Africa is a large, diverse, and vibrant continent with a rapidly expanding market for legal services. That's why, after more than 30 years of working with clients on the continent, London-based international law firm Clifford Chance is opening its first African office in Casablanca, Morocco. It's a significant step for the firm, and it comes at an important point in Africa's growth story. Africa's economy is growing at a faster rate than that of any other continent, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts that it will continue to grow at a rate of 5.75 per cent in 2012 - five times the predicted rate of growth in the UK.
Foreign direct investment in Africa increased from $9 billion (£5.6 billion) in 2000, to $62 billion in 2009. Meanwhile, the growth of other emerging market economies, such as China, is stimulating foreign demand for Africa's raw materials, and the financial services sector is expanding. This growth, says Kem Ihenacho, a partner in London and one of the lead partners in Clifford Chance's Africa Group, presents a fantastic opportunity for the firm: "There are lots of opportunities for us to grow our business, for example, acting for inward investors into Africa, or African companies looking to raise capital for expansion." Clifford Chance has a broad range of experience in Africa, from providing commercial legal advisory services to undertaking pro bono work, and the new office is set to cement the firm's commitment to the continent and to act as a hub for clients across the North African region.
Trading in Africa
The new office in Casablanca is just one part of the broader strategy of the Africa Group, a network of 30 partners and 200 lawyers spread across Clifford Chance's international offices. The Africa Group is divided into sub-groups that specialise in particular regions of the continent or industry sectors, and their experience in Africa ranges from advising on the financing for the development, construction and operation of a wind farm in Cape Verde, to advising the pan-African Standard Bank on its investment and strategic alliance with Troika Dialog, Russia's second-largest investment bank.
"Any day of the year, you can bet there are going to be Clifford Chance lawyers on the ground doing deals in Africa," says Kem. "The really exciting thing for me is that now we're delivering legal services in Africa across the full spectrum of work that we do at the firm." And there are plenty of opportunities for new trainees to get involved too, he says. "There are some great opportunities to travel, and get on the ground in Africa to experience the excitement and energy you get from working on the continent."
The Africa Group also aims to pool the knowledge and expertise of lawyers who understand the foundations of local legal systems in Africa, and how to do business on the continent. "A number of our trainees and lawyers come from Africa, so they have great links to the communities within their home countries and get involved in developing our business in those countries," explains Kem.
Although a number of African economies are growing at a fast pace and foreign investment is at an all-time high, some countries still have to face the issues associated with poverty, famine and disease affecting significant parts of their population. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the literacy rate is just 63 per cent, which is incompatible with extended economic development. That's why Clifford Chance is actively involved in charitable, volunteering, and pro bono activities in Africa to help improve access to justice, finance and education across the continent's diverse regions. "As with everywhere else in the world where we do business, we want to make a broader contribution to the community that we work and live in," says Kem.
One of the focuses of its pro bono efforts has been on providing sustainable education and training ventures for the next generation of lawyers in Africa. "We spend time in Africa with local lawyers that we partner with, learning from them but also providing training and expertise based on our own experiences" explains Kem. The firm also supports the International Lawyers for Africa (ILFA) programme, a multi-firm initiative which contributes to the development of African lawyers by providing participants with work experience opportunities at leading law firms in the City and companies with African business interests.
In addition, the firm is committed to charitable work to help raise the standard of living across the continent. "The Clifford Chance Foundation, which is our charitable giving arm, has donated over half a million pounds to a number of non-governmental organisations in Africa over the past two years," says Kem. The funds have been used to support a variety of causes, from building a school for orphaned children in Tanzania, to aiding the People's Legal Aid Centre (PLACE), which provides legal aid and advice to displaced women and children in the Darfur region of Sudan.