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General counsel 'gaining power in Africa'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 03/04/14

In-house lawyers are increasingly becoming an important part of African business as the market matures, quickly gaining prominence over the legal functions within their organisation.

Research from the Lawyer magazine saw a host of experts suggest they are moving in the same direction as their counterparts in the US and the UK, meaning they are more capable to control their legal spend.

Ngozi Okonkwo, chief legal officer for Nigerian energy giant Oando, claimed that more work is being dealt with internally rather than out-sourcing their demands to law firms.

"It's evolving towards a mix of internal and external. There's no magic formula. There are areas such as statutory work and general transactional areas where it makes economic sense to bring work in-house," said Michael Spivey, group general counsel of South African retail company Massmart

This will be good news for general counsel hoping to find jobs within the African market, which a number of recent reports have claimed will expand over the coming years.

However, legal teams within the largest African companies remain relatively small, at least when compared to the larger groupings common within European and American businesses.

When it comes to making external investments and moving into new markets within the continent, much of the work is still being left to external law firms, which tend to have more expertise in this area and the regulatory knowledge needed to carry out such moves efficiently.

Legal chiefs told the news provider they expect rapid growth of the internal function over the coming years, with plenty of development still to take place; much of the current market is centred in South Africa, a trend which is likely to change in the future.

This research follows the news that international law firm Eversheds is hoping to consolidate its presence in Africa by signing a partnership agreement with associated firm CWA.

The company also expanded its Eversheds Africa Law Institute, a network of independent legal organisations across the continent, last year.