Christo Els and Sally Hutton, a formidable duo, have been working together for the past 25 years at Webber Wentzel and are part of the team who have turned it into a modern-day powerhouse African law firm.
The firm, established in South Africa in 1868, has been servicing clients in Africa for the past 50 years. It has strong relationships across borders, which have been further cemented by a collaborative alliance with global law firm Linklaters and other leading African law firms.
“Our Africa strategy has always been to follow our clients to where they do business. We are invested in our clients and their success and, if they need assistance on the continent, our strategy is to be there to assist them.”
“We are lucky to work with truly outstanding lawyers across the continent... we have a huge amount to learn from each other... the relationships we have really facilitate joint learning and as we work together and learn together, we deliver consistently high service to common high standards… the ultimate objective is to create consistency and a single firm experience” said Christo.
Key to remaining relevant has been staying abreast of emerging trends and, among the notable ones observed by Christo and Sally, is the increase in regulation coupled with its complexity.
“As a firm, we can add real value to clients when it comes to multi-jurisdictional transactions. Once you are managing multiple jurisdictions simultaneously with your local counsel, you can manage how that transaction obtains regulatory approval across a wide network of countries on the same basis,” said Christo.
Reflecting on some of the firm’s achievements, Tom was impressed by their dedication to pro bono work.
In the past financial year, the firm provided 21,056 hours of pro bono work and held 300 training sessions with over 9,000 attendances.
Tom was curious as to why there was such a strong commitment to non-fee-generating activities.
“It goes back to our stated purpose,” said Sally, “which is to have a transformative and sustainable impact through our work and actions - that has informed everything that we do for a very long time.
“We were the first big South African firm to establish a dedicated pro bono team and the figures from the last financial year are no different from many prior financial years.
“In the last year alone, we spent over R63 million (approx. $4 million USD) on pro bono, which is very much aligned with what we have done in prior years.
“As we all know South Africa and Africa have complex challenges and we see our role as a large South African law firm, and a firm very much rooted in Africa, as one that can actually make a difference and we seek to do that through leveraging our deep expertise.”
Sally and Christo also discussed the firm's gender, BEE and diversity strategies.
“Diversity directly correlates to the success of an organisation. Diverse leadership teams make more robust and creative business decisions. It also enhances the kind of service we give our clients. Diversity means we come up with much better client solutions and better client service. It makes complete business sense and very much links into our purpose,” said Sally.
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