Seeing Bowmans scoop more 2021 African Legal Awards than any other firm gave staff and partners a sense of pride and vindication of their “one firm” approach and their hard work during a difficult couple of years, Davids said.
“There’s an element of vindication without being complacent, as we know things can change very rapidly,” commented Davids, an M&A expert who succeeded Robert Legh at the helm of Bowmans, a pan-African firm where Legh spent 35 years before passing away unexpectedly in July. The firm suffered another bereavement in October when Kenyan senior partner Evans Monari died.
“These were incredible people who meant a lot to Bowmans and helped define the nature of this institution,” Davids said. “So, within the context of all of that, to have this broad recognition definitely means a hell of a lot to people.”
Bowmans won Team of the Year in four categories: Capital Markets, Environmental and Renewables, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Restructuring. The firm also scooped Crisis Management Initiative of the Year for its efforts to recover more than ZAR1.1 billion (approx US$69 million) lost through suspect contracts during South Africa’s period of state capture. Legh was posthumously honoured with the inaugural Excellence in Leadership award.
While the accolades are appreciated, said Davids, the firm knows that to stay on top of their game they must continuously look to improve the way they go about doing business.
“This is a highly competitive environment,” he commented. “The challenge for us is to always be forward-looking and say okay: what will be the next challenges with which we’ll be confronted, what will the environment within which we are practising look like?”
Key challenges that African law firms must navigate include people and technology.
“We are in the midst of a major global war for talent,” Davids remarked, noting the exodus of skilled associates leaving the continent to join major firms in the financial capitals of the world, or leaving the law altogether.
While the answer is still being written as to how African firms fill that talent gap, Davids believes one key is for firms to look for ways to ensure their lawyers have more meaningful and wholesome experiences that encourage them to continue practising law on the continent.
Davids explained that the pandemic has taught Bowmans that technology is now at the centre of what lawyers do. He believes those who invested in technology will have come out stronger, and in future technology will become even more vital, particularly for leading firms like Bowmans that advise a wide variety of clients across many sectors and jurisdictions.
“It’s absolutely essential to invest in technology, and continuously explore how the use of technology can enhance our service to our clients and also provide our own people with a much more meaningful and satisfactory experience as providers of legal services,” he said.
Davids also noted that the environment in which clients are operating is very challenging and rapidly changing, and legal advisors must adjust and adapt to those changing circumstances.
But while the challenges are plentiful, Davids and his Bowmans colleagues are invigorated by the many opportunities across Africa for those looking to invest in a positive future.
“I love this firm, and I think I’m surrounded by the most talented lawyers on the continent. It’s a privilege to lead this group of people,” he said. “We’re proudly African and we’re on a quest of demonstrating to the rest of the world that African institutions can produce world-class outcomes. And I think our better days still lie ahead of us.”
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