Baker McKenzie

Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg recently held an internal innovation hackathon, during which employees were challenged to design new or improved solutions to pain points that the firm and its clients are currently facing in Africa. Participants formed teams and attended a series of innovation workshops, before submitting their innovative ideas to the hackathon’s judges.

The hackathon was the brainchild of Corporate/M&A Senior Associate Ashlin Perumall, a member of the Johannesburg office’s Innovation Committee and current Fellow at the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR). As part of his C4IR Fellowship, Ashlin is working on legal and policy considerations regarding future science and technology, and connecting work at the C4IR with client and business needs in Africa. Ashlin led workshops at the hackathon that were designed to assist participating teams to identify current pain points and formulate workable solutions for clients in Africa.

“To be responsive to changing client needs and to be of value to our clients in a challenging post-pandemic environment in Africa, we must be able partner with them in a commercial and collaborative manner. We must also demonstrate flexibility, continuously enhancing their own business models to ensure smarter ways of working. The hackathon enabled us to entrench this innovation agenda across our practices, and the results will assist us in implementing practical, client-focused solutions in Africa,” Ashlin noted.

The hackathon’s winning solution, The Global Africa Hub, addressed the need for a single point of client contact for African legal work. The Hub works by facilitating the execution of the firm’s Africa strategy via a network of internal and external role players and stakeholders. The solution outlined numerous benefits for both clients and the firm, including increased cross-practice collaboration, streamlined access to African thought leadership and data, and faster, more cost-effective turnaround on transactions. The judges commented that the Global Africa Hub won first prize because the concept could readily be taken forward beyond the hackathon and turned into a real solution.

The second prize went to Starting Point, a solution that aimed to institutionalize the firm’s knowledge, which could be used as a starting point when initial key questions were received from clients. The solution facilitated a simpler and faster way of doing business and reduced unnecessary time and costs. The third prize went to a solution entitled DealResolve, which assisted clients in putting together a plan for a particular deal, whether it was an internal restructure or potential sale, for example. The goal was to develop a solution that would be efficient and respond to clients’ needs by providing various bespoke options to achieve client goals, and that considered their unique circumstances.

The three winning teams will now work together to formulate a comprehensive solution to client pain points in Africa.

Morne van der Merwe, Managing Partner at Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg, explained that the hackathon presented an ideal opportunity to entrench the firm’s strategy to be the new lawyers, operating a new normal in Africa.

“In a post-COVID world, with increased emphasis on the digital economy, clients expect the new lawyers to apply an innovative mindset and to have innovation embedded in their overall strategy and services. We must be able to implement innovative ideas that add value to our clients’ operations, aid them in pushing forward their own innovation agendas, and help them to identify new opportunities for growth in Africa,” he added.

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