In our modern, fast-changing world, in-house counsel who want to be valuable and successful need to provide solutions, not just legal opinions, and look to be leaders as well as lawyers, says general counsel Samallie Kiyingi.
“I think having that muscle where you’re thinking ‘How can I provide a solution?’ as opposed to just legal research and options, is critical to the success we’ve had as a team,” said Kiyingi, who won General Counsel of the Year at the 2022 African Legal Awards. “It is also important to give people the opportunity to grow, because the idea is, yes, we’re a team of lawyers, but I also want my team to be a team of leaders.”
Now Director of Legal Services and General Counsel at African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Kiyingi spent 15 years in structured finance and banking for elite law firms, global banks and investment firms in Sydney and London before moving to Cairo in 2017.
While Kiyingi notes that her technical legal skills are a strong, vital foundation for her and her team – “my job is to stay on top of things on behalf of the business” – she says people skills, team development, proactivity and a problem-solving mindset are key for in-house lawyers.
“It’s how you use those technical skills,” Kiyingi clarified, saying when she’s looking to contribute to organisational success, she asks: “How can I be a problem solver and a thought leader? How can I future-proof my organisation? And, to the extent I can, I try my best to look around corners – to see what might be coming and make proposals in that sense.”
Since joining Afreximbank, Kiyingi has been part of many innovative products and projects, including helping to establish the bank’s first subsidiary – a private equity platform to better serve clients who came to the bank looking for debt but whose structure really needed equity. She and her team also try to address specific concerns relating to Africa, such as the under-investment in manufacturing which is critical for increasing export earnings.
“In terms of being general counsel, much of my value-add has been the innovation and problem-solving that I have brought to the various new initiatives that the bank has had and continues to have.”
In recent years for Afreximbank, that’s involved dealing with the global pandemic and its numerous flow-on effects in addition to the usual banking and finance risks and challenges.
Kiyingi worked on the establishment and structuring of the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust which secured over 200 million vaccines for the continent, and chairs Afreximbank’s efforts to transition away from the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), a massive change now underway for the global sector.
“What I took away from law school was how to structure my thoughts, how to be strategic and how to structure problem solving,” Kiyingi commented. “I think it’s a skill lawyers perhaps underplay or forget, because maybe you take it for granted. But I think it’s so critical, this idea of being proactive rather than reactive, and looking at things from a problem-solving mindset.”
Deadline for submissions for the 2023 African Legal Awards is 5 May 2023, with the winners being announced at the awards ceremony on 1 September 2023 in Johannesburg. Click here to apply.
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