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the old law firm model is simply colonial

Dentons’ Joe Andrew

The Lawyer’s recent article about a global law firm hiring Portuguese lawyers to secure work in Africa, with the unintentionally and historically ironic headline that the firm “hires three-strong Lisbon team to capture Africa work,” (September 18, 2019) provides the best evidence that most international law firms still operate on an antiquated, colonial model that ignores the globalization of the economy, the democratisation of information and the universal ability to communicate nearly instantly in today’s world.

If you want to best represent clients in Africa, then combine with one of the great firms in Africa that have talented lawyers who know how to get a deal done or solve a dispute. To do otherwise is, at best, tone deaf.

Traditional international firms hire lawyers in the old colonial power to “capture” work where the colonial powers took advantage of the people and resources of the country. They cling to the outdated notion that it is still effective for a law firm to treat its own talent in a hierarchical, parochial, colonial and unequal way.

They believe one location should tell others what to do (hierarchical); they assume that high quality lawyers can only be found in the North and the West (parochial); they presume that lawyers in the North and the West should, by rights of history and tradition, take the lead in serving clients in other regions (colonial); and they operate on the principal that only a handful of offices should do high value work while others are treated as branch offices (unequal).

Contrast that with Dentons joining with leading African firms to build the first pan-African law firm owned and controlled by Africans, reported a week earlier (“Dentons opens in five jurisdictions in bid to build ‘pan-African’ law firm,” September 11, 2019).

Dentons has demonstrated that clients are better served by its polycentric approach, which emphasises that collaboration is key, high quality legal talent can be found everywhere in the world, lawyers should be in and of the communities where clients need legal counsel and business solutions and, by working together, all of its offices are equally capable of executing high value work.

Clients who operate around the globe know the world has changed since the “Age of Empire.” They want to be served by law firms who realize the same.

Joe Andrew is global chairman of Dentons


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