A legal practitioner must ensure that markets exist for his service otherwise the purpose of establishing a law firm will be defeated. It used to be old law that every lawyer must undergo pupillage before they can open a law office. Thus a lawyer of less than 5 years post call was prohibited from engaging in private practice on his own. However, SECTION 6(2) of Regulated and Other Professions (Private Practice Prohibition) Act, Cap. 390 LFN, 1990 (has been repealed)
The new position of the Law now is that every legal practitioner can engage in private practice immediately after being called to the bar.
Every lawyer in Nigeria has the right to establish a law firm nothwithstanding the year of call or number of years in practice. This does not whittle down the fact that experience in practice is paramount to be successful as a lawyer.
WHY ESTABLISH A LAW FIRM?
There are a lot of reasons why a lawyer should establish a law firm. It is pertinent to note that before a lawyer should establish a law firm, such lawyer should have a client base and requisite knowledge and experience to carry out his professional services to the satisfaction of the clients. Amidst other reasons for establishing a law firm, chief of them is to be in compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct for legal practitioners.
Rule 22 RPC provides that except in special circumstances or some other urgent reason, a member of the Bar shall not call at a clients house or place of business for the purpose of giving advice or taking instruction from the client. In effect, a legal practitioner who wishes to practice must do so from a law firm either an already existing one, or he will have to establish one.
Every lawyer needs an office to operate from and an address for service. The furnishing, office space and equipment of the law office will be considered depending on the status of the lawyer. Except you want to apply for SAN, there’s no strict requirement as to how your law firm should be, but the space, equipment and staffing should be reasonable. Other reasons for establishing a law firm could be independence , sheer necessity, desire to earn higher professional fees, profit and being in control of how you work.
They can be registered under PART B.
PROCEDURE OR STEPS TO ESTABLISH A LAW FIRM.
1 . BUSINESS PLAN
This is the planning stage and several factors should be taken into account.
Planning is one of the most important parts of running a business or law firm.
A business plan is a document containing information about a proposed firm, its goals and the financial projections for it. It is normally prepared by an Accountant for the owner. A legal practitioner can also prepare his own business plan himself if he wishes to do so. It is important for a legal practitioner who chooses to establish a law firm to have a business plan. A business plan acts as a management tool that can be referred to regularly to ensure the business is on course with meeting goals, sales targets or operational milestones.
The business plan will contain the following;
a. Name(s) of the practitioner
b. Name of the firm
c. Business Address
d. Business Start date
e. Types of firm
f. Goals of the firm
g. Capital requirement
h. Employment of staff etc.
2. CHOOSING TYPE OF LAW FIRM TO ESTABLISH.
A legal practitioner who wishes to establish a law firm must decide on a type of law firm. The type of law firm will be largely dependent on the capital of the legal practitioner. The office space also will be dependent on the location of the law firm. Some locations are more expensive than others. In Nigeria, there are four (4) types of law firms, and any one of these may be chosen to carry out legal practice. They include the following;
a. Sole practitionership
b. Sole proprietorship
Small law office occupies a room or two with 1-4 Lawyers.
Medium size law office having between 5-9 lawyers Large law office with 10m and above fee earners.
3. CHOOSING THE TYPE OF PREMISES
There are 3 types of premises that can be used for office accommodation. Factors to be considered in finding a law office premises includes the location and proximity to the Court, serene and neat environment and accessibility to clients. A legal practitioner can search for office premises through any of the following; personal scouting , through use of estate Agents, contacting friends and colleagues ,placing and looking at advertisements in newspaper etc. There are premises best suited for the purpose and there are others which will require some alterations.
The layout of the Law Office should be properly and carefully designed. This is very important as it will make the law office look good.
The type of premises to be adopted by the legal practitioner will be based on his budget/capital and his client based. Some of these premises are;
PURPOSE BUILT OFFICE ACCOMMODATION:-
This is a form of building purposely built for office accommodation. It is often open space but” partitioned by the practitioner as he wishes.
EXISTING BUILDING:- This is an existing building that is converted into a law office with considerable modifications. This is because such building is initially designed for residential use.
OFFICE IN THE HOME:-
A law office could be located at home whereby a legal practitioner operates from his home.
