Bernard is an alumni of the University of Dundee in Scotland and the Harvard Executive Programme. Mentorship is an issue close to his heart and in this conversation with Africa Legal’s Tom Pearson he speaks about his role with the Beacon Scholarship Programme.
The East Africa Law Society, which represents bar associations across the region - including South Sudan, Burundi and Rwanda - has 19 000 members of which more than 70% are young lawyers. With the ratio between senior and junior lawyers so big, one-to-one mentorship is impossible, says Bernard. For this reason the Society has turned to technology and once a month hosts a virtual meeting with guest speakers and senior lawyers aimed at young lawyers. The intention is to build capacity and develop professional practice across the region.
Bernard then delves into the challenges that are emerging for the profession as the millennial generation joins the workforce. They are impatient yet agile, he says, and intolerant of old structures which demand eight to 13 years of junior roles before their careers take off.
“We need to devolve a system that strikes a balance between the need to acquire experience and the need to fast track our highly talented millennials coming through the system,” he says.
A solution lay with supporting universities to review their law degree programmes.
“If you take a sample of universities in Uganda and Kenya - across the East Africa region - you would not easily find a module on project finance, for instance. Yet this is so necessary for work related to infrastructure, mining and oil and gas.”
The conversation then turns to Bernard’s area of practice. He explains how ten years ago he made the move to specialise in project finance and oil and gas. It is a decision that has paid big dividends as it has enabled him to bring in business from across the region. It is this kind of focus that young lawyers need to consider when developing their careers as improved and high level capacity played a part in developing all parts of the regional economy.
Later in the conversation Bernard and Tom touch on how the legal profession can support the rule of law and good governance and how this “knocks on” in terms of encouraging investment confidence and generating more work and so building the profession.
Rule of law impacts on a country’s risk profile and ultimately on the cost of doing business, Bernard says, and there is an important role for bar associations to play in challenging violations.
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