Graduating or qualifying as a lawyer, barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, in our clime, as in many others is regarded as quite an achievement. People generally are tickled by the cliché that states that only lawyers are learned, while everyone else is barely educated. I left Law School about 35years ago. A new wig, as we are usually called, made to believe by my society that the world was my oyster and that I had all the knowledge that the world required to function or so I thought. Lawyering, in my postulation was about going to court to argue cases and to win them. Once you had the ‘notebook’ all would be well. We were taught to take a notebook with us to court to take down cases cited by other seniors as well as the point of law discussed. Why? There was a great dearth of law reporting and law reports. So even judges didn’t know what the latest judgements were. Stare Decisis was in trouble! Of course, reality soon set in. Cases may or may not be won. Twenty years later, I am still going to court and I am beginning to realise that the time of easy success for lawyers had started to wind down. Stare Decisis has been saved but we are not maximising what it can do for us. The age of the computer as a desktop was here, now we have mobile computers in the form of smart phones, ipads and tablets. Continuous professional training continues to be critical to growth. Many would still have none of it. It is normal for people to resist change. After all we are lawyers and very learned. But change always wins!!
The truth partly was that most were making just enough to keep body and soul together and any unplanned expenditure towards training would disturb the equilibrium. In this entire balancing act a number of colleagues were dropping out of law vision. Some were simply no longer interested and had found alternative passions, others were falling back due to age and work related illnesses but most were experiencing a drop in client patronage and consequently a decline in fortunes. We were told work harder but no-one told us to work smarter. Some caught on early, and on hungry stomachs caught on to the need to specialise, in the process learning how to use emerging technologies or became able to afford to pay for the use of such technologies. They started to cash-in on the advantages of new technology. They started to work smarter. The gap started to widen between Lawyers who were going places and Lawyers who have be swallowed up in Resistance-Dom.
Funke Adekoya, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, at an annual lecture hosted by the Ijebu Ode branch of the Nigerian Bar Association in 2012 stated that to avoid extinction of the Bar, its members or indeed their relationship, they have to be relevant to themselves and the members have to be relevant to their primary market – the consumers.
As lawyers, if we do not change to meet the growing needs of the society within which we operate, we will remain financially challenged, and become increasingly irrelevant to those around us. If we are selling services that no-one wants, or at prices which they get cheaper elsewhere, then we are no better than a salesman selling a manual typewriter when everyone is buying a desktop computer.(UNDERLINING MINE)
The late Steve Jobs made a fortune out of creating the IPod, the IPhone and then the Ipad and persuading the market that they could not exist without them. It is generally acknowledged that his products changed the way in which people communicate today. The Nigerian Bar Association ought to be teaching us new ways of practising law, and new types of law to practice, and them persuading the communities in which we live that they can’t function without
So where do we lawyers wish to be in this fast evolving new world? The customer now demands more than we have hitherto given. The customer knows that he is not limited to the lawyers of yonder years who held them by the neck. Technology is breaking down the barriers between the access to the service and value of the service and those of us who are stuck in Resistance-Dom are slowly dying. While I agree with Mrs Adekoya, the Learned Silk that the Bar Association lead the way to innovation and relevance, I state that each individual lawyer must rise up to the challenges of the new era. We must paddle our own boats before anyone else will paddle them for us. The Bar Association is made up of people like us and we must show the Association that we are in dire need of professional guidance. There is, as the title of the book by CK Prahalad says, Fortune at the bottom of the Pyramid. Where is the bottom of the pyramid- where the crowd is? It has to be and we all are at different parts of the pyramid.
How can we reach this new market even in our remote places of work and residence? What email has done to postage is what social media is doing to billboard and paper adverts. Overtaking them, that is what! Nigerians being a very religious lot know the hymn – Pass me not o gentle saviour………..while on others thou art calling do not pass me by. That song/hymn suggests action. Prahalad says that the bottom of the pyramid is the new global market.
How does this translate into new work for our members? Social networking. Without matching up and reining our efforts to the new media our practices are sure to die. Where would we like to be – for me – growing from the bottom to the top of the pyramid, knowing that I have given satisfactory service to my generation.
A few people who call me cautious have sounded me out where the Rules of Professional Conduct come in. Do they stop us from joining the new markets? Let us discuss these issues as a large team. TEAM means Together Each AchievesMore
Aronke Omame (Mrs)