By Kingsley Ugochukwu Ani, Esq.
Question: Is Law all about courtroom practice?
This question seems to be flying around, particularly in the minds and mouths of legal trainees still in school. As the years of schooling dwindle and the real life starts to beckon to them, these are questions that are the fore of many trained legal minds: is Law all about going to Courts?
It is a funny question, but a salient one, all the same. Why? Because understanding the different facets of Law practice will aid a young trainee or lawyer to make the informed decisions about their chosen career path down the line. By being thoroughly and rigorously informed about the different facets Law can take, a young trainee starts to perform their own mental calculations as to the type of Law they want to delve into, or if they even want to delve into “core” legal practice in the long run after their training.
When we were in School—at least me personally—all that was impressed upon us was that Law practice entailed long black robes, stiff white wig, then making a virtuoso performance in front of a Judge. Our lecturers took the time to regale us with their courtroom tales of dramatic cases they had been involved in at one point or other. Some often came hurrying late to classes, handkerchiefs mopping sweat from brows, armfuls of (Court) files clutched under an armpit covered in their thick suits. Without being told, we understood that they went to Court; that they had been involved in one legal “battle” with another lawyer on the “other side”. It seemed that it was The Life.
But strangely, we came out of the University and started to hear about Corporate Finance and the other strange areas that emanate from Corporate and Commercial Law. We struggled to fit it all into our heads, all the while racing against the ever ticking clocks that counted down to that Almighty Bar Part II. We passed that hurdle, thankfully, smiling when the results came out and we stared at phone screens that showed us our grades and dates for Clearance. After that, Mergers & Acquisitions, Startup advisory, IT (fused with Law), Financial Derivatives, Islamic Finance, PPP and a slew of other practice areas came up—these probably sounds like weird music when heard for the first time.
Many tried to read a meaning into these esoteric areas but they failed. There was nothing in their curricula that prepared them for these. So they ignored them and embraced their Courtroom practice. Others tried to understand these new areas they are seeing for the first time and they realized that there was more to Law than merely going to Court. At least, we had all watched Suits, seen Harvey butting heads with opponents in esoteric contracts that left heads spinning.
An Interdisciplinary Approach
To add insult to injury, Lawyers are now adopting an interdisciplinary approach to Law: Law & Strategy, Law & Compliance, Law & Finance, Law & IT, Law & Business Advisory . . .the list is endless. Many lawyers are aghast at the thought of this notion: I mean, after all those grueling years of study, and we are still talking about mixing law with other disciplines? Many kick against it; others embrace it (I particularly love Strategy).
This interdisciplinary approach to Law has bred its own arguments. A senior was once interested in finding out more, and when he understood the bane of the Movement, he was furious. Law and Business Strategy? Seriously? Law and Information Technology? What about that other area that has set the Internet abuzz with conversation—Blockchain? How does that relate to Law? Blockchain and Law? Ha! The fury was unmitigated. Perhaps because this senior thought he had missed out on some inner joke amongst elite lawyers, or perhaps he couldn’t grasp this, but the fury was visceral. Why not leave the law as it is? Unfettered by other disciplines and esoteric leanings that leaves the average lawyer spinning around in utter confusion?
The Verein Structure
The Swiss Verein, or Swiss “Association”; legally operated from Swiss Law. And herein lies the laughing point: most lawyers—or at least the ones I have come in contact with and discussed these issues with at length—understand law practice from the purview of sole proprietorship, sole practitionership, and partnership. Anything else is unheard of.
And then enters the Swiss Verein structure. Baker & Mckenzie, Dentons, DLA Piper, Hogan Lovells, and other “global” law firms coming together under one umbrella.
Many lawyers don’t understand this structure because they have never heard of it. I am sure of at least eight lawyers who heard of the Swiss Verein for the first time ever in 2019, and only because I mentioned it to them. What sort of structure was that?
I am sure that I can spend countless thousands of words dissecting Law and the perception of lawyers to it, but there is no need. I can expend countless words talking about the large global firms that have successfully adopted the Swiss “Association” model, but there will be no need for that. We can also argue about interdisciplinary approaches to law, and even inter-jurisdictional approaches (yeah, lawyers getting qualified to practice in more than one jurisdiction like Nigeria and New York, for example). The point is, the arguments are diverse and the perspectives even more so.
Do what you can, but remember that Law isn’t just merely Law; a lot more is involved. Open your eyes, open your minds. Today’s global world calls for more than one approach. Choose your onions well.