In recent years, a number of top international law firms have expanded their offerings into the African continent. Some have formed alliances with local firms while others have opened entirely new offices. The advantage of alliance over wholly new outfits lies with the experience that local firms have of the intricacies contained in respective local legal systems but both strategies have been implemented effectively by different firms.

Attractions to the continent

There are a variety of 'pull-factors' at play that, taken together, have created a strong attraction to the region for shrewd and innovative firms making a push into emerging markets.  These include large infrastructure projects attracting significant levels of foreign investment as well as the relaxing of local laws and regulations to allow foreign firms greater freedom to practise.

UK Trade and Investment recently calculated a projected spend of £28bn in South Africa for infrastructure and green energy projects. Here, the Legal Practice Bill, which has been in the pipeline for almost 15 years, appears to be gaining traction. When enacted, this legislation will further strengthen the appeal of South Africa to foreign firms as it looks to lift a ban on fee-sharing between foreign legal professionals and South African lawyers.

The appeal of Nigeria also continues to grow given the ever increasing middle-class in Africa’s most populous country together with an expanding appetite for banking services in capital markets and foreign investment. In recent years, the Nigerian Bar Association formed a committee which is looking into the liberalisation of the legal services market there. Whilst developments in the opening of this market are slow, it appears to be more a question of when, not if. According to Dr Babatunde Ajibade, the Managing Partner of SPA Ajibade & Co, a leading corporate and commercial firm in Nigeria, “Liberalisation is going to happen sooner or later. We are in a globalised world and we cannot ring-fence this jurisdiction for much longer.” A number of top international firms are already working in the country.

Comment

A map of South AfricaWith a host of international law firms having set up in Africa recently, it is clear that there is momentum for legal services in the African continent. That means there is also much potential for career opportunities in the region.

Moreover, there may also be good opportunities for UK-based lawyers who simply have a strong focus on African business or businesses with an association in the region. International firms are likely to take advantage of the increase in African-focused work without necessarily setting up in Africa or even allying with a local firm.

Nevertheless, it is likely that clients who are looking at entering the African markets will want their law firms to have an actual physical presence there; therefore, lawyers with a strong interest in Africa who are looking to spend time overseas will not be short of opportunities.