Once you have decided that you want to practice as a lawyer and in a law firm, one of the next questions you should ask yourself is what kind of law firm you want to practice in. Whilst this decision can be heavily influenced by your choice of area of law, it is advisable to not limit yourself very early on in your career.
There are many other factors that could affect your decision to work in a particular type of law firm.
Below is a summary of the different types of law practices in Nigeria.
These law firms practice many areas of law, ranging from property and public interest law to criminal, corporate, business advisory and intellectual property.
Many small/sole proprietor firms and chambers are general practice firms. Also the majority of young lawyers, who set up law firms, set up general practice firms
General practice firms are excellent for gaining experience as a young lawyer. You get the opportunity to work in various areas of law, and make an informed decision as to where you would like to specialise, if at all.
On the other hand, a lot of these practices are known to pay poorly; sometimes very poorly.
Commercial lawyers advise entities on a wide range of business-related issues. These issues cut across various practice areas such as banking and finance, corporate restructuring, capital markets and telecommunications.
Commercial law firms practice dispute resolution, but usually only to the extent that they arise in commercial disputes. We are aware of only one Nigerian law firm that practices pure commercial law, without dispute resolution.
Commercial law firms could be big, mid-sized or small. These firms are ranked by various agencies worldwide like Chambers & Partners and IFLR, with the largest of them being ranked as Tier 1 or Tier 2 in their practice areas.
In Nigeria, commercial law firms tend to be the biggest and the better paying ones, at least as far as basic salary goes. They tend to have offices in more than one city; usually in Lagos, Abuja Asaba, Benin and Port-Harcourt, and can give a young lawyer exposure to some of the biggest and most impactful transactions that take place in Nigeria and beyond.
However, many of these firms tend to place lawyers in one or two commercial practice areas from the get go, so the lawyers do not have the opportunity to experience different areas of practice. Often also, the young lawyer may not have a say in selecting these practice area.
This may or may not be a disadvantage depending on your career goals, however, most senior lawyers would advise young lawyers to get exposure in as many practice areas as possible early on in their career.
This is self-explanatory; these firms practice core litigation (and other forms of dispute resolution). These firms are often named after the principal lawyer who very often is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
The firms represent clients in the resolution of their disputes in all areas of law.
As far as number of lawyers goes, these firms could be small or mid-sized, (relative to commercial law practices), with the mid-sized firms having branches across Nigeria.
The mid-sized firms are considered to be among the most reputable and represent some of the most prominent people and organizations in some of the most ground-breaking cases in Nigeria. They can be a good opportunity for a young lawyer to do the dirty work and gain valuable litigation experience and expertise.