Lex Africa, the first and largest network of African law firms, is holding it’s annual general meeting in April 2012 in Maputo, Mozambique. I thought I would mention Lex Africa in case readers ever need assistance in Africa and want a referral to a reputable firm. I am also delighted to be attending the AGM as I happen to have started the network nearly 20 years ago, back in 1993, at the time with a modest four countries.
Lex Africa provides some unique characteristics for investors or clients requiring legal assistance in Africa – one access point to over 500 lawyers through 54 member firms in 30 African countries through a long-standing, trusted brand. Member firms are carefully chosen and operate according to a Code of Conduct.
Why did we establish Lex Africa back in 1993?
- at the time we started the network, South Africa, as some may recall, was experiencing international trade and sporting sanctions, +20% interest rates and +20% inflation rates, coupled with a weakening currency. It simply seemed to make good business and strategic sense to try to develop liaison and joint efforts with fellow practitioners in nearby countries.
- about then we also noticed that some large legal transactions in Africa, mainly involving large capital investment and infrastructure developments, were ‘following the capital’ and being done off-shore. Part of our vision at the time was therefore to build a respected group of top quality firms in as many African nations as possible, to present an alternative to overseas law firms. To do this it was equally important to build and develop relations with our African colleagues.
What were the initial objectives and guidelines?
- to keep things simple;
- to identify who we felt were the leading firms in each jurisdiction and invite them to join Lex Africa;
- to offer to undertake all management of the network gratis from our firm, Werksmans, in Johannesburg;
- to keep membership fees and expenses very low or non-existent;
- to ensure firms were never obliged, but obviously had the option, to use member firms in a particular country. The key principle was that client interests came first.
Member countries now include Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote d’ Ivoire (Ivory Coast), DRC, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. An impressive grouping, after our humble beginnings of only four countries!
Lex Africa has come a long way since those early 1990’s beginnings:
- Lex Africa publishes and annually updates a Guide to Doing Business in Africa (available here).
- It operates according to a published Code of Conduct;
- In the broader context of the African Renaissance and NEPAD, Lex Africa lawyers have a role to play in promoting the rule of law and democracy, as well as the harmonisation of business laws between African countries to facilitate trade and investment.
- it publishes some useful articles and interviews; (for more information see the main website).
All the best, Sean Larkan, Edge International