Discuss practicing law in Africa with AB and David, the only African law firm with Lexcel accreditation
Interview with David Ofosu-Dorte, Senior Partner at AB and David
What is AB and David Law’s main focus and what sets you apart?
We are a business law firm, and we serve clients in several jurisdictions in Africa. What differentiates us is first and foremost the fact that we are pan-African. Few law firms on this continent are pan-African. The other factor is that we focus entirely on the corporate sector and business-related transactions. We advise governments as well as the private sector. Essentially, we cover the full spectrum of activities. And perhaps most importantly, our lawyers are very business-minded and focused on providing not only legalese, but also business benefits to the clients they represent. We go beyond the law to review the business aspects of transactions and deliver full value to our clients.
Because we cover the full spectrum of business, we have grouped it into separate practice areas and within these are different industries. One group is infrastructure and PPP (public-private partnership) projects, another group is energy, which also combines oil and gas. We have dispute resolution which generally focuses on commercial disputes, and a corporate and finance group which deals with transactions from all angles of finance. We are also perhaps the only law firm that has a special practice that deals with government affairs and policy reform. This mainly focuses on government efforts to reform parts of the private sector to help it improve, or when private companies want to profit from some kind of government activity in one form or another. For example, we have industries that interact with the agri-food sector and we deal with rapidly changing consumer groups. We are very active in finance and venture capital and mergers and acquisitions (M&A), as well as infrastructure and project development, and our lawyers specialize in all of these categories.
What is your international reach?
We are spread across 30 countries in Africa at different levels. The first level is where we have our own registered and independent offices in each country. All fall under the great umbrella of the AB group and David Africa. It includes Mauritius, GhanaZambia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. It is in these countries that we can serve our customers directly. Below this level we have a group of affiliated businesses in places such as Kenya, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cameroon. Then, we have a network of “best friends” companies with whom we work regularly. We know them very well, so when we refer a client to them, we know they will provide excellent service.
What is your assessment of the sectors in which you work in Ghana in terms of evolution? What are the latest news ?
When I look at sectors, I look at them from two angles. First, and most importantly, are they industries our customers are in? And then I look at the legal and professional services sector. An example is the rapidly changing consumer groups in the agricultural sector. It’s valued at US$35 billion a year, increasing to about $110 billion by 2025. And the added value of agriculture, in terms of manufacturing, is increasing by about a trillion dollars and that trickles down on projects and funding in many areas. If you take oil and gas as an example, you see the idea of going green and how day-to-day transitions affect M&A acquisitions and things like that. Due to Africa’s increasing integration, there is growth, but with challenges. If you look at professional services and the legal sector together, there is growth, but it’s not commensurate with the growth of the industry. So there is a proliferation of professional services firms that are small enough to be able to manufacture something to survive and support themselves, but none are growing big enough to be able to match the size of the economy we propose to create. as a continent. . That’s the dichotomy that I see happening and that’s driving some of the things that we’re trying to do to make sure that we can help fill that gap, but more importantly, to help clients be able to invest in multiple African countries.
How does your company deal with competition from international companies?
The market is based on two things. The first is the assumption that global law firms have branches in Africa, which is not exactly the case. Many of them are settled in just two main countries in Africa – South Africa and Morocco. Africa consists of 54 or 55 countries, depending on who is counting and whether you want to count Western Sahara or not. It is therefore impossible for a global law firm to be present in all of them. Second, there is the assumption that all investment comes from outside of Africa because the people who hire global law firms are likely to be located outside of Africa. They talk to someone in London or New York or Paris and then refer them to Africa. You see that most of these law firms themselves need us because they want someone on the ground and they don’t want to have to come into contact with 50 law firms in different countries . Thus, we give an advantage to all their clients and to the law firms themselves. The third and more important point is that there is a void that no one is filling. There are investments on the ground in Africa and they are not driven by investors asking lawyers in Europe or North America to come. They train lawyers here. Even though there is an increasing number of referrals we give to lawyers in the UK, Paris and the US, we do so because a business originating here may need funding from those places. . We are a regular source of referrals to them, so our offer is quite unique.
How do you establish partnerships with international law firms?
We have worked with many of them over the past 20 years or more. Not a week goes by without a global law firm in the US or UK calling us, and when we travel, we visit them too. We do a lot of things together, plus there are a regular number of secondments. Almost half of our lawyers here have been hired by UK and US law firms, so there is a significant amount of bonding.
Do you have success stories where you solved problems for clients with international companies?
There are quite a few. We have made joint presentations with international law firms, some of which we have led because we are more experienced on certain points. It’s not just about being located outdoors or being big, it’s about what a customer is looking for. There are transactions we have made with them where the client realized that they no longer needed the international aspects and wanted to continue working with us. And they recommend us in this regard. And there are instances where we come together to work for clients and guide them on what’s changing. A significant example is the joint training we did with a company in the UK on defamation in the financial sector and how the financial sector was going to change. We did a similar one on Africa’s debt restructuring and the local impacts of rising debt. These are examples of things we do together. We see them as equals with whom we can add value to customers. Something worth mentioning, in 2014 we became the first, and are still the only, African law firm with Lexcel accreditation from the Law Society of England and Wales, meaning our standards of practice are the highest you can find anywhere in the world.
Law firms coming to Ghana can register with the JIPC, but is this enough for them to serve their clients?
The JIPC (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation) is an engine of investment on the one hand and a regulator on the other. If a client comes to us to set up a business, we tell them that they need to register with JIPC to get permission to operate, etc. We talk about how we view investments in the private sector and clients like to listen to us because we come from that sector, rather than being a government official. We work with the JIPC and we complement each other.
What is your vision for AB and David in three to five years, and what do you want to accomplish?
We work on five-year strategic cycles. Currently, we are on what we call the fourth strategy, which is the last year of the cycle. Incidentally, we’ve decided to have shorter strategy cycles because five-year strategies are starting to get outdated due to changes in technology and the speed at which things happen, so we’re going towards a cycle three-year strategy. The heart of it is for us to be able to give more value to the customer. Over a longer period, we want to remain among the top ten law firms in Africa and we want to focus entirely on our mission statement. It’s very unique because we have clues on how to make a customer happy, so we focus a lot on that. We believe that we will grow in this industry to satisfy more customers. We see Africa as a more integrated continent and we are becoming an important player in the legal profession in this market.
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