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Bowmans Africa Law Firm Conference 2024: Key takeaways

21 May 2024
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Overview

  • The Bowmans Africa Law Firm Conference was held on 16 and 17 May 2024 in Nairobi, Kenya.
  • The theme was ‘Transformation of Legal Practice in Africa. Embracing Change, Innovation, Technology and Sustainability’. The agenda was designed to identify pressing macro-economic issues and discuss how to better address the resulting client needs.
  • The conference discussions underscored the profound changes reshaping the legal landscape in Africa. By embracing technology, understanding generational shifts, and committing to sustainability, law firms in Africa can ensure they are future-fit and capable of delivering exceptional value to clients.
  • This article provides some of the key takeaways.

Last week (16 and 17 May 2024) we hosted our second Bowmans Africa Law Firm Conference, in Kenya. Our objective with this signature event is to connect local counsel firms in pursuit of service excellence for clients investing and operating across Africa. 

The theme was ‘Transformation of Legal Practice in Africa. Embracing Change, Innovation, Technology and Sustainability’. The agenda was designed to identify pressing macro-economic issues and discuss how to better address the resulting client needs.

Here are some of the key takeaways.

Macro trends

Two of the most significant macro trends affecting businesses worldwide are AI/ technology change and adoption, and leading members of Gen Z who will be the majority of the workforce in Africa sooner than in developed markets, given Africa’s generally younger population demographics.

  • AI

AI is revolutionising all industries by automating ‘dull, dirty, and dangerous’ jobs. Critical roles that will remain will include ‘coaching, caring and creativity-focused tasks’. Law firms that will thrive will be those that focus on coaching, caring and creativity for clients.

AI is already affecting the following legal areas, some expected and some more interesting as a means for service differentiation. Differentiating AI to come may include AI that can predict legal outcomes, that can provide real differentiated client services and experiences based on client preferences, and AI that can predict judicial behaviour.

Africa’s development in the world of AI is different from global developments in that there is a greater need for investment in the physical infrastructure that supports AI; there is less Africa-specific legal data; and advancing AI in African languages needs more focus. What Africa does have is a young, vibrant, eager youth. We should be upskilling and reskilling our people in AI and advancing technology. 

The ‘Top Four’ favourite legal AI tools among the panellists were: Kira, ContractPod AI, Draftwise and LawGeeks.

  • Gen Z

Africa is set to have the youngest population globally, and Gen Z will soon comprise significant portions of its workforce. The Gen Z voice is extremely powerful and will continue to challenge organisations and law firms to think about new or different ways of attracting and retaining talent. 

Members of Gen Z expect a firm’s leadership to create a sense of purpose in the work and demonstrate social accountability. The focus must be on outcomes, not inputs. Gen Z tends to prioritise ‘gigs’ or a collection of experiences over traditional career vocations, and prefer flexible working arrangements. A healthy working environment is key – they will leave a toxic workplace.  Leadership needs to evolve to support the changes that must happen. Communication is important in building bridges to a common understanding.

ESG

Lawyers can add value to the ESG developing landscape by:

  • Being front and centre in risk management and developing and integrating ESG strategies.
  • Being an advocate of ESG – helping clients ensure that things are done correctly.
  • Advising on best practices – helping clients to plan for changing regulatory landscapes. 
  • Advocating for alignment among regulations and Regulators to create predictability.

AfCFTA

There will be challenges in the interface between national, regional and continental level regulations, and lawyers will need to be prepared to advise clients on the resulting issues. The expected number of international trade disputes is also an opportunity for partnerships and collaboration, including risk mitigation panels, councils and advisory teams.

Law firms of the future

Successful law firms of the future will focus on being technology-driven; will combine legal skills with other skill sets; will focus on providing higher value services and identifying new opportunities; will ensure that they enhance the client experience as a key differentiator; and will balance humanisation with digitisation.

Three seeds are needed to lead the transition: the seed of concerted, deliberate effort to grasp the change in technology and generational needs; the seed of courage to face the change of the next five to 10 years; and the seed that it will take the collective wisdom of the current leadership teams and others as a wise counsel to lead the change coming.

Conclusion

The conference discussions underscored the profound changes reshaping the legal landscape in Africa. By embracing technology, understanding generational shifts, and committing to sustainability, law firms in Africa can ensure they are future-fit and capable of delivering exceptional value to clients.

A note of thanks

This conference would not have been possible without the input and support of our friends and colleagues from across the continent. Thank you especially to Sunny Bindra for his insights as well as for facilitating the discussions. Thank you also to all the speakers panel members and participants.  

 

DAY ONE: Macro-economic trends

Day one opened with a welcome address titled ‘The transformation of law in Africa, leading through change’ presented by our chairman and senior partner, Ezra Davids. He reflected on the ongoing global turmoil compared with the relative stability in Africa, which puts us in an advantageous position. He highlighted the number of international law firms exploring opportunities in Africa as indicative of the potential for law firms on the continent and touched on the advantage that local law firms have in being on the ground. He stressed the need for African legal practitioners to remain relevant and ready themselves to take on future opportunities.

This was followed by our conference keynote speaker and facilitator Sunny Bindra’s session titled ‘Leading through change – Macro trends bringing significant change – Artificial Intelligence, Generation Z and more’.

Jibran Qureishi, the lead economist at Standard Bank, then conducted a session titled ‘Current and future macroeconomic pressure points in Africa’.

After lunch, there were two panel discussions. The first – moderated by our managing partner, Alan Keep, with Irvin Titus from Bowmans Namibia, Ozofu Olatunde Ogiemudia from Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie, Seth Asante from Bentsi-Enchill, Letsa & Ankomah and Sim Katende from Katende, Ssempebwa & Company – looked at the impact of macroeconomic pressures on law firm management and client engagement. The second panel – moderated by talent and Business Development partner, Tammy Beira, with partner, Cornelius Kigera, senior associate, James Pius, associate, Michelle Kariuki and Sunny Bindra – was titled ‘Navigating generational diversity – The evolution of our workforce and what the next generation might expect’.

The day ended with dinner and a fireside chat with Dr David Silverstein, a veteran cardiac specialist, who shared insights into his interactions with politicians and leaders across Africa during his distinguished career.

DAY TWO: The client perspective

Day two focused on client needs. Paras Shah, Bowmans’ managing partner in Kenya, gave an opening address titled ‘The importance of the client voice when leading through change’ to set the stage. This was followed by three panel discussions.

The first panel – moderated by partner, Christina Nduba-Banja, with our Client partner and head of Mining, Charles Young; Agnes Kariuki, manager of sustainability at Safaricom; Jacqueline Mgosh, principal: Local Content at Fortescue; Jesse Zigmund, general counsel at M-Kopa; and Juanita Mramba, head of Alcohol & Sustainability, East African Breweries – focused on how ESG is increasingly becoming a key issue for clients and how law firms can address it.

The second panel – moderated by our head of IP and Technology, John Syekei, with our head of Knowledge Management, Cathy Truter; Cliff Orango, MEA Partner Ecosystem and MEA Procurement lead lawyer at IBM; and Otilia Phiri, principal corporate counsel, Africa Regional Cluster, Microsoft – discussed AI and advancing technology and the impact they will have on the future of legal services delivery.

The third panel – moderated by Competition Law partner, Xolani Nyali, with senior consultant, Wang’ombe Kariuki; and Standard Bank executive and regional head of trade, Martin Azenga – discussed trends related to the African Continental Free Trade Area and the progression from rhetoric to implementation.