Being abridged version of a paper presented by an Abuja lawyer, Ms. Adaeze Anah, at the 23rd Annual Law Week of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Awka Branch.
The legal profession in my view is in a very ironic position at the moment, with the Nigerian Law School producing between 6,000 and 8,000 lawyers every year into an industry that has little or no expansion to accommodate the manpower churned out.
One would think that the lack of law offices and limited vacancies coupled with the ‘man-know-man’ syndrome. Further compounding the problem in the already competitive sector is the reason for the unemployment plague in the profession.
To my mind this not the cardinal cause of the downward plunge in availability of job opportunities in legal practice. Even with the greater percentage of lawyers redundant and complaining of unemployment, the legal sector is greatly understaffed and the enormous lack of capacity to provide legal services in emerging areas of law has further expanded the yawning gulf.
The actual reason for unemployment, especially among young lawyers, is their inability to see law practice from the eyes of a businessman and identify the latent opportunities available and waiting to be explored. It is my hope that this would come to bare at the end of this discuss.
My task today really is to reel out employment opportunities available to ‘millennials’ or better still, young lawyers in today’s legal market…The question now becomes, ‘what then do we need to do to identify latent opportunities and tap into them for our pecuniary advancement and in turn for the advancement of the economy of the state?’
Before I delve into explaining how strategic marketing would propel legal practice, let me water the ground by distinguishing strategic marketing from advertising, which is currently mostly frowned out by the Rules of Professional Conduct for legal practitioners 2007.
Strategic marketing is not ‘marketing’ as we know it in Nigeria. It does not involve the door to door advertising of products and the controversies that trail after that line of advertising. Strategic Marketing is the engine upon which every major brand in the world from Volvo to Coca-cola to BMW and Facebook has thrived on, you name it. It is the tool that has helped these brands to successfully evolve and navigate the troubled waters of the global recession among other challenges.
What then is Strategic Marketing? It is the provision of goods or services that meet the particular needs of customers or clients. It is a lot more than a sale, which is simply the exchange of goods and services for money. Strategic Marketing involves understanding the economic wave of a terrain, understanding in clear terms, what the client/customer needs and developing products that satisfy these needs.
As lawyers, it is our job to identify emerging markets, identify the legal services that will be required by the client base, acquire the required capacity, and position ourselves to provide these services whilst meeting the specific needs of our clients. Let me quickly note that it is not the job of the client to tell you what his needs are, it is the job of the lawyer to identify these needs and offer solutions to a client, who may never have known that his concerns were being considered. This brings a personal touch to business and gives the client the confidence to always return for more services. This is the miracle of strategic marketing.
When strategic marketing is applied to legal practice, there are three major implications. These are: It will ensure the growth and northward evolution of legal practice in Nigeria, owing to the fact that lawyers, who apply the concept of strategic marketing to their practice, are constantly in the business of developing themselves to satisfy their clientele base. Law practice in Nigeria will ultimately develop to a more sophisticated realm where capacities in various areas of law are represented and quality services rendered.
A careful analysis of the legal market in Nigeria would reveal that legal practitioners tend to be busier during election season. The last presidential election turned out to be a big box of surprises with Dr. Ebele Goodluck Jonathan conceded to defeat and not patronising the election tribunals. This attitude trickled down to candidates defeated in lesser offices. The result was a special kind of recession in the legal sector. This would not have been such a problem if legal practitioners had broadened their horizon and not overcrowded one area of practice. Medical law, energy and natural resources law, environmental law, cyber law, entertainment law, company compliance, are but a few areas of law in Nigeria in need of the urgent attention of competent lawyers.
Strategic marketing will stir healthy competition amongst legal practitioners and eliminate competition between legal practitioners and non lawyers. A major effect of strategic marketing is outdoing your competitors. Healthy competition amongst legal practitioners is a very welcome phenomenon because it provides the necessary motivation for lawyers to constantly put in effort into capacity and good customer based service provision.
