Covington & Burling wanted to do more work in Africa, so the Washington law firm looked to its senior international advisor Witney Schneidman for guidance.
Previously a consultant and former U.S. State Department official, Schneidman joined the firm in 2012 when Africa was becoming a target for Covington and many other law firms. He met with leaders of the LEX Africa Alliance, a consortium of law firms on the continent, and the idea for a fellowship hatched. The first fellow, lawyer Sandro Jorge from Mozambique, arrived at Covington in January.
The fellowship program allows the firm to dip a toe into the corporate investments in Africa where many firms already have their own offices or partnerships with firms in Africa. Covington houses an African lawyer for three months, building connections through him or her to firms and lawyers in Africa and gaining another strategic counseling voice to present to clients.
“Each client has different needs and interests. Having an exclusive link doesn’t make any sense,” Schneidman said of Covington’s choice not to open an office on the continent. “Having a friendship makes a great deal of sense.”
Currently, one of Covington’s highest-profile cases deals with a South African wireless communications business. Former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., now a Covington partner, is representing MTN Group Ltd. in a dispute over a $3.9 billion fine from Nigerian regulators.
At the LEX Africa AGM whcih took place earlier this month, Sandro and Witney provided feedback on their experience. Sandro advised, he focused on Covington’s work related to business investment, data privacy and project due diligence in Mozambique. He said his U.S. experience differed from his legal practice in Mozambique, because it focused on negotiation and regulatory dealings rather than public contracts. In Mozambique, 37-year-old Jorge is a Senior Associate in private practice and a former official in Mozambique’s Ministry for the Co-ordination of Environmental Affairs.
Sandro provided legal advice from an African perspective to Covington during his stay. His home firm, CGA, or Couto, Graça e Associados, continued to remunerate Sandro whilst he was in the U.S., and Covington provided a stipend for housing, he said. His fellowship came to an end in April, after which he flew back home to Mozambique.
Applications are now out for the next fellowship, where all LEX Africa member firms may apply.
Article compiled by Covington and Burling, Washington, USA.