Interview with: Aurélie Chazai, Managing Partner

Chazai & Partners | View firm profile

Managing Partner Aurélie Chazai explains how the firm is adapting to clients’ changing needs.

What do you see as the main points that differentiate CHAZAI & PARTNERS from your competitors?

We are organized in several departments headed by experts (Partners and Of Counsels). This allows us to provide a 360° service to business actors in Cameroon and abroad. Most of our competitors’ practice focus one or two areas at the most.

Which practices do you see growing in the next 12 months? What are the drivers behind that?

Banking & Finance
The Banking and Finance sector is a very dynamic, growing market, especially in Africa. African finance institutions leaders are younger than they were a decade earlier, and have had international careers that allow them to be more familiar with complex financial operations, for which they certainly need our expertise.

For instance, we are currently advising a consortium of banks on a treasury bonds issue to refinance the outstanding bank debt of a bond issue carried out by a State of the CEMAC Zone. This is quite innovative in our current financial environment. Some of our clients are contemplating securitization operations, which are also quite rare.

Private Equity
We did not anticipate that private equity would become such an interesting market for us as it has. We know that many young entrepreneurs have brilliant ideas and projects, but not enough cash to carry them out. We also know that local banks are still very reluctant to finance innovation and business creation. It then makes sense that private equity would be a solution of choice for the most serious business promoters. However, we did not anticipate that so many of our clients would ask us to explore this financing mode on their behalf, and that several investors stand ready to help them. This is certainly an interesting development, and we are very eager to keep working in this field.

As it appears, arbitration is becoming the favored mode of conflict resolution between companies. Several of our clients now specifically instruct us to draft arbitration clauses in their commercial contracts. Furthermore, we have advised a few clients in the context of ongoing or imminent international arbitration proceedings. We feel that this appetite for arbitration will only grow in the coming years.

Many business operators are slowly starting to view IP as a strategic business asset. They are starting to realize that a good management of IP assets can actually help increase profits, and that IP may be an effective tool for a company’s expansion strategy. Because of this, clients are now requesting audits and other legal services related to IP more often.

As for the IT industry, while it would be excessive to anticipate a boom in the next 12 months, the market is getting more dynamic than ever in Cameroon and in Africa. If anything, the current COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how important this industry truly is. Its growth is inevitable. Our job as lawyers will be to make sure that it happens in an optimal and secure way from a legal standpoint.

What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that will benefit clients?

To cope with our strong growth and to continue to provide fast, efficient and personalized service to our clients, we have recently recruited several new associates. Regardless, we are always looking to improve our internal work organization in order to maintain the utmost quality of service.

Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?

It definitely does. This was especially true with the current COVID-19 pandemic. During our self-imposed lockdown, we have been able conduct our business remotely without any particular difficulty, because our Firm was already largely digitalized. We have used various communication technologies to keep in touch with our clients when we could not meet them in person.

I also believe that our understanding of technology and all the possibilities the law offers in this regard allow us to provide our clients with services that they may not always realize they can access in our current business climate. For instance, although the law allows them, Board and Shareholders’ meeting via videoconference are still a thing of rarity here. Just this year, we have organized several of those, much to the appreciation of our international investor clients.

Can you give us a practical example of how you have helped a client to add value to their business?

Thanks to the credibility we have garnered in the business world, we have been able to facilitate fund raising operations for one of our clients, because investors were aware of our reputation and background.

Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms – where do you see the firm in three years’ time?

Clients are definitely looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firm.

It is very important for a law firm to be stable and project an image of stability. At the end of the day, a lawyer is only as good as their reputation. Standing and credibility come not just from hard work, but also from stability and steadfastness. One cannot maintain them for very long if their governance is in shambles. Instability upsets the clients, and it upsets the market. That is why we are working very hard to maintain our stability, because if we do not have to worry about internal struggles, we have all the more time to devote to our clients.

Regarding strategic direction, I believe clients are always most interested in law firms that are going places, and that is what we intend to do. In the next few years, we plan to keep growing and expanding our practice in the Sub Saharan region. We are also considering opening offices in other countries of the region in the near future.