Creating a structure that offered agility and the ability to respond rapidly and effectively to client needs was a driving force for two leading South African mining and infrastructure lawyers to establish boutique practice Beech Veltman Inc (BVI) during the pandemic.
“Our mantra of ‘Relevant, Responsive, Practical’ has been in development for many years; we’ve applied it in some form in all the previous firms we worked at, but we formalised it more when we started BVI,” says Warren Beech, who has spent the previous decade as head of mining and infrastructure in large South African and international law firms.
The pandemic created many difficulties for mining, natural resources, and infrastructure clients, crystallising the importance of greater efficiency, responsiveness, and flexibility from legal advisors. Those client needs prompted Beech and Nicholas Veltman, along with some colleagues, to leave global firm Eversheds Sutherland to establish their boutique practice.
“We have been able to adopt our ‘Relevant, Responsive, Practical’ mantra, and it really works for us because of the work we do which is a lot of crisis management work,” says Veltman, who, like Beech, has strong roots in the mining sector from before his time as a lawyer.
“Whether it’s a gas power plant that’s exploded, a mine that’s collapsed, or Covid has hit and companies need to restructure, we need to understand what our clients are going through in that particular crisis, and the responsiveness element speaks for itself,” says Veltman. “When a client phones you and there’s been a crisis, a 20-page opinion is not going to get them there. They want advice that is practical, taking into account that situation.”
Beech and Veltman established BVI with a small, expert team with strong experience in mining, natural resources, and infrastructure law. It’s a sector that means a lot to the founders. Veltman was born on a coal mine and grew up among miners. Beech worked underground at a gold mine while studying law and, as a nascent lawyer doing his articles, he was shoulder-tapped to brief partners and colleagues on the practicalities of the industry.
“We always want to be relevant to our clients; we know what’s going on with them and their industries at all times, through various means,” says Beech. “We work very closely with the regulators; we anticipate policy changes. We spend a lot of time with our clients, and we understand what is changing in their environment.”
An example of Beech’s deep expertise in the mining industry was illustrated at a conference in Perth before the pandemic. Beech was in the audience while an expert on crisis management spoke. The speaker had worked on two major, critical incidents at mines.
“At that stage I’d already done over two thousand,” says Beech. “Nick’s done many too, over the years. The practicality that comes from that experience and exposure is what really helps clients when they’re in crisis mode and they need us to hold their hand through it.”
Beech and Veltman note three key trends they’ve witnessed recently in the mining and energy industry in Africa: the investors involved are changing as the risk appetite is changing; environmental compliance and ESG principles are becoming “a massive, massive issue”; and health and safety concerns and aging infrastructure are having a knock-on effect.
The need for excellent, practical legal advice is high, as companies navigate these times.
With the future so uncertain, given the pandemic, BVI are leaning into their mantra. “Relevant, Responsive, Practical is the most important thing for our short-term planning,” says Beech. “To continue doing what we do well, and making sure our clients are happy.”
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