Understanding Africa

Warren Beech

Warren Beech

One of the world’s largest law firms is also a rather well-kept secret. With more than 45 offices across the globe and a team of over 2500 lawyers, Hogan Lovells has an impressive base from which it can also leverage cross-continental opportunities.

“Africa is extremely strategic to us,” stresses Andrew Skipper, partner and head of Hogan Lovells’ Africa practice. “In South Africa, the firm has been around for a long time and through natural growth and mergers, with the most recent being in December 2013 with Routledge Modise Inc, we have become a significant player in the local market, in Africa and as a base for the company to interface with international clients investing in the continent.

“South Africa is an important centre for us. We only open bases where our clients want us to be. Our brand is critical to us and Africa has been the focus for many of our clients for years, with over 80% of our key clients doing business here.

“We want to be seen and known as understanding and respecting Africa. Unless you can demonstrate this, clients will not be interested.

“With the majority of our top clients pursuing opportunities in Africa, it is critical for us to have the right strategy to be able to deliver quality service both regionally and internationally, making South Africa a critical hub for working on the continent.

“We are involved in many projects in South Africa and Africa. Our international centres from US to Asia, including London, Paris and Dubai, work in Africa and closely with our South African team. There are also strong, direct South Africa-Beijing and South Africa-Tokyo links.

“Looking at Tokyo, with its profound financial base and outbound focus, there is much interest in Africa, but the need to share information about opportunities in Africa means both countries talking to each other on the ground.”

Warren Beech, the firm’s regional head for Africa, concurs: “The starting point has been acknowledging that Africa is made up of 54 different countries, each with their own legal systems, cultures, and method of doing business. Developing relationships with in-country legal, financial and technical advisors has greatly assisted in developing an in-depth understanding of how to do business in each of the relevant countries.

“The geographic location of the Johannesburg office in relation to what is potentially the largest market – namely Africa — cannot be underestimated.

“With mining, natural resources, energy and infrastructure being some of our primary business focuses in South Africa and across Africa, there is a natural inclination to work closely with colleagues in the Denver, London, Paris, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Beijing offices. Our teams know, like and work closely with each other, offering an integrated and seamless global service to clients no matter where they are based.

“The interaction involves joint pitches for work, joint project, and referral work. Due to the multi-disciplinary nature of, for example, the mining department in the Johannesburg office, the interaction with our colleagues in these offices is not only focused on pure mining and regulatory, but in certain instances encompasses mergers and acquisitions, business rescue, policy development and criminal law. 

“Our global footprint definitely provides an edge when speaking to prospective and existing clients, where the scope of work is multi-jurisdictional.” 

Commitment to investment

Hogan Lovells is a full service business law firm. With practical breadth, geographical reach, and industry knowledge, the firm has insight into the issues that affect its clients most deeply and this enables it to provide high-quality, business-oriented legal advice to assist them in achieving their commercial goals.  

The firm’s experienced professionals assist clients in such areas as technology, media and telecoms, banking and financial services, corporate, commercial and regulatory law, tax and transfer pricing, litigation and dispute resolution, employment, pensions and employee benefits, business restructuring and insolvency.

Its client base ranges from South African government departments and state-owned enterprises to domestic organisations and subsidiaries of international corporates. Its reach also extends into the real estate, consumer, aviation and healthcare sectors.

“We are 100% committed to investment in South Africa,” says Skipper. “Our team

in South Africa has grown to 110 lawyers and we are committed to increasing its size. However, growth should not be for the sake of growing.

“We invest heavily in our people and seek out high quality staff at every level. Being the first international law firm to move its global back-office support services to Africa, we want to be at the forefront of developing local content by nurturing, developing and continually improving local excellence to meet the expectations of our clients.

“We must be able to service our global client base from every operation and they are expected to be independent players in their own market. It’s about a strong local practice seamlessly able to serve other international practices.”

Skipper has recently done presentations to clients on doing business in Africa, both in South Africa and across the world, including London and Tokyo. He builds on the depth of Hogan Lovells’ 30+ years of experience on the continent and he is deeply versed in this subject.

“We recently ran a series of events based on Drivers of Growth and Investment in Sub-Saharan Africa, which help us and our clients better understand the African market and its drivers,” says Skipper.

“Importantly, we are finding across Africa a focus on capacity building — that local human capital is used and that there is not an influx of skills from other continents. In some countries, such as South Africa, this is legislated.

We also believe we respect the places we operate in. We carry out extensive pro bono activities and corporate responsibility programmes. Every member of staff is expected to complete a minimum of 25 hours of citizenship-related activities and it is wonderful that they want to do it. Our South African office is fantastic in terms of the amount of work it does.”

Adds Beech: “Our dedicated pro bono department for qualifying clients is headed by one of our partners, Candice Pillay. The contribution is significant, both in relation to business and own time.”

One of the more novel ways Skipper himself has been involved in social responsibility programmes was his stint as a Dragon’s Den judge in Nairobi as part of SPRING Accelerator — a partnership between the UK’s department of international development, the Nike Foundation and Usaid — designed to accelerate economic empowerment for girls in Africa and Asia by delivering technical and financial support to early-stage enterprises and start-ups, developing life-enhancing products and services.

Hogan Lovells’ global programme addresses gender-based violence including domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking and supports educational and work-related opportunities through its Empowering Girls and Women Initiative. It uses the firm’s resources to help empower women to shape society, enhancing educational opportunities through fostering sustainable women-led business opportunities to increase female employment.

The firm also takes environmental factors into consideration and Beech says that while a legal practice is still paper-intensive, there is a strong drive towards using a paperless system, even in the various dispute resolution and regulatory processes they are engaged in. “The introduction of notepads has made a substantial difference and is likely to continue to do so,” he concludes.

Developing legal depth

Hogan Lovells is continually on a recruitment drive, scouring universities for promising candidate attorneys to mentor and develop.

To support the professional development of its lawyers, the firm supplements day-to-day informal training with the extensive formal training of the Hogan Lovells Academy on topics including legal skills, substantive law, ethics, practice management and business development.

Interns are trained by partners and carry out actual work. Each intern is on a two-year interview, however the company has an impressive record of employing 99% of the candidate attorneys.

In September this year, Hogan Lovells was ranked fifth in the world in the Global Investigations Review (GIR) 30, a globally-recognised ranking of leading law firms for handling internal and government-led investigations.