Law Firm Management News December 2013 - A letter from Uganda

A review of the IBA Annual Conference 2013

Cephas Birungyi
Birungyi Barata & Associates, Kampala


For someone interested in listening to the world’s leading exponents in various fields of law, the International Bar Association Annual Conference is like locking a greedy adolescent in a sweet shop.

With more than ten world class presentations running concurrently during the normal working day, let alone very attractive trips to once-in-a-life-time venues, one has to select very carefully what to attend and what to leave out.

Because I have a particular interest in taxation, the Tax Committee sessions are my home ground.

In between though, nothing gets as interesting as the Law Firm Management Committee. It is one forum where lawyers from all continents and all levels of sophistication find the freedom to exchange and laugh, to have fun while internalising some of the cutting edge ideas mixing with old age wisdom of those who have been at the apex of some of the leading global law firms in the world.

It is rather an understatement to say that the atmosphere and presentations in some of the technical areas such as M&A, international taxation, consortium agreements, IP ownership (acquisition, holding, restructuring and realisation of value assets) may be overwhelming to those who practice in regions whose economies are not that sophisticated. Every time things seem to get more and more complicated.

It would be expecting too much for one practising in an economy with no stock exchange worth talking about to be an expert in derivatives and subprime instruments. Indeed many of these sessions reflect a high level of multi-disciplinary expertise where law, finance, IT and project management mingle freely.

One is left to reflect, then whither in these dizzying heights of intellectual discourse and one wonders whether they are floating at the right level or merely an obscure spectator.

I want to say with little fear of political mis-speech that in many cases, those of us from less sophisticated economies feel more like spectators.

And yet back home, some of these spectators have stellar legal careers and are the epitome of professional success. In other words, in global terms they are small fish in a big pond at some points and big fish in a small pond at other times.

The challenge is that the big fish in the big pond are always on the move and getting more global. There is no doubt that the big fish are also swimming towards the small ponds.

Will the erstwhile big fish in the small ponds still offer something to offer when the bigger boys arrive? If not, what should they do? They have to adapt.

Our work as lawyers in the developing world is cut out. We do not have to invent the wheel. It is hard enough just making the modern wheel but we must do it.

It is, for this reason, that I call upon the Law Firm Management Committee to follow the example it has started by going to East Asia to hold a conference and going to Africa, and in particular to Uganda, possibly as soon as 2014 so that we can learn as much from those in the lead.

By working together with the Uganda Law Society, the members of the Uganda Law Society shall mobilise resources and hold a memorable three or four day session where ideas will be exchanged in areas such as:

  • financing law firms;
  • members of law firms;
  • billing clients;
  • integration and leadership; and
  • succession planning.

I hope these humble suggestions will one day come to fruition.