Taking the Nigerian Legal Practice Beyond Litigation in an Economic Recession

INTRODUCTION

Legal practice is a reputable, prestigious and an ethical profession all over the world. Lawyers, like other professionals, react to dicey economic situations. Whenever the wrath of downturn of economic stability is blown, it invariably affects every profession, legal practice included. As a result, those lawyers who are creatively savvy and adept would begin to devise a means to navigate the situation. For them, legal profession must be taken beyond the limit of litigation by dramatically exploring other arrays of competitive opportunities that would rescue them from being consumed by the recession-afflicted economy.

In Nigeria, certain factors have been attributed to causing recession such as the fall in oil prices, inflation and reduction in revenue earnings by the government and other businesses, reduction in the value of Naira in the foreign exchange market etc. The occurrence of any of these has always impacted on the stability of the economy, hence affecting various professions from maximizing their opportunities. The effect of recession is ubiquitous and legal profession is no exception from its claw, especially when a legal firm or practitioner relies solely on litigation as a means of economic buoyancy.  Specifically, the impact of recession on legal profession has led to many crestfallen consequences such as layoffs, poor salary, unemployment and depression. .

Indisputably, litigation in Nigeria is a legal practice that stems out of the English common law practice and is the most common form of dispute adjudication in the Nigerian legal system, where opposing parties seek an outcome; most remediable and favourable to the positions of their arguments, the judge plays a non-inquisitorial role. The reason (ratio decidendi) for the judgment of a case is based on law and material facts. The role of litigation has afforded lawyers the opportunity to have access to the judiciary to seek redress for human rights violations or constitutional infractions.

Traditionally, litigation has not only served as a legal service that empowers the public to achieve social justice and fairness, it has dependably been the source of economic strength for most lawyers. However, having recognized the economic feasibility of litigation, Femi Falana (Vanguard Newspaper of December, 2009) argued that over-reliance on litigation would lead to potential diversion of lawyers’ attempt of aiming at justice. This is possible when lawyers make litigation the only source of productivity in a difficult economy, where there could be problems of over-billing the clients of extortion from the clients. Dependence on litigation in economic recession would unavoidably narrow the opportunities for lawyers to explore other areas that deserve legal resolution, advisory role and arbitration. Therefore, it is apposite for lawyers and legal firms to think outside the box, to navigate beyond litigation into the plethora of emerging opportunities the time can afford them.

This paper makes a bold attempt to proffer few suggestions on economic opportunities beyond litigation in the recession-plagued economy.

D. Dodo (SAN) has observed that legal services are indispensably required in all aspects of human lives such as renewable energy, atomic energy, science and technology, health etc. This, according to him, is well encapsulated in The Report of the State Bar of Wisconsin, USA 21, on Challenges Facing the Legal Profession:

Lawyers must learn where to look for opportunities….Attorneys need to significantly broaden and organize what they see, and be particular where they look for these opportunities. For example…lawyers (must) follow science and technology developments if they want to predict opportunities in substantive areas of practice….New substantive areas that lawyers can pursue and offer as a niche to innovative clients include renewable energy, “coming” sciences, atomic energy, global health, and emerging economies…

The literal interpretation of the above suggests there are myriads of opportunities for lawyers in various areas of sciences, health, energy in addition to what they ordinarily stand to achieve in litigation. If innovative steps are taken to make the most of current global opportunities that are part of “emerging economies”, lawyers or the legal profession at large will overcome the wrath of recession.

In addition to the expansion of legal services to the above, lawyers should strive beyond traditional appearance in courts to invest on novel legal innovative such as cross-border legal services, Alternative Dispute Resolution, investment in Information and Technology (A lawyer/law firm might for the interest of the public and economic buoyancy strengthen their social media relation and services to connect people, global markets and proffer legal resolution), legal services in oil and gas, advisory services, provisions for research, collaboration with viable firms and many more, to generate formidable economic fortresses against recession. All of these must operate within the confine of law ethics and professionalism.

Besides the aforementioned points, another giant stride that could be taken by a lawyer to overcome a recession-plagued economy is to adopt a new structure, new model of interaction with clients, rethinking of business plans, and collaboration with non-legal professional organisations. This thought is well asserted by Eli Wald in his article The Economic Downturn and the Legal Profession, Foreword: The Great Recession and the Legal Profession that:

in order to survive, let alone maintain…dominant position atop the legal profession, large law firms will have to radically change their structure and organization. Some will have to adopt new models of interaction with clients, others will rethink their business plans and structure, and yet others will collaborate with non-lawyers to offer new kinds of services. In the process, these firms may end up redefining not only their own practices, but the meaning and scope of law practice generally

A summary on what lawyers are expected  to do when faced with a difficult economy, especially where litigation could no longer suffice, goes thus: (a) change the focus of practice from an overt reliance on litigation, (b)  improve on their legal and economic know-how that would enable diversification (c)  strengthen structural position not only for profitability but also for efficiency (d)  establish proper management of partnership or alliances (e)  consolidate or merge with a “rising star” in the legal services.  Over and above the aforementioned positions of the scholars as relevant for lawyers or law firms to break off from the shackles of recession, this paper then gives insights into what could constitute more viable economic opportunities for legal profession.

The effect of globalisation has also had a gripping effect on the legal service market, and as countries connect globally through economies, the demand for cross-border legal services has equally risen up for lawyers who are bold enough to materialise the opportunity.

 D.D. Dodo as thus observed that:

Legal practice now requires complete access to all jurisdictions in the world. While geographic restrictions to law practice remains in respect of litigation, the same cannot be said of legal advisory services in commercial transactions, provision of legal opinions and research, and the settlement of commercial disputes through alternative ways to litigation. International collaboration and increased networking between law firms practicing in different jurisdictions has become a common feature in the provision of legal services to clients involved in cross-border transactions.

The above submission has justified the position of this paper by asserting that, aside from jurisdictional restriction that litigation can have internationally, other aspects which do not have international jurisdictional restriction should be explored by lawyers.

CONCLUSION

Lawyers should take legal business beyond the narrow and limited jurisdiction of litigation. However, this is not to derelict the service of litigation, but, in addition, they are encouraged to devise and explore other beneficial legal opportunities. They should diversify their sources of income generation by materialising the emerging opportunities from alternative dispute resolutions, commercial disputes, legal advisory services in commercial transactions, legal opinions and research, international collaboration and increased network between law firms or cross-border legal transactions, renewable and atomic energies, information technology (provision of services through social media) etc.

Adekunle Muideen holds his Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Literary Studies from Bayero University, Kano and a Master of Arts degree in English at the University of Ibadan. He is currently a student of the Faulty of Law University of Lagos Akoka, a Senior Associate Editor of the Unilag Law Review and Editor-in-Chief of both AO Islamic publishing outlets and AMLAS.

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