Prominent Lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Paul Usoro, has enjoined lawyers across the country to build competencies in financial management in order to aid their professional performance.
Usoro said this at an interactive session focused on the development of practice skills in Lagos recently. According to him, it is important for lawyers to go beyond their primary profession and acquire relevant skills in finance to improve their practice.
“A Law firm should be operated as a business concern. In the course of my practice over the years, I have come to understand the importance of financial literacy and it is commonplace that most Lawyers don’t have sound knowledge of finance, assets and liabilities. This hampers practice in a number of ways. With a vibrant knowledge of finance, you’re able to improve your law firm management skills, manage your practice very well and also offer advisory services on issues relating to finance to clients, where such is required,” he said.
He further enjoined the young lawyers to take advantage of the various courses that are available to non-finance graduates and also open themselves up to mentoring opportunities from senior Lawyers. He posited that the various formations such as the Young Lawyers Forum can be a major catalyst to this objective
“It’s important that Lawyers, particularly young Lawyers open themselves up to mentoring from the senior Lawyers. This is critical to knowledge transfer and will help institutionalize sound professional ethics in the practice. Groups and forums within the NBA such as the Young Lawyers Forum and even outside it can play a major role here. Another option is to equip oneself via financial courses available to students outside the field,” he enthused.
Usoro who currently runs a number of mentoring programmes for young lawyers, including the Paul Usoro Challenge, was asked the following question by a young lawyer:
“Beyond being a legal luminary, you have vast experience in business management; there’s a lot young Lawyers can learn from you. How can these young Lawyers turn their craft into good business as you have done?”
His response: “Lawyers are generally not astute or even good financial managers. Indeed, most lawyers are illiterates as far as business practices and finance management are concerned. And yet, law practice, like any other enterprise requires some basic knowledge of business and finance management if the enterprise must remain as a going-concern and be profitable and sustainable.
“The converse naturally results in a non-profitable and loss-making venture. That definitely is not how it should be, particularly considering that lawyers are expected to look the part, not only in their grooming and accoutrement but also in their work environment and tools of trade (and these include IT infrastructure, reference materials, etc.).”
According to him, running the business i.e. grooming, work environment, IT infrastructure, reference materials, personnel etc., cost loads of money and cannot be sustained in or by a loss-making venture.
“How can young lawyers turn their craft into good businesses? It takes discipline, for one, the discipline to turnaround work in record time. Turnaround time is key whether in litigation or transactional practice. The sooner you turnaround an assignment, the sooner the assignment will turn into cash and the sooner you’ll be freed to handle other fee-paying assignments.
“This is a basic principle that most lawyers lose sight of and which results in loss-making ventures – and this applies to both litigators and transactional lawyers. Litigators who understand this basic principle push for early conclusion or resolution of their matters – and it’s not always correct that it’s not within the control of the litigants to fast-track their matters; sometimes, we Counsel cause, contribute to or occasion delays in our matters. Early turnaround of assignments also impresses clients and a satisfied client is almost always a fee-paying client, not to mention the fact that the positive news of your diligence in turning assignments around in record time will travel fast and attract more clients which naturally results in more money and profit for the Firm.
“Second, I advise young lawyers to pay attention to the quality of their work. The lawyer who pays attention to the fine details of his assignment – whether transactional or litigation matters – and turns out top quality work will never run short of briefs and new assignments. Sadly, I hear clients very often bemoan the poor quality of legal services. What that tells me is that the lawyers with eyes for detail and quality output are in the minority. The young lawyers who couple quality work with excellent turnaround time most certainly have very bright futures and can never be lacking in clients, briefs, assignments, cash and profit. The report of their quality work will travel very fast and far and will win them, if care is not taken, more clients and work than they can cope with.
He continued, “Third, young lawyers must pay attention to client satisfaction. The first two issues I’ve highlighted above will most certainly result in client satisfaction but there’re several other soft-issues that are enveloped in the phrase “client satisfaction”. Prompt and constant feedback to clients is, for example, very key to client satisfaction. Sending a mail to the client after a court session should be a commonplace practice for litigators (same for transactional lawyers), but sadly, this has not been the case. My experience informs me that clients love constant, truthful and prompt feedback on their assignments.
“Clients, particularly corporate clients, are also happy to be informed of recent developments in the laws affecting their operations. Also letting the client know that you’re generally available at all times to sort out their issues and problems gives the client a profound sense of well-being, comfort and protection which you, as a lawyer, might not understand or even appreciate. Appreciative clients, I must point out, are always willing to pay for these services and that enhances the profit-making capabilities of the young lawyer and his Firm.”
In closing he added that there were several other practical tips which could not be shared due to constraints with time but which will be shared periodically as part of his mentorship program for young lawyers.
“I will periodically be discussing and releasing these vignettes of information and advice to my young mentees,” the Learned Senior Advocate said.
Usoro is reputed for his contributions to the development of the telecommunications industry in Nigeria. He has also offered his expertise across various boardrooms in Nigeria, chairing the Board Audit Committees Airtel, Premium Pensions Limited and Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc. He is a member of Access Bank’s Board Audit Committee and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Marina Securities Ltd.