There is, however, another side to competition worthy of note. In legal practice, there is the competition between the professionals and the quacks. Sometimes the quacks referred to are the clients themselves, who do not understand why they have to pay for legal services when they can simply get a computer generated precedent from the internet and evade paying a solicitor. Whilst I am thankful to the Nigerian Bar Association for the stamp and seal, which have gone a long way to curb this menace, it is the duty of the lawyer to position himself in a place where his client understands his value and relies on him for his services. This can be achieved by answering these questions: what else can we make? What can we do for our clients? What are their concerns and fears? How do we allay them? How do we reduce cost and risk for our client? Do we deliver our services on time? Is our work environment a client friendly one?
Strategic marketing will cause for employment opportunities to be made available because strategic marketing is a tool that can be employed by any and everyone and does not make a professional’s advancement dependent on a structure or system or the government, Young professionals, who have made it a lifestyle soon establish their own outfits. It creates a synergy between the professional and the society in such a way that they will not be stranded if there are no vacancies in public practice or older firms in private practice of law. This is because they are armed with the entrepreneurial skill and competence to be self-employed and sharpen their capacity to earn legitimate streams of income.
In a nutshell, strategic marketing can be described as being customer-centric or rather client-centric in legal parlance.
Why have I taken the pains to introduce this concept to us? It is because I am aware of the fact that today’s excellence is tomorrow’s mediocrity. The emerging areas of law we are excited about today will one day be obsolete. So, instead of naming areas of law with career opportunities, which I am sure you have all heard of before, I have chosen to arm us with the tool that always brings us out of the unemployment fix every time the economic wave changes and the need for lawyers to stay relevant and continuously rich becomes a puzzle. We need to master the art of evolving with not only the trends, but also our clients. This is the answer.
Untapped emerging areas of law
If you have attended conferences or workshops in recent times, you would have heard one message re-echoing through various speakers. It is the call to having a specialist consciousness in the practice of law. It is already not a plus for anyone to be described as a general practitioner. In order to stay relevant in the profession for a very long time, young lawyers need to start adopting this approach immediately. Corporations, multi-nationals and government agencies want to know that the lawyer they are relying on has considerable experience, the necessary qualification and expertise in the line of legal practice that concerns them. Wisdom for us all and in accordance with the principles of strategic marketing is to evolve by making efforts at specialisation.
Following this trend, the key to the creation of jobs for millennials is to identify these emerging area and services ancillary to the practice of law in these areas and provide them.
For example, if we all agree that telecommunications law is a lucrative line of practice, apart from the opportunities already identified in it, I make bold to say to you that more employment opportunities lie in the provision of services that aid the excellent practice of that area of law, for example, the production of law reports targeted at specialised areas of law identified, which would save litigators a lot of time in research, knowing the different licenses and approvals a company may require to do business in those areas, the writing of legal opinion for companies that may want to access the strength of their cases before engaging in litigation etc. As stated earlier, find it, explore it, and reap from it.
Another side to creating jobs for millennials is to encourage us to adopt a problem solving approach. Wherever we spot a problem in the legal sector, instead of complaining and giving unsolicited commentaries that add no value to our persons or the legal market, lawyers should channel their energies into offering solutions. Solution based methodologies have been proven to bring in a steady supply of income. For example, most judges still record proceedings by longhand thus slowing down the process of delivering justice. Instead of constantly berating the government, lawyers could build a company that offers state-of-the- art court room recording for the judiciary. This would be solving a great problem and bringing in the desired inward fiscal flow. Look around you. Every problem in the legal sector is a potential goldmine. The key to staying wealthy is to solve problems. Nobody is really going to pay you money because you wear nice suits, speak impeccable Latin or because you are a walking legal encyclopedia. People pay you to translate your skill into problem solving solutions.
It is my hope that I have been able to stir your minds to better thinking and a more proactive yet financially rewarding way of practicing law. Millennials, let us discover, explore and provide legal services.