Postcard from… Tanzania

I left my native Tanzania to take up a three-month placement in a London law firm with mixed feelings of what lay ahead. To be honest, I expected a lot of challenges from the opportunity presented to me under the auspices of International Lawyers for Africa (ILFA).

I left my native Tanzania to take up a three-month placement in a London law firm with mixed feelings of what lay ahead. To be honest, I expected a lot of challenges from the opportunity presented to me under the auspices of International Lawyers for Africa (ILFA).

I secured this placement through vigorous interviews locally, and screening by

the directors of the ILFA. From a local perspective, I was seen as representing my country for the benefit of the Law Society, young professionals and my colleagues at Barclays Bank Tanzania Limited.

I felt a huge sense of responsibility and began to think of ways to maximise my potential to learn and deliver results to my sponsor law firm while thinking of what useful practices I should take back home with me.

My placement was at a magic circle law firm. I was placed in the leveraged finance and corporate departments within the firm. I was immediately aware of the differences in work culture. There is so much that is done in London law firms that just does not happen in Tanzanian law firms. The first thing I noticed was the level of support new joiners received. Compared to our on-the-job training, the support in the London law firm was quite remarkable. It included, among other things, a welcome and introduction session; induction to my team; training on the systems; in-house training for lawyers and money laundering training.

Before I joined my current employer, I used to work in a medium-sized law firm in Tanzania, accommodating only three partners, three legal officers and four supporting staff. As far as I know, no top law firm in Tanzania employs more than 50 people and this includes support staff. As you can imagine, the size of my sponsor law firm’s offices took me by complete surprise. The offices are massive, accommodating in excess of 2,000 people.

What I found even more fascinating was the fact that the firm provided other facilities within their premises such as a health and fitness centre, dental clinic, a bar and a big restaurant – something quite alien to Tanzanian law firms.

Apart from the difference in size, the organisation of the law firm is another notable difference. Firms in London are organised and split into specific departments and depending on the area of practice, may be divided even further into smaller groups. This type of organisation would never work in Tanzania because of the nature of clients and economic factors.

For this reason, a lawyer in Tanzania is expected to handle every instruction coming in, from any field of law, be it labour, corporate, banking or litigation. In other words, we are all general practitioners. The disadvantage of this of course, is the lack of specialisation which does have an impact on the level of professional services

offered.

Another thing that I thought was useful practice, not just in terms of the level of professional services offered to clients but also as a means of adding value to its lawyers, was the fact that many top law firms in London offer a range of training and presentations on various areas of the law to its lawyers. This includes an update in recent development and changes in legislation. More importantly, I noticed that such firms offer presentations on a regular basis to their clients, which I think is a good way of cementing client relationships.

I was also surprised to learn that law firms in London actually have a separate budget purely for client entertainment. Such entertainment varies depending on the client but ranges from providing lunch to offering clients well sought-after tickets to a match. Although top law firms in Tanzania do entertain their clients, it is not something that is budgeted for.

Something I thought worth taking back was the aspect of project management. I noticed that this was a very well defined process in London law firms. It begins from the moment the client’s instructions are received to conclusion. The project manager, usually a partner, is the key contact during the transaction. In this process, associates and trainees are given their tasks and participate in the project. Their roles are significant and valuable. Such involvement by associates and trainees gives them confidence to grow and excel in their roles. I would like to see this type of project management introduced in law firms in Tanzania.

It goes without saying that law firms in London have responded positively to corporate social responsibility. I witnessed a number of projects initiated by my sponsor law firm and individual groups designed to raise money for communities. Pro bono activities are on the top of the list of law firms’ agendas in London. Of course, such initiatives do not go unnoticed or unrewarded with various awards presented each year to the winners of different categories.

If nothing else, my placement was a very useful and informative experience. Sadly, it is not yet economically feasible to adapt all the useful practices I picked up in London …but I live in hope.

Edward Samwel, a legal counsel with Barcays Bank Tanzania, spent six months with a magic circle firm in London through International Lawyers for Africa.