the Law School is imperative to keep up the pace in a fast-paced global world.
- Nigerian Bar Association: The NBA should invest in continuous learning for its members. One way of doing this is to collaborate with international and national professional institutions (e.g. The Lagos Business School) to offer training and educational services to young lawyers at a subsidized rate.
 computer programs and other technology used to support or enable banking and financial services.
 Massive Open Online Courses, made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.
 https://resourcegovernance.org/natural-resources-sustainable-development-fundamentals-oil-gas-and-mining- governance.