Events such as the recent forum created by GREAT Legal Services at the UK Ministry of Justice, in partnership with Africa Legal, offer plenty of potential for lesson sharing, as well as work referral. Leading cross-border lawyer Howard Barrie says the event connecting African and British legal specialists was hugely valuable for building relationships, sharing lessons, and staying atop of new developments in legal practice.
The Senior Partner of Nigerian law firm Olaniwun Ajayi’s new London office, Barrie was part of the Ministry of Justice-supported UK delegation to Johannesburg.
“A highlight for me was getting to chat with people I wouldn’t have otherwise met, from all over the African continent,” Barrie said. “Apart from being very interesting to know what work they’re getting up to, it’s an important part of effectively building relations – understanding what the strengths, weaknesses, and focuses are of different firms.”
The three days of events in early September traversed open conversations on the working relationship between African and UK law firms, a trade reception exploring partnerships and mutual opportunities for international business, and the African Legal Awards. Barrie was part of a “Law at an International Level” panel looking at the benefits of practising law at an international scale, with Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr partner Njeri Wagacha, Jeremy Gauntlett SC, Webber Wentzel partner Vlad Movshovich, and BARBRI Global’s Monique Morrison.
“For our firm, it was very useful for our London office and Nigerian offices; there are ways firms can not only work on transactions together, but also share solutions and approaches, thinking about the future,” explained Barrie. “Law is not only technical red letter, but also how you can structure transactions in a way that facilitates transactions and make sure that ultimately deals are better and more resilient for the parties concerned.”
Barrie pointed to discussions around new legal technologies as being particularly useful. “The legal profession and how it’s delivering services is developing at a reasonably fast pace for a very conservative profession,” he commented. “All the meetings enabled me to meet new African lawyers and also get an understanding of what’s happening in legal tech. It gave me an opportunity to have a chat about how those legal tech providers or alternative legal services providers are delivering services and think about how it might be relevant to our firm.”
After decades at international firms advising governments, multilateral institutions, project developers and banks on many large projects in more than 16 African countries, Barrie said it was “an exciting prospect” to be part of establishing a London office of an African firm.
“What I see very much is that major African law firms are in a state of evolution,” he said, noting the shift over the years from African firms being “referral institutions” providing legal opinions and local advice to international firms – a “slightly colonial approach” – to a partnership model with more parity, where African firms have developed great networks, spread knowledge, and act as a magnet for work. “What Olaniwun Ajayi has done is taken that market model one step forward in its state of evolution.”
To join Africa Legal's mailing list please click here