Capacity for hope
Joshua Siaw, a White & Case partner whose practice focuses on Africa, discusses the role global law firms can play in helping African lawyers deal with the challenges posed by the increasing pace of economic development.
How is the economic landscape in Africa changing?
JS: Africa has become the fastest-growing continent in the world economically. This transformation has taken place in a very short time due to the decline in armed conflict, improvements in healthcare and education, increased foreign investment and more effective aid programs, just to name a few of many factors. The recent discovery of large concentrations of natural resources has also been important in several countries. Discoveries in Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda are changing the face of these economies and presenting new opportunities for increased foreign investment.
With so few lawyers in Africa, they tend to be generalists. African lawyers, both in private practice and government, need to develop the necessary knowledge and skills to face these economic changes in the long term.
Joshua Siaw, Partner, Banking
I am very optimistic about Africa's future and its long-term potential and prospects for growth.
What challenges do local lawyers in Africa face in handling the increasing pace of economic development?
JS: With this economic transformation, the need for local legal expertise is greater than ever. For example, when Ghana first discovered large reserves of oil and gas, not a single lawyer in the entire country specialized in this area. Also, with so few lawyers in Africa, they tend to be generalists, practicing in many different areas rather than developing a focused expertise. African lawyers, both in private practice and government, need to develop the necessary knowledge and skills to face these economic changes in the long term.
What role can global law firms play in meeting these needs?
JS: The most important way a global law firm like ours can help is to share our skills and knowledge. We do this by bringing our lawyers to Africa and also by bringing African lawyers to us. For example, we provide training on corporate skills in South Africa, financial best practices in Nigeria, natural resources in Mozambique and loans and investment in Ghana. We also bring African lawyers to our London office as part of an International Lawyers for Africa program, which organizes three-month secondments for African lawyers in international law firms. We have been involved with this program for five years and hosted lawyers from Botswana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tunisia and Uganda.
The economic transformation is in the early stages, and at this point there are no funds to pay for this skills training. Law firms must be willing to invest in Africa and provide this training on a pro bono basis.
What is the best way for law firms to go about developing and delivering effective training?
JS: Developing relationships with governments and local law firms enables us to work together to explore opportunities and develop ongoing programs. Take our work in Ghana, for instance. Working with the government, we have created a list of 20 to 30 topics for training seminars. We are in the process of developing programs and a timeline for delivering this training. It is really about knowing our clients and responding to their needs.