A three-month secondment to Templars law firm in Lagos in 2016 was an experience that added new depth to Joe Slovo Tia’s career. The Ghanaian lawyer, a senior associate at Lithur Brew & Company in Accra, says it expanded his network beyond his home country and given him insight into how lawyers operate in West Africa.
Tibane Mpahlwa, a lawyer from South Africa, said he had a similar experience when he was placed in the banking and finance team of Fasken Martineau in London.
“I was proud that, as a South African trained lawyer, I was able to hit the ground running at a global firm without any skills and knowledge deficit.…the experience was great, worth all the ‘professional while’ and immeasurable for my growth.”
Both lawyers were part of a legal secondment programme organised by International Lawyers for Africa, or ILFA. The difference between their experiences was that Slovo was part of the Intra-Africa Secondment Programme or IASP (started in 2016 and poised to launch in South Africa in 2019) while Mpahlwa was on the international programme that places lawyers in London, Paris, Lisbon or Dubai. (In Africa these are in Lagos, Nairobi, Johannesburg and Cairo)
Cynthia Lareine, ILFA’s executive director, said the African programme recognised the increasing sophistication of law firms on the continent.
“The reality is that ‘secondees’ do not need to travel to Europe and the Middle East to receive high quality legal training. There are many centres of legal excellence on the continent including in Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya (to name a few),” she said.
Hogan Lovells in London was one of the original firms to support the ILFA programme when it started over decade was. For Alison Diara, Hogan Lovells Africa Network Manager, the experience has been invaluable for secondees and the firm which continues to expand across Africa.
“Their presence with us enables our lawyers to view things from another perspective and gain a deeper understanding of Africa and the challenges faced by lawyers on the ground.”
She said the lawyers built relationships which often created business opportunities.
“We have stayed in close contact with most of our former secondees, which has proved invaluable for cross-referrals and knowledge sharing.”
Heike Trischmann, Of Counsel for Watson Farley & Williams (WFW) in London, and a long-time supporter of the programme, said the firm had been involved since 2011 and had seen through seven candidates so far.
“The secondees start their networking experience, quite naturally, with each other during the programme which, in my experience, almost takes on a life of its own. For example, after his return from London, our 2017 secondee left his previous law firm and set up, with another previous ILFA secondee from the same country, a local branch of a now pan-African law firm that originated in Ghana. I think it is exciting to see how former secondees take their lives into their own hands and don’t just wait for opportunities to be presented to them (which may, of course, never happen).”
An experience that had stayed with Trischmann, and which was instrumental in WFW becoming involved with the programme, was the ILFA Gala Dinner at the end of the programme in November 2010 which she attended with a colleague. (The ILFA gala dinner for 2018 takes place on November 29 at the Law Society in London.)
“We loved the energy that radiated from the secondees and filled the sacred halls of the Law Society. Both he and I recognised the potential for development which the programme represented for the participating lawyers but also for WFW and, as they say, the rest is history.”
Lareine explained that, at the heart of the programme, were the development of intra-Africa networks. “Through conferences, shared accommodation, networking receptions, meetings, and seminars secondees expand their perspectives on their work, the legal industry and on global issues facing Africa,” she says.
This ability to engage with one another, as well as with colleagues at work placements and during legal professional events are key components of the enrichment experience and ensures ILFA delivers both technical and professional development training to its lawyers, Lareine said.
She added that the West African programme was launched in Lagos in 2016 with six Nigerian firms hosting lawyers from other West African countries.
“The IASP means African lawyers visit other African countries and can benchmark what exists in other regions where people have similar challenges and opportunities.
“The sense of community forged during these group secondments ensures the development a robust network of like-minded, specialised business lawyers across Africa,” Lareine said.
Slovo says his time at Templars in Lagos opened his eyes to the high level of legal skill in West Africa and Nigeria especially. “I have a strong network now and there are people at Templars who remain mentors to me.”
Mpahlwa came home from London and opened his own practice. “The ILFA experience certainly served as impetus to my resolve to start my own practice. The autonomy I was given to operate independently not only enhanced my skills and knowledge further but also affirmed my own confidence to operate and organise at higher levels.”
Lareine said the programme means young lawyers are exposed to best practice standards gaining valuable experience in a variety of fields that enhance their legal skill and knowledge.
“By living and working alongside lawyers from other African nations and by networking with leaders in the field they have a unique opportunity to develop strong international and intra Africa relationships at a fairly early stage in their career.”
Also, she believes that by “coming away from the known” and being thrown in at the deep end, lawyers gain real perspective about being a leading legal practitioner.
“The world is increasingly global and African lawyers need to think outside the box and beyond the borders of their home jurisdiction.
“The ultimate result is that following the programme, ILFA lawyers are better equipped to operate and compete at an international level.”
*Thank-you to Cynthia Lareine, ILFA’s executive director, for providing indepth information for this article.
Are you, a young lawyer, interested in applying for the ILFA secondment programme? Cynthia Lareine gives a summary of what ILFA is looking for in a secondee