Some like to think Ghanaian law (= litigation) is better developed than many in these parts. I doubt we can easily say as much about transactional law. There are few lawyers (and fewer law firms) whose true specialism is transactions. Nothing to be ashamed of. We just liked doing just disputes for a long time.
Many tiny practices litter our legal space. Of these, many possess too little depth of capacity and resources to handle any big matters. Then, there’s the problem of law practices which are run as some kind of calling and not a business. Patchy financial management, wimpy investment in knowledge management and idea of talent management and retention steps ail such practices.
Wouldn’t it be splendid if legal services providers firms could shoot up the resource tree and achieve the towering financial and technical atmosphere that telcos, banks and some accounting practices have? Yes, world-class structures and status. Knowledge creation and management. Better remuneration for its employees. Would we like to have more seats to fill and more work to generate more income? Yes, please. What about the kind of business management systems, commercial nous and client care? The magical attributes (= professionalism) that so many companies in other industries wear as their second skin. Professionalism. That word often means only integrity and conservatism to lawyers here. If only we’d refuse to crouch behind these monuments, and latch on to the movement of change that’s been sweeping across the business and legal worlds in other jurisdictions. Which brings me to Alternative Business Structures.
Alternative Business Structures (ABS) are arrangements which allow non-legal companies to provide some legal services to the general public. That’s one side of the coin. ABS are also law firms owned and managed wholly or partly by non-lawyers.
A law firm in need of money for growth; to improve its knowledge management systems; spoil its employees with more handsome remuneration in the near-term, may bring on board as equity-holders well-resourced non-lawyers and companies. Again, law firms can attract non-legal professional to create a one-stop shop of professional services. Talented support employees will be loyal in the knowledge that they can rise into management or own a part of the firm. Companies which have legal departments with certain specialism can offer those services to the general public.
Are you concerned that the change to the legal landscape would be too radical? Does allowing new players on the playground bother you? Is it that big corporations and other professionals like accountants will enjoy an unfair advantage over pure law practices? Maybe you shouldn’t be. ABS, in the pioneering countries, are licensed to perform only “reserved legal services” – not every kind of legal service. So far, that includes litigation, conveyancing, probate, notarial activities and the administration of oaths. See? That preserves a wide range of ‘untouched’ services.
Beautiful, isn’t it? Of course, there are issues of licensing, regulatory bodies, tensions between lawyers’ ethics and the ‘business sense’ of some non-lawyers, etc. Many issues. The biggest is, perhaps, legislation. Current legislation won’t allow ABS in Ghana. It’s only gaining traction in a couple of countries – notably England and Wales. But it’s beautiful, I think. And it’s something the Ghanaian legal space should be thinking about seriously.