Global law firm Baker McKenzie won the Employment Law Team of the Year, the Rising Star Award (Ashlin Perumall) and the Children’s Advocate Award (supported by Save the Children), as well as being highly commended in the categories of Most Promising Newcomer (Sphesihle Nxumalo) and Partner of the Year – Private Practice (Lerisha Naidu), at the African Legal Awards, announced at a virtual event on Friday 3 September. All these awards highlight the firm's on-the-ground expertise, seamless global teamwork and solutions-driven approach to addressing current challenges in Africa.  

Employment team of the year  

The Employment team received the Team of the Year award for their work advising a Japanese multinational pharmaceutical company on the Africa elements its multijurisdictional reorganisation. The team were the recipients of this award in 2019 as well. The South African team managed the various cross-border projects that were part of this matter, including leading the global harmonisation of the multinational company’s employment documentation in 55 jurisdictions across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the Asia Pacific region and Latin America, to create a uniform "one company" approach across the business.   

The work involved streamlining employment contracts and settlement agreements in these jurisdictions, as well as collating, reviewing and settling the advice received across multiple jurisdictions to ensure a uniform response. The team also designed and implemented an innovative, tailored online central database to house all its relevant employment documentation across the global business.   
The project was managed by Johan Botes, Partner and Head of the Employment and Compensation team in Johannesburg, and supported by Senior Associate, Tracy van der Colff and Associate Kirsty Gibson from the Johannesburg office. The Johannesburg team worked alongside lawyers from Baker McKenzie offices and correspondent firms in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, Ukraine, UK, US and Vietnam.   

Johan Botes, Partner and Head of the Employment & Compensation Practice at Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg, said, “It is immensely rewarding to accept this award on behalf of my impressive Johannesburg-based team and our Baker McKenzie colleagues around the world. Considering the challenging year that was 2020, the accolade is an amazing confirmation of the market's recognition of the seamless, innovative solutions we provide for our global clients in complex, multijurisdictional projects.”  

Rising Star  

Newly appointed Corporate/M&A Partner in Johannesburg, and recent fellow of the World Economic Forum Centre for the Industrial Revolution (WEF C4IR), Ashlin Perumall, was the recipient of the Rising Star Award at the African Legal Awards.   

Ashlin is a corporate and commercial attorney with more than a decade of experience specialising in technology transactions, acquisitions and advisory matters. He is routinely called to advise on complex legal mandates in the TMT sector, particularly those involving emerging tech and disruptive business models. He was appointed as a partner in the firm’s Corporate/M&A Practice in July this year, shortly after returning to South Africa from his WEF C4IR fellowship in San Francisco.  

Ashlin is regarded a versatile advisor in the emerging tech industry with deep industry knowledge, having advised multinational clients on law and policy in the areas of applied machine learning, distributed ledger and blockchain technologies, including central bank settlement systems, battery electrical vehicle regulations, autonomous vehicles and autonomous agents, to name a few. He has been involved in some of South Africa's large ecommerce deals and IP portfolio acquisitions. He is also an avid legal technology and Reinvent ambassador of the firm, Baker McKenzie's global innovation programme, having hosted, presented and judged at several legal tech seminars, client-facing design thinking workshops and legal hackathons. 

During his time in San Francisco, he was part of the Digital Currency Governance Consortium at the C4IR, working on the consumer protection, regulatory gaps and privacy related aspects surrounding Central Bank Digital Currencies and price stabilised cryptocurrency (stablecoins). Baker McKenzie has partnered with the WEF for a number of years and works closely with the international organisations it coordinates to address global, regional and industry issues - all in the spirit of global citizenship.    

“I returned from a life-changing fellowship more motivated than ever to seek workable solutions to the considerable socio-economic challenges that are currently being faced in Africa. During this difficult year, the recognition from Africa Legal Awards feels humbling and I am immensely grateful for this acknowledgement.  

“During this past year I have been privileged to be able to work with some of the world's leading minds and regulators on these challenges and received an inside lane view of collaborative multinational thought leadership. My perception of new technologies has vastly expanded as a result, especially in helping clients look beyond the hype of new technologies through to the core fundamentals. My aim is to use this knowledge to navigate the future of African implementation of digital currencies and other 4IR technologies, and how this will impact the rapidly developing industry. I strongly believe Africa has had some amazing innovations in these strategic industries that will result in a positive impact in future years.”  

Children’s Advocate Award  

The firm also received the Children's Advocate Award for its work with partner organisations, including the Center for International Human Rights at Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, to create the Youth Rights Resource Compass (www.youthrightsresourcecompass.org), a website that directs young people, as well as those who advocate for them, to the entities, organisations, governments and other agencies that are open and available to them. This platform will serve as a lifeline to those who need help knowing where to turn to during a time of need.   

The Compass was created during the pandemic to help children and young people around the world know what is still accessible to them. It is the only platform of its kind in the world. So far, over 250 volunteers have helped to put together the website. The Compass currently provides information on available resources in Botswana, Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, The Gambia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.  

The Compass includes contacts for resources on safety, health, education, rights and services. The information is available in local language(s) whenever possible and provides websites, phone numbers, social media resources and physical addresses to help connect children and youth to the resources they need.  

Angela Vigil, Partner and Executive Director of Baker McKenzie’s Pro Bono Practice, notes, “Governments, civil society and NGOs are scrambling to try to help children and youth get out of harm's way as this virus continues to travel throughout the globe and prey on the world's most vulnerable. We are proud to support the effort to protect them with this platform and we are thankful to African Legal Awards for highlighting this project."  

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