NBA-SBL launches competency framework to set standards & raise proficiency level in legal industry

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In a bid to set standards and raise the level of proficiency across law firms in Nigeria, the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law, (NBA-SBL) has launched competency framework.

The competency framework will focus on five core areas some of which include Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), intellectual property, business and finance and corporate law.

Speaking at the launch of the framework in Lagos, Seni Adio, SAN, Chairman of the NBA Section on Business Law disclosed thatthe goal from the onset was to encourage the proficiency, expertise and human capacity development of law firms.

According to him, law firms will need to look at the competency framework, customize it to suit their peculiar purposes and try as much as possible to implement the document.

“The document is a starting point and once NBA-SBL makes the criteria for success transparent, it behooves on the law firms and senior members of those firms to also adhere to those standards because it is empirical for both sides.”

He added that aside from the five core areas the framework is addressing, NBA-SBL may in future venture into other areas like maritime and agriculture amongst others.

During his presentation, Tosin Okojie established the relevance of a competency framework, which according to him, is a very exciting part of any business because they help to set objective standards for people.

He said, “The framework will be very helpful for the legal practice because it sets minimum standards for lawyers across the country. So regardless of where you are in the country, you know what is expected of you as a business lawyer in terms of your soft skills, technical skills and your general legal competencies as well.

“It raises the level of proficiency within the industry because it sets minimum standards. As a lawyer, you are able to chart your career path and figure out what things you need to learn, develop and grow on so that you can be more successful, based on the experience of those that have gone before,” Okojie said.

He further explained that the framework was essential because it provides well-defined standards of performance; common values, behaviours and priorities; and an objective means of defining and assessing proficiency. These will ease the process of recruiting, promotion, and partnership, enabling organisations to become more profitable and sustainable.

“In developing the framework, stakeholders identified 18 general competencies, including legal drafting, presentation skills, and entrepreneurial orientation- which would apply to every lawyer in whatever practice area, and technical competencies for five business practice areas- Banking & Finance, Corporate, Dispute Resolution, Intellectual Property, and Real Estate.

“These proficiencies were classified – novice, basic, intermediate, advanced, and expert with clearly-defined expectations for each proficiency level as well as what proficiency level is required for each rung of the legal career ladder- Junior Associate to Equity Partner.

“The way to go about implementing this is this: each company will define what its path to success is; what competencies it needs to prioritize to excel in the market, select the practice areas that apply to its organization, then set competency expectations and benchmarks for each job level within the organization, in addition to the general skills”, Okojie said.

He assured the audience made up of business lawyers, that with the competency framework, law firms are able to manage their people more effectively and make them grow and develop better because there is a clear standard of what needs to be done.

It is believed that this framework will change the paradigm and tilt the promotion model heavily towards competence over years at the bar.  And businesses that will maintain higher standards are the businesses that will succeed with the implementation of the framework.

Dr Adeoye Adefulu, secretary of the NBA-SBL who also spoke at the event, stated that the idea behind the competency framework was to put a system behind how people are recruited, promoted and identify talents in the legal industry.

“We thought that the SBL should lead that conversation and share that information to all the law firms.

“To this end, the competency framework will be placed on the NBA-SBL portal and will be available to every member for free and each firm can design their recruitment processes, performance evaluation, and promotion processes in accordance with the principles of the competency framework. Firms can also tweak it to match what they prioritise as important for them,” he explained.

Speaking further on time frame to measure targets and implementations of the framework, Adefulu stressed that it is the responsibility of each firm to want to be better and the more they adopt the framework, the better they will get and this will also include their associates and partners .

He explained that the result of implementing the framework will reflect in the kind of work that people are doing and the satisfaction that their clients will have.

“I think if we have this base level development across all law firms. It will begin to show. What we will do as we roll this out is after a while starts asking firms questions on how they are finding the process and what their challenges are. We are a not for profit organisation and it is very expensive to do this and we hope that with the support of the law firms that are in SBL and our members, we can carry out the evaluation of the adoption of the framework,” Adefulu added.

For Ayuli Jemide, vice-chair of the Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law, the competency framework will help know how competent people are on different levels.

According to him, the framework, will reveal information those who are ticking the boxes as associates and senior associates and it will no longer be about familiarity with certain partners, but about who is competent. It will also provide data that allows you to know when you are due for promotion.

“It is quite transparent as all firms can use it and work with it. It will also help law firms enhance their corporate governance practices.

“At the end of the day, you have less rancor as to why one person was promoted and not the other. If things are a bit more transparent and people are able to see where they are at a particular point, what boxes they need to stick to move to the next level, that will be a great success,” Jemide said, adding that beyond this, the framework will challenge young lawyers at every level to get better and become better professionals because they would have a better understanding of what is required of them with regards to their competency.

The Competency Framework was officially launched at the Lagos Court of Arbitration (LCA) on Thursday and is available at no cost to all financial members of the NBA-SBL.

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