Pipelining essential to develop African markets says legal think tank

21 Feb, 2013

Six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries are African, and firms that are serious about building a solid presence within these markets need to develop solid talent pipelines to ensure that this growth is sustainable. That’s the view of a recent think tank: The African Dream – made up of senior General Counsel and private practice practitioners – organised by DMJ Recruitment and BDO LLP

 

The think tank found that the success of western law firms in the region depends on their ability to balance an in-depth understanding of the local environment with the technical expertise that British trained lawyers can offer.

Karel Daele, Arbitration Partner at Mishcon De Reya and Africa specialist, spent six years working in Africa. He says, ‘Let’s not underestimate the difficulties. There is a fear that markets will be flooded with ex-pats. Ex-pats often get higher pay than local lawyers and some independent law firms don’t like it.’

 

The opportunities that exist in Africa are appealing – the chance to work on an exciting variety of deals, rise through the ranks quickly, and the associated financial reward. But the think tank warned that is essential that legal professionals relocating overseas have the knowledge and expertise to effectively work alongside and train local talent. As Daele emphasises, success in Africa depends on striking a balance between the skills that both local and expatriate associates can offer, ‘contracts, for example, we can do – but you don’t necessarily send the ex-pat to court’.         

 

According to Mark Kenderdine-Davies, General Counsel at CDC Group, many firms are also ‘bringing lawyers home’ – that is, African nationals who trained in the UK are moving back to their country of origin to practice. Nigerian born Dayo Okusami, General Counsel at Atlantic Energy, studied in Nigeria and London and now works in Lagos. He agrees that it is easier for UK qualified professionals to work in a country that they already have ties with and that we should recognise the limitations that exist to qualifying in new jurisdictions.

 

However, Justin Kopelowitz (pictured), Director at DMJ Recruitment, warns that any firm looking to develop a sustainable presence in key emerging African markets will need to look closely at the staffing challenges involved. ‘I can see that there will continue to be a major role for expats in countries within Africa, but not necessarily that traditional one. The sort of Western lawyers that will be most in demand in coming years will be those who can mentor and develop local talent rather than just be supported by it.’

 

‘Firms are also likely to find themselves in a mad scramble for the best local talent, and particularly for indigenous lawyers, who have trained in the UK but are open to returning home. And this scramble will be generated by the fact that there are simply not enough of the right people to go round.  Consequently, any firm that is serious about Africa needs to follow the example of the most forward thinking corporations and start pipelining talent for the future. The mining group, Rio Tinto, for example, faced a huge staffing challenge when it took on a major project in Mongolia and has been addressing it through a programme which trains young Mongolians in Western universities for jobs which don’t even exist yet. Perhaps Western law firms need to follow this sort of radical thinking and start lining up the sort of people they will need, not just next week, but several years down the line.’

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