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22 Jan

ETHICS WEEK 12 LAW OFFICE MANAGEMENT

WEEK 12

(I) LAW OFFICE MANAGEMENT.

:: ESTABLISHMENT OF A LAW FIRM: a law firm is more like a legal practitioner’s place of work. Once called to the bar and enrolled at Supreme Court of Nigeria, a solicitor may set up a firm. He need NOT have undergone pupillage.

– REASONS: To obey Rule 22 (conduct client interview in Law Office), to engage in private practice (for ambition, independence, profitability, necessity, etc).

– He would need to find a suitable premises (looking at location, finance and clientele). It should be secured, serene preferably close to court/business and insured.

– Law office may be purpose built, an existing building or in his home.

– To establish the Law Office; he would require knowledge, skill and (of course) finance (from personal, loan, overdraft, friends and family).

– To succeed in practice, he would require; diligence, honesty, integrity, hard work, determination and commitmentAdewunmi v Plastex (Nig) Ltd.

– VISION: Long-term goal of the company.

– MISSION (STATEMENT): Short-term goal of the company.

– GOALS:

– STAFFING: may be fee earners (LP) or supporting (non-LP like receptionist, Office manager, accountants, driver, litigation clerk, etc.). he could get them by advertisement, introduction/recommendation by agencies, existing or former staff, on-line invitation, etc[1].

– NOTIFICATION REQUIREMENT: RULE 13 RPC. Discussed later.

– SAN AND LAW OFFICE: a standard law office is required for a SAN.

A good law office would usually have a reception, practitioners’ room, supporting staff room, library/conference, toilet. But it appears library is not among the most basic. See Paragraph 15 Guidelines for Conferment of Rank of SAN.

– LEGAL RESTRICTION FROM SHARING WITH NON-LP OR ESTABLISHING CORPORATION. Rule 5.

:: CLASSIFICATION OF A LAW FIRM: may be small, medium or large based on the combination of various criteria like facilities, number and status of lawyers in firm, location, clients, etc.

:: ORGANIZATION OF LAW FIRM.

– SOLE PRACTITIONER: Here a single practitioner, establishes, takes decisions, takes losses and benefits, manages, chooses area of specialization and practices alone although he may employ support (non-legal) staff like secretary, clerk, etc. disadvantage is seen in the workload and absence of holiday. This may result in not meeting deadlines, lower quality of decision and inability of the firm to survive in the time of his death.

– SOLE PROPRIETORSHIP: Just like sole practitioner but here he employs other legal practitioners and support staff. Obi Okoye says this is the most common.

– ASSOCIATESHIP: here two or more practitioners contribute resources for establishing and managing[2] law office premises but each practices independently and has his separate clients. There may be the opportunity to rub minds. But the issues of one LP coveting the other’s client or division of loyalty of the support staff may arise.

– PARTNERSHIP: two or more LP contribute resources to establish and manage a law office as joint owners who bear profits and losses as per their agreement (oral, written or deed of partnership agreement). They are agents of one another and fiducials. There is better rubbing of minds, potential for more clients, etc. Although there may be slower decision making, joint liability (for another partner’s misdeed-United Bank of Kuwait v Hammond), distrust, fear, ego, greed, indiscipline, rivalry and incompatibility among partners which could culminate in its breakup. Death of a principal partner may also terminate it. Note: no partnership with non-lp, LP should remove his name once promoted to a judge, A sole proprietor should not hold himself out as a partnership.

:: PLANNING: is tactically or operationally forging out strategies to meet goals of the firm taking into account the environment (i.e. social, political and economic) and available finances, facilities, staff, clients. Records should be kept.

– TYPES OF PLANNING: Strategic, Tactical and Operational.

– ENVIRONMENTS THAT AFFECT PLANNING: Social, Political and Economic.

– ITEMS OF PLANNING: Finance, Service, Clients, Facilities, Staff.

:: PRIORITISING AND HANDLING OF WORK: LEGAL AND NON-LEGAL CORRESPONDENCE should be shared between legal and non-legal works for the legal and non-legal staff. Time management is important. Pending matters should be put on a scale of preference and deadlines noted.

:: REMINDER SYSTEMS: can be used. They may be: – Personal (Like Personal and Office Diary); OR – Firm-Wide (Pre-Printed Form, Office Computers, Card Index).

:: MANAGEMENT STRUCTURES: The chosen type of MS depends on the nature, size and type of law office. Types of MS may be management by: Sole Owner; – Associates; – Single (Managing) Partner; – Committee of Partners (for larger partnership firms); – All Partners or; – Management by Experts.

:: MANAGEMENT FUNCTIONS: because clients have become more sophisticated, markets more competitive and legal issues intricate… after choosing management structure, there is the need to tinker how it should be managed/functions so as to adapt to evolving trends, keep up with competition and achieving vision and mission of firm[3]. The MF INCLUDES;

– Planning (ALREADY DISCUSSED).

– ORGANISING: Strategically allocate activities to be performed to individuals based on specialty (e.g. litigation, soliciting, administrative work, etc).

