As Des Williams steps down as Chairman of Werksmans Attorneys, South African LEX Africa member firm, we take the opportunity to reflect on a decade under his leadership and the great strides that Werksmans made with Des at the helm.
Des has been with the firm since 1974. He has been a Director since March 1979 and Chairman since April 2005.
During his chairmanship, Werksmans’ staff contingent has increased by 70% and turnover by 222%, with a 2014 BEE rating of a level 3. Aiding this growth was the merger with Nalane Manaka in 2006 and separately with Jan S. De Villiers in 2009, which established the firm’s presence in the Western Cape.
Des played a significant role in developing the firm’s international profile. He was responsible for the firm’s initial involvement in the International Bar Association (IBA) which started in 1992. Des rose through the ranks of the IBA Litigation Committee and became the Chairman of the Litigation Committee in 2007. He was subsequently a member of the IBA Council. He has actively involved other Directors in the IBA and the firm has benefitted from the networking opportunities which are available through the IBA. Furthermore, he was appointed as the sole South African member of the International Chamber of Commerce Court of Arbitration in Paris in 2011. This has consolidated the firm’s position as the leading South African law firm arbitration practice.
Werksmans’ lawyers are a powerful and diverse team of independently minded multi-specialists with a formidable track record in mergers & acquisitions, banking & finance, and commercial litigation & dispute resolution. This assertion is ratified by numerous local and international directories which consistently rank Werksmans as tier one for both its Corporate/Mergers & Acquisitions and Dispute Resolution practices.
LEX Africa (Werksmans’ Africa Network) has also made significant strides and developments during Des’ chairmanship including increasing membership to cover over twenty African countries, introducing specialist cross-border practice groups, establishing an exchange programme for young lawyers and publishing a business guide and other specialist publications. Its annual general meetings have been held throughout the African continent and Werksmans has strengthened its relationships and ability to assist clients throughout Africa.
Des has also demonstrated his commitment to giving back to the community by devoting much of his personal time to the rehabilitation of prisoners through poetry. He has spent many hours serving as a Commissioner for the Small Claims Court, encouraging many other lawyers within the firm to do the same. In leading by example, he instilled this culture of responsibility to the larger community within the firm. In particular, Werksmans’ people believe in the need to promote the constitutional imperative of access to justice for all, especially the poor and vulnerable. Under Des’ leadership, Werksmans established a dedicated Public Interest Law Practice who attend to and coordinate pro bono activities within the firm. Through the commitment of this team, a flagship Diepsloot Law Office has been established which provides the only free legal service to the Diepsloot community and is dedicated to helping people that would normally not have access to such services.
Now that his tenure of Chairman has ended, Des will be resuming his litigation and arbitration practice on a full-time basis and his successor, with effect from 1 March 2015, will be David Hertz. David will work closely with Kevin Trudgeon as head of the Commercial Department and Corlett Manaka as head of the Litigation Department.
Des’ chairmanship has left a legacy of excellence and has laid the groundwork for Werksmans to continue to focus on achieving the best legal outcomes for clients and remaining on the cutting edge of commercial and corporate law under David’s leadership.