While in Zambia and across Africa there’s a traditional bias towards litigation for dealing with disputes, in recent years there’s been a growing trend towards alternative dispute resolution (ADR) solutions, says Layeni Phiri, Managing Partner of August Hill & Associates.
“In my experience, this has been really good in Zambia, because ADR is faster, it’s much cheaper, it’s flexible, and it’s got higher settlement rates,” Layeni said. “Strides have been taken, which is good, but I think more can be done to ensure a push for ADR in Africa.”
Layeni co-founded modern, full-service firm August Hill & Associates in late 2020 with Augustine Hamwela. Before then, he’d witnessed how long some of the thousands of litigation cases initiated each year can take. In 2013, when he was a young litigator, his first case was one that had originally begun in 1997.
He’s pleased that Zambia, among other African nations, has made “significant strides” towards greater use of ADR by legislation and practice. The promotion of ADR is now mentioned in the Zambian Constitution, among other Acts of Parliament, and key amendments to the High Court and Industrial Relations Court Rules.
“The fact that our highest law in the land – I call the Constitution the big boss – actually confers the Zambian courts with a general mandate to promote ADR, illustrates how important it is,” commented Layeni. “There’s also court-annexed mediation in our High Court Rules, so almost every case as a matter of practice will be sent to mediation first where parties can sit in an informal setting without rigorous rules of Court and speak and try to settle.”
Layeni says he’s been involved with around ten court-annexed mediations in the last couple of years, of which eight were settled at mediation. “So that shows the system is working.”
The firm still conducts litigation, often on precedent-setting matters such as recent cases involving technology systems used by banks, and key developments in insolvency law. Layeni praises his team of associates, including Friday E. Mulenga Jr, Chimwemwe Banda-Bwalya, Chileke Sakala, Milimo Mumbi and Kabwe Nkunta, all of whom are continually upskilling in ADR and litigation.
The evolving use of ADR – using new tools to better serve clients in a changing world – matches the ethos of August Hill, which Layeni and Augustine established to provide a modern, client-centric offering: a full-service firm that harnesses technology and tailors solutions.
“We want to provide a specialised service for each and every client that walks through our doors,” Layeni explained. “We pride ourselves on building relationships, and we invest in people. Another thing I think that sets us apart is our technologically advanced team.”
The firm utilises cloud-based services and electronic discovery, and is looking to champion greater use of the electronic filing rules that have been passed but not properly implemented.
“We’re trying to pull the entire Zambian legal system forward,” Layeni said. “We’re pushing for the use of technology and handling cases developing new areas of the law because, in my personal opinion, the African legal system can be light years ahead of where it is today.”
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