– COORDINATING; strategically monitor assigned duties and ensure they are efficiently carried out in accordance with the mission and vision of the firm.

– IMPLEMENTING;

– CONTROLLING;

– MONITORING; monitoring each segment of the law firm to ensure conformity with goals of the firm OOICME (OH OH I SEE… HMM EVALUATION)

– EVALUATION (HOW CAN FIRM EVALUATE FINANCIAL SUCCESS AND RELATIONSHIP WITH CLIENTS?): Largely periodic financial auditing and analysis of legal work. To serve as guide to future strategy mapping to achieve better results.

For effective management and administration, flexible and adaptive procedures for regulating work and performance tasks should be made. These procedures should be contained in the Staff Manual[4].

:: MANAGEMENT SKILLS REQUIRED TO RUN A LAW FIRM: ORGANIZING AND COORDINATING.

:: FILING SYSTEM AND LAW OFFICE RECORD: needed for efficient administration and retrieval of information. Documents and records can be filed in soft or hard copy in alphabetical or non-alphabetical order (index) with a centralized or decentralised filing policy (depending on the size and nature of the firm).

The records include: Office Manual, Staff Register, Equipment and Machine Register, Book and Periodicals Register, Master File Register, Closed File Register, Referral Register, Internal Telephone Direcotry, Incoming and Outgoing correspondence, Telephone call book, Visitor’s Book, Accounts Books, etc.

:: OFFICE EQUIPMENT, MACHINES AND SUPPLIES. Equipment and machines are necessary and can be acquired either by leasing or purchasing or hire-purchasing if there is a buy back agreement. The mode depends on the available finance as it would be unwise to spend limited finance on purchasing.

Machines: are technologies which enable equipment to function. E.g. Generating set, motor vehicles.

Equipment: include computers, photocopying machine, binding machine, printer, dictating machine, rubber stamps, projector, internet devices, projector, TV, DVD Player, etc.

Supplies: letter headed papers, business cards, invoice books, forms, sealing wax, office pin, envelops, paper clips, other stationeries and so on.

:: IT IN LAW OFFICE MANAGEMENT: is the use of computer and telecommunications in communicating and transmitting document, data and other information. I.T. has made radical changes in various walks of life including Legal Practice.

Creation, transmission and storage is in real time with easier retrieval moreso with the introduction of efficient search engines like google, yahoo, etc. Various firms, companies, corporations and even government agencies/parastatals now incorporate IT. e.g. CAC (cac.gov.ng), FIRS (firs.gov.ng), UNILAG (Unilag.edu.ng).

:: USE OF AND APPLICATION OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY IN THE MANAGING LAW OFFICE: it is useful. Apps and platforms like Microsoft Word (for documents), Microsoft Excel (for calculations), Microsoft Powerpoint (for presentation), Google search, Virtual Libraries (like Law Pavilon), for effective case management. Iin courts, recorders and automated note takers could be used, Microsoft office, storage devices, modems, electronic diaries, email, social media, websites, cloud storage. Various IT facilities exists (all electronics kinda).

:: ADVANTAGES: Reduces workload, cuts cost, increase capacity, improved efficiency and delivery, saves time, Faster retrieval of information and more precise results therefore improving legal research, documents in IT Format can easily be edited, bridged distance and time, more seamlessness in communication.

:: DISADVANTAGES: Redundancy of humans leading to job loss, the global contact created by the internet may be unfair competition to lawyers in emerging economies, malware and viruses, privacy concerns such as Spying, wiretapping, interception of signals, etc.

:: CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS.

– Unstable Network connectivity may hinder communication. A reputable and stable network provider should be used.

– Irregular power supply and the resultant cost of running generating sets. Although laptops can be used.

Cost of Acquiring ICT facilities: loan or hire can be used.

Cyber Crime/IT-Theft, Hacking: Laws have been enacted in this regard. Anti-phishings and Ad blockers can be used.

File Corruption and virus may result in loss of information. Malware and Viruses. Anti-viruses should be used… regular backups too.

Computer Illiteracy among many Lawyers: wider education.

Super fast evolution of technology and keeping up may be cost intensive in terms of acquisition and training of staff.

Note that disadvantages and challenges should be separated but you may take one from the other if you run out of gist/points.

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[1] After selecting the staff, there is an interview and induction of staff (acquainting them with the history, procedures, staffing, hierarchy, nature of his job etc. integrate him into the working system of the law firm. There should be disciplinary and grievances procedures (like verbal admonitions, queries, warnings, suspension, pay cuts, dismissal, etc.) and be stated in the office manual.

[2] E.g. employing support staff, getting machinery, rent, recurrent expenses, etc.

[3] Which are long and short-term goals respectively.

[4] The staff manual is more like the office’s rules and regulation/constitution. It usually contains and deals with issues on; working hours, confidentiality at work, Absence and lateness, overtime, holidays, Leave, method of answering the phone or other correspondence, procedure for borrowing or removing office books, disciplinary procedure, grievance procedure.

Isochukwu

Quite eccentric really

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