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Shining a Spotlight on the Next Generation of African Lawyers

A total of 117 lawyers based in African countries have been ranked as either Up and Comer or Associate to Watch in Chambers Global 2023. Learn more about these rankings and the data behind them.

Published on 16 February 2023
Written by Oliver Dimsdale
Oliver Dimsdale

Associates to watch across the African legal market

Of these, 102 individuals were identified as Up and Comer (U), while 15 were Associate to Watch (W). The combined figure represents an increase of 16 when compared against the number of lawyers who achieved this recognition in Global 2022. This is also the first year in the history of Chambers Global that the combined total has been greater than 100.

South Africa continues to perform best in Chambers Global rankings

Looking at the countries in which these rankings have been achieved, South Africa continues to perform best. In the South Africa ranking tables for Chambers Global 2023, more than 30 next-generation lawyers were recognised, over twice as many as were listed in the rankings for Kenya, the next most high-performing country. This should of course come as no surprise. Historically, South Africa’s GDP has been the highest for any African nation. Although data from the World Bank shows Nigeria to have overtaken South Africa in more recent years, it remains a high-performing economy with plenty of opportunities for home-grown legal talent to flourish.

South Africa also continues to be the African country with the highest number of ranking tables within Chambers Global, a total of 20 in all. These span a range of legal disciplines, from Banking & Finance and Corporate/M&A to Insurance, Shipping and Tax. The rankings in Chambers Global are also complemented by several ranking tables in Chambers FinTech and Chambers High Net Worth. This is reflective of the wide array of matters keeping lawyers busy in the South African market. Incidentally, for any law firms reading this, submission deadlines for the 2023 research period are fast approaching, with submissions for most South Africa sections due on February 22. If you haven’t already, please do check our research schedule to see which deadline(s) apply to you.

The South African lawyers we spoke to during the most recent research period highlighted regulatory compliance as an especially active area, especially with regard to cybersecurity. Companies in South Africa and throughout the continent have also been investing heavily in IT and technology as they establish digital platforms for their business. All of this provides ample scope for lawyers to take on new work.

Within the ranking tables themselves, the traditional Big Five – a group comprising Webber Wentzel, Bowmans, ENSafrica, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr and Werksmans Attorneys – continue to dominate, with the highest numbers of department rankings. This being said, significant South African ranking gains have been made by some of the world’s leading law firms, including White & Case and Herbert Smith Freehills. You can find out the practice areas in which these gains have been made, and view the complete list of rankings, here.

Egypt and Kenya high on the list of legal rankings

The other high performers on this list include nations such as Egypt and Kenya which are by now well established among the continent’s most buoyant economies. Chambers’ ranking coverage of these countries has expanded significantly in recent years, with the addition of sections such as Kenya Intellectual Property and Egypt Capital Markets. We will continue to monitor developments, listening to our research interviewees and analysing the work we see on law firm submissions. We believe that both the Egypt and Kenya ranking tables are well placed for further expansion as we go into the research period for Chambers Global 2024, and beyond.

Nigeria's 'Nollywood' driving the economy

One country where the number of ranked next-generation lawyers is lower than might have been expected is Nigeria. The 2023 Nigeria rankings list highlight just five individuals as U or W, in comparison to the 32 seen in our South Africa rankings. There is a similar story to be observed when looking at the overall total number of ranked lawyers across all bandings: 144 in Nigeria, compared to 507 in South Africa.

Nigeria is of course a huge domestic market, and for some years now has outperformed South Africa in terms of GDP (once again, based on figures from the World Bank). To look at its film industry alone, or ‘Nollywood’, this is now accepted as the second largest anywhere in the world, with only Hollywood ranking higher. Nigeria’s oil and gas industry also remains a major contributor to the economy, with the recent Petroleum Industry Act spurring a number of notable deals within the sector during 2022.

The Chambers Nigeria rankings do already highlight the top legal talent in five key practice areas: Banking & Finance, Corporate/Commercial, Dispute Resolution, Intellectual Property and Projects & Energy. Yet it is clear that the country has great potential; we will be placing an even greater emphasis on Nigeria research during the upcoming research cycle with a view to both broaden and deepen our coverage. It is my belief that we will see a higher number of U and W rankings in the existing ranking tables for Nigeria next year, with new ranking tables following close behind. If you have any specific suggestions for new practice areas that would further enhance our rankings, please don’t hesitate to contact either myself ([email protected]) or research manager Magdalena Parkitna ([email protected]).

Crucial time for African Nations

The coming years will doubtless be crucial ones for African nations, many of which are likely to bear the sharpest brunt of climate change should action not be taken. Yet it is also true that countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa are fast-evolving and dynamic markets whose legal sectors have an impressive bench of up-and-coming talent. I look forward to hearing more about their achievements, and championing them in future Chambers rankings.


Chambers Global

Visit the Chambers Global guide page to access our legal rankings of the top law firms and lawyers, gain insights, overviews and more on the guide.