British and African law firms have a rich history of collaboration and shared learning says Andrew Skipper, head of Hogan Lovells Africa Practice. He spoke to James Mayer ahead of the UK-Africa Virtual Trade Mission this week.
In the medium and longer term, this collaboration will strengthen and display its resilience in the face of multiple obstacles. Brexit and Covid have created unique challenges alongside the backdrop of the African Union calling for a “new paradigm” for the continent alongside the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) being implemented. It is a very eventful time with marked progress.
This is the subject of the forthcoming panel session: “UK and Africa beyond Covid-19 – collaboration and partnership between UK and African legal professionals” at the first ever UK-Africa Virtual Trade Mission from December 1-3.
This groundbreaking online trade mission aims to solidify and deepen relationships between legal professionals in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and the UK and will be hosted by the UK Ministry of Justice and Department for International Trade. The wide-ranging event will touch on law-tech, dispute resolution, litigation, commercial law, intellectual property, data protection, energy, maritime law and more.
Andrew Skipper, the panel session chair, has been deeply involved for many years as a practitioner from a global law firm that is heavily integrated into African legal practice.
“First and foremost I am delighted that the UK’s Ministry of Justice has come together with the Department of International Trade (DIT) to participate with a range of key stakeholders from the UK and Africa in one of the first Virtual Trade Missions in the sector. On a personal level this combines my interests as head of the Africa Practice of leading global law firm Hogan Lovells with my more recent role as co-chair of the UK government’s Africa Investors Group,” he says.
To appreciate the possibilities of this collaboration between UK and African firms, context is key. There is an increasing and mutual interest in legal services across Africa which means this is an important time to be highlighting and facilitating relationships. The relationship between UK and African law firms has developed over recent years in line with growth of global business, client demand and an increased understanding from international firms as to what it takes to operate in emerging markets, Skipper says.
“A few years back there was the somewhat banal but challenging meme ‘Hoggers and Huggers’ to define these relationships. To an extent that existed but the market has definitely moved on. Not to say that all relationships are better, and that there are good and bad examples, but the situation is more complex. For example, clients want business firms to understand the local market and provide the best advice in that context, and there is generally a better understanding of the immense depth of legal expertise there is on the continent, particularly in certain key jurisdictions, and the trend to localisation has driven much more engagement.”
Engagement, especially during the pandemic, has been essential to further relationship building. The lack of travelling during the pandemic has helped this learning process by helping to foster a culture of regular engagement. “We have been holding weekly calls with senior partners…this has been a great opportunity for sharing not only what is going on in our respective countries, but also sharing knowledge and experience mutually,” Skipper says.
And, he adds, whatever structure these relationships between UK and African firms take, all should be underpinned by “mutual respect and benefit.” This means many things, but he cites the approach of Hogan Lovells which is based on four key pillars: seeking to understand, seeking to operate on the ground when possible, investing in relationships and respecting the continent, its culture, people and the firm’s colleagues.
Many of these benefits of UK and African firm collaboration are widely known: the use of English law, a shared language and, legal staff qualified in multiple jurisdictions. Yet beyond this, newer and stronger links are being forged between UK and African law firms with mutually beneficial outcomes. This is the theme of the keynote panel session, ‘UK and Africa beyond Covid-19 – collaboration and partnership between UK and African legal professionals’ at the upcoming UK-Africa Virtual Trade Mission from December 1-3.
The panel will offer an engaging discussion on issues including how firms from both regions, in the spirit of partnership and mutual learning, can provide better client service, efficiency of business operations and even better combined outcomes for the future.
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