James Oxley, Corporate and Commercial Legal Director for the London firm Harold Benjamin Solicitors, says the time is now for connections to be made and relationships established between African and UK-based lawyers.
This is because the changing nature of Britain’s international profile means African countries will play a far bigger role in its trade relationships in future years. Early in 2020 London hosted the UK-Africa Investment Summit as part of its desire to forge stronger economic ties with a continent that has eight of the world’s 15 fastest growing economies.
A substantial part of James’ work involves cross border commercial transactions which, up until now, have been mainly focussed on the European, Middle Eastern and North American markets.
However, a recent transaction involved the sale of an insurance broking company with a subsidiary in India.
“It was a deal with a lot of moving parts and required co-ordination with Indian lawyers,” he says.
“We are also beginning to see more interest from African brands looking for opportunities to expand into the UK and Europe, the most recent being a Moroccan business looking to set up a flagship store in London.”
“Much of our work is assisting international investors and businesses setting up their operations in the UK, often through the use of a subsidiary company. We do the full legal package from setting up companies, assisting with entering into leases or buying a property, employment contracts, protecting intellectual property, international supply agreements and other commercial agreements - everything around establishing and running a business,” he says. “We also have a strong network of contacts such as property agents and tax advisers so we can make the right introductions if required.”
While the UK’s investment relationship with African countries has tended to be one way – with British investors looking to the emerging and highly profitable African markets, James believes this relationship, with the right legal support, can be very successful and lucrative in the other direction too.
“African investors and businesses can and should be looking at the UK. London remains one of the world’s major commercial centres and, with the UK leaving the European Union, there are enormous opportunities for African trade. Having flagship premises in the UK can introduce the international market to a brand that they might not know yet.”
On a personal note, James, whose father served in the British army, grew up in Scotland and various overseas postings. Two uncles and his grandfather on his mother’s side of the family were all lawyers in Ireland and it was in their footsteps that he followed.
“I was either going to join the army or become a lawyer,” he laughs. He completed his undergraduate degree in politics and psychology at Loughborough University in Leicestershire and then attended the College of Law in Guildford before qualifying as a solicitor in 2000.
Now, as the legal director of corporate and commercial at Harold Benjamin, his focus is very much on advising a wide variety of businesses on their corporate and commercial needs.
“It is not just the initial advice that businesses need when they first set up operations in the UK, there are a lot of areas that need legal support such as support with filings at Companies House, the body where companies incorporated in England and Wales are required to file documents both annually and ad hoc, intellectual property protection, confidentiality, terms and conditions of trading, and data protection legislation.”
“At Harold Benjamin we would love to see more African clients coming into the UK. If you are African lawyer, with clients who are thinking along these lines, and you have a quiet five minutes, please pick up the phone and give me a ring. I would welcome the contact and love to chat!”
James can be reached on +44 (0) 20 3096 0825 or email here
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