My ILFA Flagship Secondment Programme Experience
I do not recall when I first heard about the International Lawyers for Africa (ILFA) flagship secondment program (IFSP) however, very early in my career I decided to apply for the program immediately I met the qualification criteria. Following some research and conversations with IFSP alumni, I was more convinced that the program was an important part of my personal and professional development.
In June 2017, I was accepted into the program and after an experience that almost led to a deferment of my place; I joined the rest of the cohort on 17th September 2017 in the city of London for the IFSP 2017. Despite having joined the program a week late, I immediately knew that I was about to have one of the most enriching experiences of my career at the time.
The first three weeks of the program comprised a series of capacity building sessions at some of the best law firms in the city of London. These sessions covered various topics relevant to the African legal market including project finance, negotiation, pitching and project management, improving the investment climate in Africa, shareholders and equity arrangements, contracting with the government etc. We also had two away days to attend training sessions on International Law topics at the prestigious Oxford and Cambridge Universities.
I was seconded to Vinson & Elkins (V&E) where I spent two months in the Firm’s Mergers & Acquisitions and Capital Markets Practice. At V&E, I had the opportunity to work on high profile M&A projects including a transaction relating to the acquisition of equity stake in an oil and gas technology company by a private equity investor. I also worked on a pro bono assignment for a foundation whose aim is to make a difference to communities in London’s east end. With my specialization being business advisory and energy & natural resources projects, working in the M&A practice group meant that I was able to share fresh perspective and apply my skills while exploring a new practice area.
As part of the Commercial Bar work experience, I spent a week working on insurance related commercial litigation at Fountain Court Chambers.
Two events stood out for me during my IFSP experience. The first of them was an offshoot of the training session on improving the investment climate in Africa hosted by Norton Rose and facilitated by Mr. Andrew Buisson, a partner in the banking team. During the training session, Mr. Buisson offered the cohort an opportunity to write an article on the topic distilling our discussions during the training. He offered to supervise the writing process and ensure its publication in a widely circulated journal. A few members and myself took up Andrew’s offer and wrote an article titled “Is Africa still rising? A brief overview of the investment climate” which was published in the November 2017 edition of Commercial Risk Online. The opportunity to collaborate with the cohort and a partner with a leading law firm to put the spotlight on investment in Africa through our work was fulfilling and enriching.
Another experience was the opportunity to speak on a panel at an event organized by Baker McKenzie (Associates’ Africa Interest Group). The focus of discussions was on insights into the business and cultural landscape of Africa from the perspective of both African and International lawyers. It was an opportunity to engage with colleagues from multiple jurisdictions on the challenges and prospects of collaborating across our jurisdictions, which was very rewarding.
These experiences presented various opportunities not only to exchange knowledge and ideas with like minds but also to develop a deep network of long lasting friendships. This is not to forget the networking cocktails and dinners, numerous shopping trips to Oxford Street, shows at the west end, post-midnight gelatos off Oxford Street and sing alongs with street musicians at Piccadilly Circus.
While I do not miss having to figure out the very confusing, multiple exits at the Bank Underground Station, I miss the experience of living and working in London, the camaraderie shared with the cohort and the rich interactions of the programme.
The ILFA IFSP met and surpassed all my expectations. The skills and knowledge I acquired through the capacity building sessions and secondment are an invaluable complement to my professional development and practice. The connections I formed have also been mutually beneficial and served as pathways to other personal and professional opportunities.
Vinson & Elkins
Twelve Days, Fourteen Firms, Nineteen Lawyers
– An ILFA Experience
Nineteen Africans wandering the streets of London; not always together, must have caused quite a stir in certain quarters especially Liverpool Street where we seemed to frequent ever so often given the concentration of major firms in the area.
In twelve business days, even the worst of us at geography had mastered the art of reading the different coloured lines on tube maps, while the very African ones like me had no choice but to love the British staple: Tea and biscuits and of course the idea of lunch in the UK – “Sandwiches,
Some days were better than others. The weather couldn’t quite seem to make up its mind on whether to rain on the Africans or remind them of home with some sun. Let’s just say the British weather chose to serve us a balanced diet of all its glory, except some snow, thankfully.
Combining our compulsory geography lessons on taking the tubes, with jumping on the London red buses to catch another session, learning to love tfl.gov.uk, and stuffing up on breakfasts of croissants, au pains, and all kinds of flour based breakfast items and fruits, came the need to sit through training sessions on different topics at different law firms. Some firms were more prepared for us than others, but then again, the mission was some knowledge acquisition and that mission was accomplished.
