Law Practice and Profit-making: why lawyers need a business mindset (An Interview with Busola Ajala)

Please introduce yourself

My name is Olubusola Ajala. I am a lawyer, business development strategist, emotional intelligence certified specialist and lawyers’ coach. I am the foremost thought leader of the business of law concept and the founder of Strictly Law Business, the premier business academy for lawyers in Nigeria. I am a self-led, independent, and highly motivated lady with multiple stories of failure for a consecutive period of seven years, who defied all odds to ensure the actualisation of my dreams. My multiple failure experiences have redefined and shaped me into a resolute and resilient person. While I am unwavering in the pursuit of my life goals and career aspirations, I am also committed to helping others achieve their desired success and at the same time making high-impact contributions to the development of my professional industry. 

Why do you think that legal entrepreneurs view running a law practice different from running a business? 

Most lawyers don’t see themselves as entrepreneurs. I would say that to some lawyers especially in our clime: the word “legal entrepreneur” is still novel. Only a few lawyers understand and appreciate the entrepreneurial nature of our profession.  And it is until lawyers properly appreciate and understand this that they will begin to see and carry on their law practice as a proper business entity; seek ways to develop a business mindset, skills and strategies for running a business. 

Why is it important for Legal Entrepreneurs to adopt a business mindset before commencing their practice? 

Developing a business mindset is very vital and critical for success. Just as it is with life, there are ups and downs in business. A business does not begin to thrive or generate profit the day it starts. There will be moments of failures, struggling, confusion and all sorts. But having a business mindset from the onset prepares you to accommodate the worst that your business will bring. It prepares you for the moments of failures: helping you understand that success comes after failure and that setbacks are only temporal and not permanent. The right business mindset helps you differentiate and appreciate each season in your business. Without the right business mindset, you will go into business thinking all will be rosy, and when things are not so, frustration will set in and lead to the end of the law business. 

What is the role of business development tools such as branding, human resources management, financial management, social media, public relations, etc. in the growth of emerging law firms? 

All the aforementioned areas are distinct and unique units every business needs to put in place in order to succeed. No one is superior to the other, as they all play different roles ranging from visibility, client attraction, acquisition and retention, business structuring, and so on. And this is not just for emerging law practices only, every business aspiring to succeed must ensure the functionality of each of these areas in their business. If a big brand like Coca Cola will not stop leveraging on social media and public relations: then an emerging business or law practice must ensure they don’t relent in taking advantage of the opportunities these different tools present.  

How can a Legal Entrepreneur integrate these business tools to the needs of his growing practice?

I will narrow my response to social media and how it can be incorporated by an emerging law practice.  As you will agree, it is now very important that every serious business including lawyers and law firms have digital footprints. Clients want to have a feel or a bit of insight about your business before taking a decision to contract your services. And without a proper digital presence, there is no way you can attract such clients. Thus, setting up social media platforms for your law firm and effectively communicating with prospective clients through your posts and articles is very important. Speaking on financial management, this is also an important area to incorporate because you must be able to track every money that goes in and out of your firm. Where possible, having an accountant is very useful so that as a lawyer, you can focus on your core competence. 

These business tools are often undermined due to their costs at the early stage of law practice growth.  How can a Legal Entrepreneur effectively utilize these tools at the early stage of practice despite their  costs? 

The truth is that some of these things are not as expensive as we assume, but because we don’t ask questions or do proper research, we assume some of the tools needed for business are expensive, and our business cannot afford them. For instance, there are accountants that cater to the needs of small businesses and their services are quite affordable. There are also affordable accounting software, but because we don’t seek knowledge in the right places, we don’t get access to the right information. This is why being a part of a focused community is important for every emerging law practice.  Entrepreneurship can be lonely and exasperating, but being a part of a community reduces the burden of the journey and makes it easier and lighter. No one should journey alone; become a part of a community. Permit me to recommend the Strictly Law Business community. 

How can these tools be utilized in compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct?  

Creating social media platforms for your law firm, branding yourself /your law firm or taking advantage of public relations services does not in any way contravene the provisions of RPC. I think we place more emphasis on not offending RPC, than we place on ensuring the success of our practice. We focus too much on the irrelevant and neglect the relevant things. Of course, we have to ensure we act within the ambits of our professional ethics at all times because it is also very vital for success; you don’t want to be caught in contravention. I will implore everyone reading this to do a thorough review of the RPC because it seems to me that most lawyers refer to the old RPC. After all, Rule 39 of Legal Practitioners Rule of Professional Conduct( 2007) allows for marketing and also states the areas of exceptions. Like I always say, the best form of marketing that ensures you are not in contravention of the law is education marketing. When you educate the public about certain areas of the law, there is no way you will be in contravention and when you display your knowledge of the law through education marketing, it’s only a matter of time before you will begin to attract clients. Let me also use this opportunity to reiterate the call for a review of the RPC in view of current business realities. 

Should lawyers place profit-making before clients’ needs? 

At no point should a lawyer place profit above clients’ needs. If you understand the true essence of value, you will know that money follows value; and when you deliver value to your clients, money or profit won’t be an issue. Unfortunately, most people in business, including lawyers, usually communicate in terms of fees/profits before communicating value. I remember a time I was going to hire for a particular service, and the service provider’s first response was to send her account details for payment without having a proper discussion of the service and value she was going to deliver. It was a turn-off for me, and I immediately opted out of that transaction. I eventually hired another service provider and paid higher because not only did she communicate value: she delivered beyond what she promised. This is the attitude lawyers should develop when it comes to servicing clients. 

Communicate, demonstrate and deliver value, ensure you make it about the value the client will get and you will be sure that clients will not hesitate to pay when you quote your fees. 

What advice would you give intending legal entrepreneurs who intend to open their practice in future?  

I am going to be blunt here. Lots of lawyers are rushing to start up their own practice without getting requisite experiences and developing the right skillsets. Anyone can start a law firm but having a great law firm is not an easy feat. Here’s my advice, before starting your law firm, you must do a thorough soul-search and answer some tough questions like:  

  • What is driving you away from where you are presently?  
  • When do you think starting your law firm is the best direction for your career? Is the time right for that decision, or you need to wait a little while? 
  • What lessons have you learnt or skills have you developed that will be useful while starting your firm? 
  • Is it necessary to start your own practice? Or can you team up with an existing firm to achieve more? It is said that if you want to go fast, go alone: but to go far, you need the right company or partnerships. 

Answering these questions will help in taking the right decisions. I am tired of seeing solo practitioners struggle when we can have lawyers team up to grow big practices.

Busola Ajala is a business lawyer and the Director of Studies at Strictly Law Business and the Convener of The Business of Law Conference; an annual international conference where lawyers engage with stakeholders in the legal and business industry on subjects centred around the business of law practice.

Her legal work has spanned compliance and legal advisory when she worked as in-house counsel in 9Mobile and as a corporate attorney in Rouq & Company before she finally transited to business development training and legal talent development for lawyers and law firms in Nigeria. 

legallyengagedLaw Practice and Profit-making: why lawyers need a business mindset (An Interview with Busola Ajala)

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