On the Attorneys in Africa by Edward Huang
On September 10th more than twenty African attorneys attended the “Seminar on the Law in Sino-African Investment and Trade,” held in Beijing Foreign Studies University. These attorneys came from thirteen different African countries, including South Africa, Nigeria, Republic of Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Seven of them gave speeches to introduce the legal environment in their own countries and how to avoid the risk in the investment.
King &Capital Law Firm is one of the co-hosts of this event. Attorney Edward Huang of the African Legal Affairs Center (ALAC) of King &Capital Law Firm was interviewed by the journalist of Legal Weekend and talked about two instances of his cooperation with African attorneys.
One of them is the project of a state-owned company, who invests in Nigeria that needs financing from an African Bank. The African bank has asked its parent company in Beijing to provide guarantee. Due to the long period and the big target of the project, Edward decided to cooperate with a Nigerian law firm. The law firm from Nigeria, whose headquarter is set up in the UK, consists of native Nigerians. A team made up of lawyers specialized in financial, construction, and environmental protection affairs have offered their professional legal advice for the project. All of these attorneys have produced the same level of work in comparison to the European and American lawyers because they have familiarized themselves with the English culture and all were trained in well-known universities.
A project of Mine acquisition in South Africa was not treated that favorably. It was, however, a major project, so Edward chose a large law firm possessing lawyers capable of speaking Chinese. Edward found that the law firm subcontracted its legal affairs to another small law firm which was performed at very poor levels ultimately wasting time. So, Edward dealt off with the law firm and chose to turn to another one.
In Edward’s view, the professional level was fine as a whole. Most of the attorneys studied formally in Europe or North America and during their studying they have definitely been exposed to similar legal problems in China’s investment abroad. If respect and communication remains intact between China and African lawyers then cooperation amongst the parties will be pleasant.
Edward, rich in experience involving legal affairs of Sino-Africa investment and trade, also told journalist that African lawyers have played an irreplaceable role, for all African countries have their own distinctive attributes. More importantly, it is impossible for a Chinese attorney to have a deep understanding of complex laws of more than fifty countries. Therefore, African lawyers play a key role in the success of Chinese companies investing in Africa.
African lawyers are needed in all respects. When the project is landed, due diligence to the local partners, financial framework structures, the company governance structure design and the company’s daily management cannot do without African lawyer’s down-to-earth service. When the project disputes are brought to the local court or an arbitration institution to seek judicial relief, local lawyers are indispensable because of their understanding of the process, social relationship is much deeper when compared with foreign lawyers.
To find a good African attorney, legal association like African Legal Network (ALN) may work well. ALN is made up of more than 20 African law firms and all these firms are constrained by contracts. International law firms like SNR Denton and Norton Rose are wise choices if a company cannot find a satisfactory law firm. They have branch offices in many African countries and their respective firms have a set of complete global systems in the service process and performance areas. The only drawback is that the cost will be relatively higher. If the project is very important, you can also get information on a firm from the Embassy.
But at the same time, Edward pointed out, that the Chinese companies should not rely on the African attorneys too much. Chinese lawyers should take charge of the whole project with their full understanding of the China culture and demand. Key terms within the contracts should be under strict scrutiny primarily by Chinese lawyers. In addition, attention should be focused towards the confidentiality agreements with African lawyers. A conflict of interest clause should be stipulated in the contract so that neither the same lawyer team nor the same law company should be allowed to give service to both partners of a project because they more often than so have interest conflict.