Africa abounds with opportunity – that was the consensus at a panel discussion hosted jointly by the UK Ministry of Justice, GREAT Legal Services and Africa Legal, exploring what it means to deliver legal services at a truly international level.
Panel moderator and Africa Legal’s Chief Learning Officer, James Leach, believes that in the coming years we are going to see increasing levels of growth across Africa driven by infrastructural developments, the mineral and extractive industries, the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. “These are some of the reasons that I believe African lawyers will be at the forefront of influencing Africa’s development in the years to come,” he said.
The panel featuredHoward Barrie (a solicitor qualified in England and Wales, and partner at Olaniwun Ajayi International);Njeri Wagacha (dual qualified and bilingual partner at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr in Nairobi);Jeremy Gauntlett SC (Senior Counsel and King’s Counsel who practices in London, Johannesburg, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe);Vlad Movshovich (partner at Webber Wentzel, attorney of high courts in South Africa and solicitor of the senior courts in England and Wales); andMonique Morrison (International Development Manager at BARBRI Global).
Barrie provided insight into the foundations of international legal practice, and gave some solid advice to up and coming lawyers, including that the way to develop your international practice is significantly influenced by starting at the right firm. He recommended that African lawyers try to get secondments internationally, but that they just gain experience and make connections before returning home to make use of those networks, because Africa needs great lawyers.
He also reminded attendees that “the approach to law and approach to advice (between different countries) can be fundamentally different. You’ll need to work out a bit how their mentality and approach is different, and not give advice exactly the same way as you do at home to a local client.”
Panellists also explained what international legal practice looks like from their varying perspectives.
Gauntlett advised young lawyers, “Wherever you have the opportunity, get that qualification!” He also advocated for suitable vocational experience.
“It’s useful to get acquainted with a variety of sectors in which your clients subsist and operate; that’s critical for any practice and very much so for an international cross border practice, because the one common language that you can speak with clients is in relation to their industry,” continued Movshovich. “I think you should get all of the qualifications that you might need and all of the tools, but actually, it’s looking for opportunities in your sphere,” he commented. “The opportunities are very much there, and I think Africa-based clients in particular are yearning to brief Africa-based legal practitioners.”
Morrison highlighted that dual qualifications alone aren’t enough. “You’ve got to develop a level of bicultural competence; it’s not just about your legal knowledge in your home jurisdiction,” she commented, explaining that cultural awareness allows you to communicate with your clients on a one to one level.
The panel was asked what firms on the continent can do to ensure they’re getting the most out of their dual qualified lawyers and retaining their services, as opposed to investing in lawyers becoming dual qualified, and then experiencing an exodus. The consensus from the panel was that there’s very little you can do if people really want to go elsewhere, but that it is critical that African firms invest in their people and provide opportunities for their personal growth.
“I think it’s really important that African law firms continue to invest in the people … that there is proper supervision and that the people are properly rewarded,” said Barrie. “There are lots of things that African law firms can do to ensure that associates and candidate attorneys see an exciting future at their firms where they will get continuous career development so that they too can be leaders in their firms and their profession. Another weakness of many African law firms is that some just never make new partners and therefore, in order to become a partner, you have to set up on your own.”
Njeri practised abroad before returning to practise in her home jurisdiction. She highlighted that it’s not an easy task to get extra qualifications and contracts – especially when economics is a barrier – but it’s worthwhile.
For those thinking of undertaking a second qualification, Morrison suggests that they ensure they’ve got a good support structure and make informed decisions from the outset, rather than just following their instinct. “Start from where you want to be – your goal, your aspiration – and work your way back, because then your map always brings you to that point,” she said.
Barrie’s advice to young lawyers thinking of becoming dual qualified is very practical: “Work out what your home jurisdiction is and why you feel you would benefit from dual qualification. I have had a fantastic, wonderful, interesting legal career dealing with many, many countries in Africa and elsewhere in the world and I’ve dealt with many lawyers overseas – many brilliant people. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with and for the benefit of clients – and I’ve only ever had one qualification. In fact, I only have a Bachelor of Law qualification, but I’ve still had a very interesting career.”
Njeri agrees, saying understanding the reason why you want the qualification from the beginning is key, and then understanding the sacrifices that have to be made.
Asked about the advice he would give his younger self, Movshovich responded: “You just have to be cognisant of where you want to be going and what sorts of challenges and opportunities there are for your career – and if a dual qualification will assist in that journey. I think it will. If your career has meaning in your life, then there are certain things you need to do to further it, and if dual qualification is one of those, well, then that’s what you do.”
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