ADVERTISING: LAWYERS’ EASE OF DOING BUSINESS
By Temitope Oyeyemi
The Nigerian lawyer of today has to think more about competition and the shape it takes today or would take in the nearest future. One of the disruptions of globalization is that different parts of the world are more connected to each other than ever before, and different legal jurisdictions, regardless of their positions on the globe, find themselves in direct competition in the delivery of legal services.
Businessmen can by contract, elect the most favourable jurisdiction to submit their disputes to. The skill and experience of the legal practitioners and the judges in the concerned practice areas, the average lifespan of an average suit, the liberality of the appeals process etc, count as respective criteria that businessmen consider when electing a forum/jurisdiction. In this sense, Nigerian lawyers are not only in direct competition with one another but, also with lawyers in more complex and sophisticated jurisdictions.
The competition between jurisdictions also affects arbitration, which is not the exclusive preserve of lawyers. A building engineer or quantity surveyor with comfortable expertise and experience of his field is probably a more effective arbitrator, when it comes to grappling with the intricate issues on building construction, in the same way a chartered accountant is effective in disputes over account reconciliations. As such, experts in the specialized field of the dispute are competitors to lawyers.
In addition, financial services conglomerates that front corporate trusteeship and wealth management, draft, deposit wills and trust deeds and hold property, basically encroach on areas that were once the preserve of lawyers.
The most evident competition is disruptive technology such as clinical mobile applications, downloadable free off the app store, which provide simple legal advice on different transactions including will writing (can generate a will as well), simple contracts and even guide on how to procure a divorce! Technology in this way is disruptive of the way lawyers do business and the way they view that business.
Where does this leave Nigerian lawyers? It means they must be more competitive. They must adopt ethical rules that reflect the challenges of the modern legal market and better the chances Nigerian lawyers have to be and remain competitive for the good of the society at large.
The Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 (“the Rules”) attempted to do this by permitting advertisement where its predecessor had made a blanket prohibition but, fell short by endorsing very vague qualifications on advertisement. Without a clear and distinct guide on advertisement for lawyers, lawyers will become less and less competitive in global and local markets that accommodate players that are not bound by the same rules as lawyers. The development of the Bar will suffer as a result because with less and less business, there would be no incentive for lawyers to specialize, in order to meet the current demands for diverse legal services.
Lawyers share a commonality with doctors, financial advisers, engineers and accountants in the specialized services they render to the public and the value they create. That value is the metric to judge the usefulness of legal advertising to the public and possibly outweigh the negatives that could arise from advertising.
Moreover, engineers, financial advisers and accountants can advertise under the general advertising code and draw the attention of the public to their services and brand. The benefits the public receives from these professionals is directly proportionate to the value their services create and in turn outweighs any inherent disadvantage associated with advertising. As such, law firms and lawyers in Nigeria should have the same reasons to advertise as other professionals.
This article in its four series will explore the implications the present Rules of Professional Conduct have on the Nigerian lawyer’s competitiveness, and explore alternate Rules which more competitive jurisdictions already employ. This article will all the way canvass the attraction of social media platforms like LinkedIn and third party legal advertisers like Legal 500 and the opportunities they offer to connect with the right clients.
The Rules should be comprehensive enough to accommodate them.