Slaughter and May Africa Essay Prize: The Hypocrisy of Big Law

Editor’s Note: YNaija is committed to hosting important conversations from youth across Africa and the world. This is why when this coalition of lawyers, all students of the Harvard Law school sent us this article about the Slaughter and May Africa Essay Prize, we agreed to publish it. We have attached the names and social media handles of all the lawyers who contributed to this essay so the conversation can continue beyond this article.

One would have thought that several years post-colonialism, the world would have moved away from its conception of Africa as a single country and as a cash-cow. However, it is very sad that the “Berlin conference” mentality is still existing and its main apologists are those who ordinarily should have known better – Big Law.  Our usual attitude to the discrimination we have faced from Big Law and Schools has been to keep mum and hope for the best, but Slaughter and May literally just broke the Camel’s back. Therefore, “we will not have it o!

The passing generation of African lawyers are comfortable with the status of “local counsel” on transactions undertaken on African soil with receivables from our Continent, while international Big Law “hold the pen” and lead the way on legal advice on municipal laws emanating from our Continent. Worse still, on these deals, international Big Law earn disproportionately higher fees than indigenous law firms despite the imbalance you may find on billable hours. This would be a topic for another day. For now, let us address Slaughter and May.

Today, our attention was drawn to the Slaughter and May Africa Essay Prize, described as an “exciting opportunity for law and non-law students to demonstrate their commercial and legal skills in an African context and have the chance to win a substantial prize.” (see: Our concern is as regards the eligibility criterion for participation in this competition. The notice reads: “[t]o enter, you must be enrolled as a current student at an EU educational institution on the deadline for submission of entries. Both full-time and part-time, law and non-law, undergraduate and post-graduate students (including Graduate Diploma in Law and Legal Practice Course students) are eligible to enter.”

Our understanding of this criterion is that law and non-law students enrolled in educational institutions in African countries are not able to compete favorably with students in EU educational institutions or have limited understanding of the subject of the competition. Who else should have better commercial and legal skills in an African context than students in Africa? Does Slaughter and May think that it can re-stage the Berlin Conference somewhere in Europe and discuss matters relating to Africa and the 54 wonderful countries on our Continent without the active participation of Africans who study and practice law in African countries and deal with these issues on a daily basis? We know that there are Africans studying in EU academic institutions, but we are fully aware that these smart African students are not necessarily more versatile on the issues arising from the essay topic than their counterparts studying in African academic institutions.

In fact, relative to the teeming population of students in African academic institutions, the number of African students in EU academic institutions who have felt the Continent in its raw form is very insignificant. It appears that this is part of the perceived ploy by international Big Law to develop a crop of lawyers that have an interest in African matters, without bothering to employ lawyers (and even non-lawyers) who were trained in African countries.Here comes the heartbreaker. Please look at the map below:


Slaughter and May has attempted to redraw the map of Africa and restructure sovereign territorial lines as though they just concluded Berlin Conference Phase II. We understand that Slaughter and May’s rendition of the map of Africa is a work of art, but in issues like this, works of art must be as close as possible to reality. This map lends credence to the fact that persons in the EU do not necessarily know much about Africa. Pray, why is Nigeria, Sudan and Gambia in the territory of Madagascar? We expected more from a law firm which has “been at the forefront of transactions in Africa for a number of decades and [has] considerable knowledge of working in this diverse [C]ontinent.

We know that Slaughter and May has earned its place as a respectable law firm in the world, and we hope that the firm has a reasonable and acceptable justification for discriminating against Africans on African soil on matters relating to commercial and legal skills within the African context.

The “Africa Rising” mantra will not be a cliché.

The authors are all LLM students at Harvard Law School and are licensed to practice law in their home countries. They can be reached by email or via direct messages on LinkedIn.

Heri Mwapachu, LL.M. Candidate, Harvard Law School

Feyisayo Ogunmola, LL.M. Candidate, Harvard Law School

Chizaram Oparaji, LL.M. Candidate, Harvard Law School

Reason Abajuo, LL.M. Candidate, Harvard Law School

Kenneth Ononeze Okwor, LL.M. Candidate, Harvard Law School


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