SIMPLE PRACTICAL IDEAS/INNOVATIONS TO RUN LAW PRACTICES MORE EFFICIENTLY

Law practices like every other business face practical issues on a day-to-day basis. In chambers’ meeting, Partners’ meeting, legal practitioners ponder on such questions as: how can we meet the expectation of our clients with as little input as possible? How can we be more profitable? Are there practical ideas/innovations that can help us be more efficient while meeting the expectations of our clients? There indeed exist practical ideas/innovations that would make the running of law practices more efficient. These ideas are not so much about the knowledge of law, litigation skills, secretarial skills but concern the practices that can ensure that a law practice at least breaks even and then moves on to making profit. Efficiency covers the whole spectrum of the use of time, energy, inputs, etc with little or no waste. The paragraphs that follow identify some simple practical ideas that wil ensure law practices are ran efficiently.

It stands to reason that it is unarguably more efficient to run a law practice as a partnership or association than as a sole-proprietorship/sole-practitionership. One clear benefit of a partnership or an association of lawyers is the economy of scale by which lawyers can take advantage of the input of each other in terms of financial contribution, areas of specialisation, clientele base, office space, support staff, etc while reducing their individual overall contribution if they had to set up the law practice on their own. Many of the things legal practitioners expend money on are things which would greatly be reduced when resources are combined to form a partnership/association. Yes, individual overall control and/or influence would be reduced compared with a sole-proprietorship/practitionership, but what is control/influence compared with relevance. To practically set it out, if a legal practitioner; A has One Million Naira (N1,000,000) to set up his law firm, his capital base is that One Million Naira (N1,000,000). But, if a legal Practitioner; A who has that same One Million Naira (N1,000,000) meets legal practitioners; , B, C, D & E with One Million Naira each and who are willing to enter into a partnership/association with him, practically he has a capital base of Five Million Naira (N5,000,000); the later Mr A can thus do more. These benefits do not include the freedom/leverage to do other things (including one’s health); share management responsibilities; receive insights/inputs on both legal and managerial issues from colleagues. Partnership or association is definitely a practical idea/innovation to ensure law practices are run more efficiently.

Furthermore, bulk purchase provides an opportunity for law practices to be more efficient. Bulk purchase of stationeries, staple pins, law reports, would normally attract discounts that can be diverted to other uses. Apart from the benefit of discounts that come with bulk purchase, bulk purchase could reduce greatly the cost of transportation of these items from the place of purchase down to the law office. The man power of the member(s) of staff with responsibility to purchase these items can then be directed to other profitable ventures. Thus, a law office can purchase these items with a projection of six months or even more. Closely related to this, is the need to take advantage of subscription fees for law reports which sometimes are lower than fees payable otherwise.

Furthermore, planning is a very important. Many wastages in law practices may be a result of a failure to plan. Planning involves budgeting both financial and human resources. Planning would answer such questions as: How much do we need this year (or for the next one week, one month, three months or six months) for our briefs and to run the office (rent, electricity, water, miscellaneous)? The span of the plan may be dependent on such factors as the size of the law practice, the experience of the law practice in planning, availability or otherwise of professional inputs, etc. How much would be needed to perfect a brief? Which of our human resources do we assign to carry out this assignment? Do we need more human resources or can we trim down? Practical answers to these questions would lead to a more efficient law practice as the law firms abide as strictly as possible with the answers obtained; there only being a departure because of emergencies or other factors not put into consideration. It may be necessary for law practices to seek the professional inputs of accountants, auditors, engineers, etc depending on their practice areas; these professional inputs should go a long way in making the plans more fool proof and thus ensuring greater efficiency.

Also, systems need to be put in place to avoid or eliminate waste. Systems are ways of doing things. Law practices should have in place ways by which they do things including who receives documents, who sends out documents, who handles a file first, who assigns responsibilities, what font types & size and line spacing do we use, how are our books arranged in the library, what time do we go on break, the process for applying for leave, the maximum amount employees can utilise as stipend without authorisation, etc. With systems in place, efficiency increases. Senior members of the firm may not have to be concerned about assignments that the systems already put in place would have assigned to one person or the other. Time is also saved and can be directed to more productive ventures that would help the law practice further achieve its aims and objectives. Of course, monitoring and evaluation of the system and those who have roles to play in the system would still be necessary; these with time and proper orientation would be barely used and only directed to new employees and to accommodate new systems.

In building more efficient law practices, it may be necessary to farm out certain briefs. An area of law which a law firm does not deal with on a day to day basis or regularly may be farmed out to law practices that readily handle such areas of law. Where also, the brief is larger than the capacity of the law firm to handle, it would be more efficient subject to the consent of the client for the law firm to partner with other law firms in carrying out the instructions of the client; time is saved and financial resources are saved by avoiding trial and error, the instruction of the client is carried out quickly and satisfactorily with more diverse inputs. Furthermore, instead of having an employee whose skill set is only needed seasonally for instance a specialist in an area of law that the firm does not regularly interface with, the law firm could consider obtaining the services of an independent contractor or partner with law firms in that field.

Law firms who desire to be more efficient in their practices can take note of these tips in building their practice to respond to the needs of the clients optimally. They can organise themselves as partnerships/associations, plan and work out their plan, put systems in place and farm out some of their briefs and/or systems.

You may also wish to read my musings on legal practice in Nigeria as well as my thoughts on the opportunities and challenges before a young lawyer in building a 21st Century law firm in Nigeria

Legal Practitioner; Aspiring Economist