The AFFORD Business Club (ABC) are working in partnership with Morrison and Foerster LLP, to provide ABC Members with access to pro-bono business legal consultations. This takes the form of monthly Legal Clinics and webinars held at the London offices of Morrison and Foerster, where members are given dedicated one-to-one time with lawyers assigned to them to provide assistance with their particular legal query. The consultations cover a range of business topic areas, including tax regulations, employment law, intellectual property and contract formation.
Here, the ABC team speaks with Howard Morrison, Senior of Counsel at Morrison and Foerster.
Why are Morrison & Foerster interested in assisting diaspora organisations with a focus on having a business in Africa?
Our pro bono work covers a very wide range of fields, but something at the heart of Morrison and Foerster in terms of all its works is working with businesses that are growing. We have the right skill set to help businesses that are developing, and businesses that are developing in Africa pose particular challenges because the continent and its countries are developing so quickly. Being able to provide practical and useful legal input offers us a challenge as well which we find fascinating, particularly as not enough high-quality legal advice is available for people doing business in Africa- we’re filling a gap.
What is the most common legal oversight you have seen small businesses do that has serious repercussions?
This goes across all small businesses and not just those connected to Africa, but often businesses don’t think about legal aspects sufficiently early in the life of the business. This is often because business owners are doing things their own way, and suddenly when business begins to take off relationships are tested, particularly when money is involved. It makes a lot of sense, even if you are a very small business, to establish legal clarity from the start so that everyone knows where they are early on, and this provides a foundation on which to build.
What advice would you give businesses to help them strengthen and secure their position/ business?
It is very challenging when financially you are not in a position where you can spend money on having an accountant, lawyer etc. because all of the profit you are making is being put back into the business. Getting whatever advice you can, no matter how big or small, to help develop a clear vision for the future is really important. So many people have really bright ideas, but actually turning them into a business which generates sufficient income for them to live on as well as profit to put back into the business to grow it just requires sufficient planning and helpful advice to avoid huge challenges later. Spend time planning and thinking before making decisions.
What advice would you give to UK based diaspora businesses wanting to do business in Africa?
What we’ve noticed, and this is not just African diaspora specific, is that there are commonalities to be found among all diaspora, which include a desire to help the development of that country, which is wonderful. However, there is a risk of being divorced from the reality of what it’s like in that country and having a sentimentalised perspective. This can mean that individuals can easily be taken advantage of if the correct processes and regulations are not in place for your business. Africa presents huge opportunities, growing markets, ambitions, talents, growing capital and natural resources; however, you can’t deny the challenges. These include a lack of infrastructure, inadequate bureaucracies, corruption, geographical distance – none of these are unique to Africa, however it is important to be aware of them.