While acquiring added knowledge on private equity, trade finance, project finance, sub-contracting arrangements, dispute resolution, negotiating the contract, and other interesting commercial subjects which come to fore in the course of global transactions, most sessions were succeeded by some form of networking or the other, some of course more memorable than others.
No one can forget the Firm with the perfect and hot hors d’oeuvre and an amazing view of the Tower Bridge, so yes; perhaps the networking at some firms was with the food and the view. But at some other firms networking was with amazing partners and lawyers, afternoons and evenings of drinks, bite-size snacks, rare hot lunch, and interesting conversations about anything and everything law and non-law.
While there were a couple of memorable nights in the course of the twelve business days, one night stood heads and shoulders above the rest. A ride on an old London bus, with tour guide commentary on major attractions along the way, champagne and other drinks on the ride, partners and associates of the sponsoring firm also along for the ride, and the destination; the rooftop at the Vista @ Trafalgar. Need I say more? Excuse the levity, but this was testament to the fact that the law and fun do mix and the law firms set the pace in that regard.
While it was absolutely great to see the insides of leading international law firms and hear partners and associates speak on their areas of strength and practical experiences in Africa, it was extremely amazing to sit with brilliant minds from other African countries, hear and share thoughts on the different training sessions. That in itself was a great intra-Africa learning opportunity and priceless bit of networking.
So twelve business days of wandering the streets of London, sitting through advanced training sessions, partaking in some interesting team activities, and rubbing minds with brilliant cohorts from the East, West, North and South of the African Continent it was. But more importantly, it was twelve business days which only signified the start of a remarkable ILFA secondment experience.
The Work Experience (London Firm) . . .
I have been seconded to Ashurst LL.P which is located at the Broadwalk house in Liverpool street, where you would be greeted by a tapestry of the finest architecture not to mention the state of the art skyscraper offices that will bewilder you with allurement.
Commuting to work from Willesden to Liverpool street is a story that should never remain untold as the experience could be a nightmare especially during rush hours, where being raffled by human traffic is anticipated. I was expected at the office at 9.30am, it takes approximately 55 minutes using the tube. The tube map has been my closest tool of direction like the Holy book to a believer. The tube has always remained the absolute preference of my travels as it is the fastest, most reliable, and some would say convenient means of transport in London which could sometimes be pretty exhausting but the appeal of discovering and experiencing new things keeps your faith strong and makes the battle to get on the tube, slightly more bearable.
My first day at Ashurst was a cordial experience, I was welcomed with open arms and made to feel like part of the family straight away. Meeting the refined Partners at the firm was the first order of business, where they told me a lot about the firm, they were less formal, they didn’t make it hierarchical which brought out a friendly atmosphere. The first week at Ashurst was structured to induct me to the firm and involved various trainings from the use of the office systems to legal writing and drafting. Thereafter on my second week I was placed in the Corporate Department, under corporate projects team which is home to both finance and construction groups. It is split into sector categories like oil and gas, utilities, and social infrastructure. I sat with a specific sub-sector on the finance side and handled Corporate projects clients that I had only heard of which included major international exploration companies, as well as one of the largest Asian banks. Settling in quickly allowed me to build up confidence and gain some real responsibilities. I am really grateful for the support I received from all the teams as it has enabled me to learn new skills which I can take with me to my next venture, my tasks involved reviewing sale purchase agreements, facilities agreement and preparing documents for business development pitches.
Ashurst has long enjoyed a reputation as a work hard/play hard outfit, there’s never a dull moment socially – completion lunches, client events, holiday parties, drinks trolleys, welcome drinks, leaving drinks… a lot of drinks, really! the firm’s junior lawyers can usually be found grabbing lunch together or getting – you guessed it – drinks at one of the many restaurants near the Liverpool Street offices. The firm is more than an office but a family, which is similar to the practice back home in Kenya where we have crazy working hours and urgent deadlines to meet not forgetting the frustrating meetings but at the end of it all we all enjoy good company with colleagues after a hard day’s work. The borderline of the Kenyan and London practice would be the massive international transaction that UK firms handle as well as the ultramodern filing system which most Kenyan firms are now in the process of adapting. Despite sometimes being a bit of a walking zombie, blissfully – or rather sleepily – unaware of the urgent and somewhat desperate nature of fellow commuters around me, I have honestly had the most amazing two weeks at the Law Firm as an ILFA Secondee and can’t wait for the weeks to come.