LEX AFRICA, widely regarded as Africa’s leading, and certainly its largest, law firm network, celebrates its 20th anniversary at a time when there is unprecedented interest in Africa and attention from foreign investors and businesses. From humble but determined beginnings in 1993 with just five founding firms, LEX AFRICA has grown steadily to now number 29 country members. Recently Boussayene Knani & Houerbi of Tunisia joined this vibrant network.

As Nigel Shaw of founding firm Kaplan & Stratton in Kenya told me recently growth for this leading African legal network has not been a numbers game; it has been all about quality. : ‘. . . . in time, building on our founding principles, I would like to see us have a network that covers the whole of Africa and still with firms of lawyers who are considered to be the very best in their jurisdictions’. LEX AFRICA has long recognised that doing business and undertaking legal matters in Africa presents some special challenges. As a result, one of the key founding principles for the network was to only admit as members leading law firms from strategically important African countries – this underlying principle has built a strong foundation of quality to ensure clients referred to any member will be in good hands. This provides comfort to both the referrer and clients.

There has been an increasing interest in and focus on Africa in recent years not least of all due to the location of the SKA (single kilometre array) satellite station on the continent. Member firm Werksmans played a pivotal role in SKA project and it is anticipated member firms will continue to provide support to it.

I chatted to a few long-standing members and include some of their thoughts below but need to declare my interest – while managing partner of Werksmans back in 1993 we founded the network so I have remained keenly interested in its phenomenal growth and evolution over the past 20 years. I was chuffed to attend the AGM in 2012 in Maputo and be part of the 20th anniversary celebrations recently in Cape Town RSA. What struck me when I met many of the members at the Maputo meeting was how well they seemed to know one another. Clearly, regular personal contact and the building of relationships over many years seems to have built trust and respect and ensured active communication amongst members. It appears to have stood LEX AFRICA in good stead.

  1. I asked Osayaba Giwa-Osagie of Nigeria what initially attracted him to the LEX AFRICA network and what has kept his firm so active and committed since then?

As the Senior Partner in Giwa Osagie & Co, it was my responsibility to attract new clients to the firm and also to expand the firm. Many years ago I met Charles Butler, CEO of Werksmans and we struck up a good relationship after we had some good dealings with each other. We joined because we wanted to belong to a reputable network with a strong brand that would provide comfort to anyone who dealt with us. In turn we were comfortable knowing we had to earn our keep and produce quality legal services.

  1. What do you find most powerful/valuable about your membership? What do you like best?

I like the fact that I belong to the oldest network in Africa. A network where the partners in member firms are reputable. They meet their financial obligations to the network and the professional standards within the network are very high and are monitored by a well-organised management structure.

  1. What are your thoughts/aspirations about the future for LEX AFRICA?

    LEX AFRICA is well positioned to provide advice to anyone seeking assistance in relation to investing or doing business anywhere in Africa. The best place to start is the annually updated LEX AFRICA Business Guide which can be downloaded from the website.

I believe we will increase the number of members to over 30 member countries. I believe we will place more emphasis on specialisation and high level work being produced by member firms for clients. We will continue to be a good entry point for international companies or professional service firms that require a reliable network of reputable, experienced lawyers across the whole of Africa.

My aspiration for the future is that the network goes from strength to strength and as we celebrate the 20th Aniversary of LEX AFRICA, it shows once again that LEX Africa is the predominant legal network in Africa.

  1. What do you find are the most useful features of the network from a client’s or user’s perspective?

If someone accesses one member firm of LEX AFRICA, through that firm, he or she can reach all other member firms on the network. Through that one member firm, someone can reach the whole of Africa. They can also have comfort that professional and ethical standards are paramount for member firms – LEX AFRICA has a strict code of conduct and guiding principles for all its members. 

LEX AFRICA will shortly launch its dedicated blog site LAWYERS for AFRICA through which it aims to share interesting information and build even stronger relationships with the African and international business and legal communities. LLB will provide more information on this shortly.

Rob Cloete (robcloete@triplec.co.szof Cloete Henwood Swaziland, another founder member, made these observations:

At the time we started talking about LEX AFRICA all those years ago, we had no idea it would grow to what it is today. At the time I think we envisaged some collaboration between some Southern African firms on a regional basis and other than Kaplan and Stratton in Kenya, that was indeed the make-up of members.

Having leading firm Werksmans as the big brother was what probably gave us most encouragement at the time.

I like the way the LEX AFRICA brand strategy has evolved – the high standards set for all members gives all members confidence as a group and ultimately that translates to comfort by clients who are looking  for legal expertise and support anywhere in Africa.

The organization is definitely exciting for the younger generation of lawyers who are taking it to heights and a position of strength we never dreamed of. The real challenge will be to maintain standards and discipline, especially as we grow and now have the whole continent covered. I feel confident that this is in good hands! 

Exciting times ahead for LEX AFRICA!  Legal Leaders Blog (LLB) extends its congratulations and best wishes for the next 20 years and beyond.

Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International – leading the evolution of the global legal industry