High fees, inexperience and lack of work verification are some of the frustrations most often cited by African in-house legal advisers vis-à-vis their external advisers.
Speaking to Law.com International, several senior in-house lawyers spoke candidly about the problems they have encountered with law firms.
Here are the top five:
Deodra Reddy, Head of Legal Compliance and Risk at Roche Diagnostics in Johannesburg, speaks volumes when she says: “The cost of advice is exceptionally high and increases with the length of service of the lawyer involved.
International companies are the worst for this, according to Deborah Momanyi, legal officer at AECF, Nairobi, Kenya, but adds that she has found that the quality of service delivery tends to be higher than that of local companies.
However, she also claims that local law firms that have partnered with international firms have a higher quality of service delivery than those that have not.
Abdoul Karim Kabele Camara, regional legal adviser for Endeavor Mining in Côte d’Ivoire, is not sure the extra cost is worth it, saying he would never engage in a business just because it is international . “Many African law firms have the same level of service as international firms. If you save me $ 10 million, it doesn’t matter where you’re from.
Gadi Ndahumba, Head of the Electricity Sector Division at the African Legal Support Facility (ALSF), which acts as internal legal advisor to African governments, adds: “The reality is that the relationship is between the partner and the customer. If you have a partner you trust, they’ll make sure the fees aren’t overcharged.
Despite the cost, law firms that charge high fees don’t always deliver better quality work, says Momanyi and Camara says that in some cases “their reports lack detail and are very superficial.”
Law firms also may not see the potential issues that might arise, sometimes due to inexperience. Camara says: “You hire a law firm and they give the job to a young lawyer who lacks both knowledge and experience. “
For Ndahumba at the ALSF, the projects he works on tend to involve international best practices and standards, so he almost always uses a combination of a local and international company.
“But we place great importance on them working together as a unit,” he says. “We want the knowledge and expertise of the international firm to be transferred to the local firm, to increase skills on the continent.”
Do not verify the work
Deborah Momanyi, Legal Officer at AECF, Nairobi, Kenya, said that sometimes the quality of work done by law firms does not meet the expectations of in-house legal advisers.
“In turn, this results in a reworking of the work being done, which is time consuming and expensive. “
Another shortcoming is that the work is often entrusted to junior lawyers who do not have the level of expertise or execution expected of the service. “And seasoned lawyers don’t check they’re working.”
Deodra Reddy, head of legal compliance and risk at Roche Diagnostics in Johannesburg, says fees and delays are the most common issues with local and international law firms.
The legal jargon used in all of the advice provided also takes a long time to break down and communicate to the business in a simplified and easy-to-understand manner, she says.
“To make sure that the caliber and quality of work received meets expected standards, I typically use law firms in South Africa that are considered the Big Five. “
She said she did not identify any disparities between the quality of work of African law firms and that of international firms.
“Maybe it is because we are dealing with the best known and the most reputable companies.”
However, Reddy’s main criticism is the time it takes to receive the results.
“It usually takes longer to receive advice than to conduct the research yourself,” she said.
The frustrations are such that if a client finds a good individual lawyer, they are likely to stay with them regardless of which firm they move to, Ndahumba tells the ALSF. He believes the tradition of UK law firms is to try to build a brand around the firm as a service provider, to ensure the continuity of the firm, while the US mindset is focused on a partner-driven model.
No one chooses a law firm, he says. “Everyone chooses a partner, and that’s why law firms are tearing partners apart from each other. “
“And he will find the right team within the company to work on the project, because he knows that if he leaves this company, you will follow him”, explains Ndahumba.