International Lawyers for Africa (ILFA) sees tens of young lawyers come to the UK every year to learn from over 20 UK firms. Lawyer2B will talk to one participant each week for the next month.
Launched in 2006 as a corporate social responsibility initiative, ILFA has now helped 64 African lawyers, mainly 3-5 years PQE, from 17 countries contribute to the growth of legal expertise in their home nations.
Training is drawn from the most relevant parts of UK firms’ existing training schemes and includes placements on banking, project finance and capital markets.
Lom Ahlijah is legal counsel at the Ghana Grid Company. He holds a combined majors degree in Psychology and Sociology and a post graduate law degree, both from the
University of Ghana. He seconded to Berwin Leighton Paisner from September to November last year.
How did you come to be legal counsel at the Ghana Grid Company?
My interest came about through exposure to energy law whilst in private practice. I worked on matters relating to energy companies largely in oil and gas. These included advice on proposed energy projects, drafting of legal opinions and commercial documents such as joint venture, facility and security agreements. I also worked on energy litigation.
Energy is the driving force of the African growth trajectory. Ghana is going through an interesting reform process in the energy sector and the move in-house provides a great opportunity to gain in-depth experience in the sector.
Why were you so keen to be involved with ILFA?
We live in a global world and any lawyer worth his or her salt must gain some international exposure. Taking part in a program like ILFA was a great opportunity for me as a young lawyer to get a glimpse into the workings of international legal practice. Working in London, the centre of international finance was also a great attraction as well.
The opportunity to build strong professional relationships with lawyers from other African countries and from the UK was another major driver for taking part in the program. It was my expectation that building relationships through the ILFA program would greatly impact my legal career, and I was not disappointed. Sharing and exchanging ideas with lawyers I met during the program was a real eye-opener and gave me insight into the practice of law in different jurisdictions.
Did you always intend to work in Ghana or has strong economic growth, which out performs most of West Africa, made this a more viable option?
Yes, Ghana is where I always wanted to make the most impact as a legal professional. This is regardless of the economic situation in Ghana. Nonetheless, the strong economic growth posted by Ghana over the last decade gives further incentive to work there.
More opportunities beckon for Ghana and there remains great potential for even more growth. The option of living and working outside of Ghana however remains an option in view of the increasingly international nature of legal practice. This is an option I may consider in the coming years.
One quarter of Ghana’s youth is unemployed. Has finding employment ever been a problem for you as it is for law graduates in the UK?
In the legal sub-sector of the Ghanaian economy, finding employment is not difficult at all. Indeed, I can say that every graduating lawyer in Ghana will find a firm or company in which to practice law. The challenge however relates to the choice of firm/company and issues of remuneration.
Finding a job after law school is relatively easy as there are available positions in firms and companies that new lawyers can take up. The difficulty is whether young lawyers can gain entry into their first choice firms or companies or if they will get positions that pay them adequately.
What skills do you feel you have learned that you can bring back to your job?
My time at Berwin Leighton Paisner was a thrilling experience. I improved my research skills and was introduced to a wider range of sources of legal information than I am used to. This knowledge will greatly enhance my research capabilities in my work at the Ghana Grid Company.
I learned a lot in terms of the work ethic: meeting deadlines and paying attention to detail. My ability to write concisely was also greatly improved.
Through the various sessions we had with the firms taking part in the ILFA program, I was exposed to specialised substantive knowledge in renewable energy, project finance, private equity, capital markets, negotiation, oil and gas law, LNG (liquified natural gas) project finance and public private partnerships. These are all things I will use to enhance my work in Ghana.