4. DECIDING THE FEATURES OF THE LAW OFFICE
These are basic structures or rooms put in place for smooth admistration of the law office. The type of premises adopted by the legal practitioner will determine what will be included in it. It is pertinent to note that a standard law office must have at least the following;
(a) Reception Room
(b) Practitioners’ Room
(c) Supporting Staff Room
(e) Toilet, etc.
Please note however, that where there is no available room for library, the legal practitioner can improvise. Books can in be kept in a shelf in the office of the legal practitioner.
5. PURCHASE OF LAW OFFICE BOOKS AND LAW REPORTS.
Books and law reports are like the tools of the lawyer, just as the hammer and chisel are the tools of a carpenter. Law texts, articles, journals law reports and a well equipped law library play a unique and integral role in shaping the quality of the legal practitioner. Every lawyer needs lots of books and law reports to be able to function effectively. This would make brief writing and research very easy. The legal books and law reports are to be well arranged in the shelf in the library for easy accessibility.
Although the traditional library is disappearing from law firms and e-library is gradually taking over with the emergency of electronic law reports like law pavilion, lawyers can now access cases online by subscribing to the services of these online law report platforms by paying a token. Further e-books and pdf files in form of soft copy is gradually replacing the conventional hard copy. Lawyers can now access thousands of e-books and law reports on their phones, tablets and computers. The advantage of these online law reports is that it makes cases and principles easily accessible.
6. PURCHASE OF LAW OFFICE SUPPLIES
Office supplies are very important and are much needed in todays economy and everyone needs and uses office supplies. Having a regular stock of office supplies can help in maintaining employee productivity in the office.
Having the right office supplies is essential for the day to day running of your business. Objects such as pens, pencils, paper, calculators need to be available for your employees to work productively and efficiently.
The minimum and maximum level of supplies required must be ascertained and controlled.
This can be accomplished by using “STock Book” to monitor supplies. Other law office supplies are;
a. Letterhead paper.
b. Continuation Sheet
c. Compliment Slips
d. Business Card
e. File Jackets
f. Office Forms
g. Legal Forms
h. a small sign post of the law firm.
Other stationery e.g. staple pins, paper clips, cellotape, envelopes, ribbon etc.
7. ACQUISITION OF EQUIPMENT AND MACHINES
Acquisition of office equipment and machines is a necessary aspect of establishing a law firm. Some of these equipment and machines includes a computer, a photocopying machine, printer, air-conditioner or ceiling fan etc.
These Machines are technologies, which enable the equipment to function and also facilitate efficient performance of other functions
Some of these technologies are:
Due to unreliable and inadequate supply of electricity, many law offices in Nigeria resort to the use of generators. There are petrol-fuelled generators and diesel-fuelled generators. There are also low capacity and high capacity generators. The type of generator to be purchased will be based on the budget of the legal practitioner, size of the law office and the voltage of the office equipments.
(b) Vehicles: Vehicles are also essential in a law office. This will facilitate the free movement of both fee earners and supporting staff in their outside assignments.
There are mainly 2 methods of acquiring equipment and machines.
They are either by leasing or purchasing.
There are companies that engage in leasing equipment and machines.
A lease of equipment or machines may be granted to a law office.
Where such a lease is granted, the law office pays a monthly rent for a term of years.
Although it is rare in Nigeria for law offices to acquire equipment and machines by leasing. Legal practitioner prefers to purchase it. It is believed that it is better than owning the equipments than paying for lease of such equipment.
On the other hand, machines and equipment can be acquired by outright purchase. Where they are purchased, the law office becomes the owner out rightly. Law offices are a lifetime establishments. It is better to acquire the equipment by purchase than leasing.
8. NOTIFICATION OF ESTABLISHMENT OF OFFICE
Legal Practitioners must notify the branch NBA of its location of its establishment. This notification must be made WITHIN 30 DAYS of establishment of the law office. This notice should contain the following;
a. Name of the lawyer or lawyers
b. Date of call to bar and enrolment
c. Address of the law office
The information is entered into the Register of the Nigerian Bar association which enables the NBA to take notice of such establishment.
If there is any change of details or information such as address or name of chamber, same should also be communicated to the NBA.
RULE 13(1) RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT.
R.13(4)- of the Rules also provides for change of name or address and such notice to be given to the NBA.