“One can no longer warm the law over by applying precedence, archaic legal texts and doing just fine with centuries’ old templates and theories; the world of law has changed entirely”.- Sphesihle Nxumalo
Our Millennial feature, Sphesihle Nxumalo, is an Attorney of the High Court of South Africa who also graduated in the top 10% of the Law (LL.B) Class of 2015 at the University of Witwatersrand (WITS)-which has been ranked first in Africa. He is also an LL.M (Competition Law) Candidate at the University of London. In this feature, Sphesihle projects his vigour and acute enthusiasm toward the African legal heritage.
Sphesihle Nxumalo is an associate at Baker McKenzie, a global law firm that was recently named the best law firm brand for the 11th consecutive year by Acritas’ Global Elite Law Firm Brand Index. Before joining Baker McKenzie, he was an articled clerk at Africa’s largest law firm and, later, an associate. He had also been accepted to serve as a law clerk to Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga at the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land. Ultimately, however, he withdrew from the role because of other pursuits.
Sphesihle specialises in Antitrust and Competition at Backer McKenzie. His expertise predominantly lies (although without limitation) in Industrials, Manufacturing and Transportation (IMT), Healthcare, Technology, Media, and Telecommunications (TMT) and Mining. The Antitrust & Competition Practice Group of Baker McKenzie is rated as a Top 3 Global Elite Practice. His role spans the entire gamut of antitrust and competition law regulation in Africa. He advises and represents blue-chip, multinational companies on high value and complex matters, which are highly technical and novel, across all the key African countries.
He has advised and represented companies in several high-profile global, continental, and domestic merger transactions and antitrust/competition litigation matters, most of which have been shortlisted for global, continental, and domestic awards. For example, he was part of a multi-firm, multi-jurisdictional team that won the Global Competition Review 2020 Award for Merger Control Matter of the Year for Asia-Pacific, Middle East, and Africa. He was also extensively involved in advising one of the Western Asian countries on the development of its new Competition Law and Implementing Regulations, which were passed into law a short while ago. This has been one of the highlights of his career so far, to be involved in influencing the development of foreign competition law.
He has also conducted compliance audits and due diligence investigations on various multinational corporate entities. These audits have helped shape internal compliance policies at many companies.
He is also a contributing writer for various global mainstream business and legal publications, including Global Compliance News, Concurrence, Lexology, African Law & Business, SA Financial Regulation Journal, Bizcommunity, De Rebus, Polity, African Law Review, SANKOFA, Business Law & Tax Review, Business Day, IOL News, Daily Maverick. etc. He was also a contributing editor for the LexisNexis Butterworths Competition Law Reports for three years.
Within a year of joining the South African office of Baker McKenzie, he was seconded to work in the London office for a short term in 2019. Subsequently, he was appointed to Baker McKenzie’s Global Antitrust & Diversity Initiative Team.
Over many years, he has participated in numerous business, legal and social discourses with judges, government ministers and company executives, and he is also an Ambassador of the African Union Youth. In this role, he has traversed issues such as youth mainstreaming policies in Africa and made contributions to the African Union and its development partners, such as NEPAD, on the African Union’s Agenda 2063 ‘The Africa We Want‘. In his capacity, he has also made various submissions to the Constitutional Review Committee (a parliamentary committee tasked with considering amendments to section 25 of the South African Constitution). Most of his submissions have been included in the final report, which was issued by the Constitutional Review Committee in 2018, for parliament’s consideration.
He was also recruited by The Khulula Foundation (a public charity founded in Washington, DC and operating in both the United States and South Africa), whose mission is to develop the next generation of change agents from low-income communities in South Africa, by providing them with a transformative, university preparatory education within the community. He was part of a team that conducted surveys in the Alexandra Township, to determine the feasibility of building a private non-paying school. This initiative was a tremendous success as the school is operational today and is called “Kgololo Academy” (which means “to set free”).
He has also held strategic positions in various social, professional, and academic organisations over the years, some of which he still holds. His role in some of these organisations is to volunteer his time and pecuniary resources to allow them to continue making an impact on society. One such organisation is Lawyers against Abuse (LvA), a non-profit organisation that provides critical legal and psychosocial support for victims of gender-based violence. LvA has been instrumental in helping victims of abuse in all ways and facilitating justice at the same time, hence he encourages people to be a part of this initiative in the spirit of Ubuntu. He is also a non-executive director and board member of a Black-owned tourism and property development company.
Over the years, Sphesihle has been recognised as a ‘Top 100 Most Influential Young South African‘ by Avance Media (2019). This list recognises young South Africans who have distinguished themselves in their chosen careers and who inspire other young South Africans. He was then voted as the #27th Most Influential Young South African overall and #2nd Most Influential South African under the ‘Law & Governance’ category. He has also been recognised as a Top 100 Young Mandela of the Future in South Africa by News24 (2018). This recognition honours young leaders who are dedicated to making a difference in South Africa through the leadership, creativity, resilience, vision, and compassion shown over time, thus embodying the spirit of Nelson Mandela. He has also been recognised as a Future Leader by The Future Leader Forum (2018) – this list profiles the business magnates of our generation. Also, he was awarded the Millennial Champion Award by Baker McKenzie South Africa for excellence in legal work (2019) and the Excellent Progression in Chosen Career Award by Peermont, for great impact in society and excellence in law. Finally, he has received numerous recognition certificates for academic excellence and leadership excellence.
What makes practice exciting for him and who is his role model?
For Sphesihle, the practice has tactical nuances; each day he is confronted with new situations and new obstacles. It is impossible for him to get bored, he challenges himself to be the chess master in multi-million deals and he is on the front lines in complex litigious matters – and that’s what he loves!
He also notes that laws change, industries evolve, business conditions are constantly in flux, there is a huge drive towards globalisation, a rapid rise of the digital economy, as well as a proliferation of legal regimes which have led to the increasing incidences of cross-border business activity – he believes it is all happening rapidly in our time. He equally notes that he is facing all of it and has to take it all in when thinking and devising new ways to solve those seemingly impossible roadblocks, and thinking innovatively and outside of every box. In his words,
“One can no longer ‘warm the law over’ by applying precedence, archaic legal texts and doing just fine with centuries’ old templates and theories; the world of law has changed entirely”.
He notes that everyone – from enforcers to judges – are grappling with this ‘New Think’ that permeates practice. The practice for him is now such a different thrill, and every day, his mind throws off the bowlines and sails away to catch some winds.
On having a role model, Sphesihle has found himself quite unreliable with picking a role model – perhaps because different versions of him that come with getting older and discovering new interests and viewpoints as he trudges along life are just at loggerheads about this, save to note that for every variant of himself (so to speak), there is a role model.
What is his philosophy of impacting the nation through the practice of the law?
There is an A4 paper that’s glued onto Sphesihle’s office wall that screams “read me” as you step in – a text that he plucked out from Robert Cover’s landmark Nomos and Narrative essay, written in the early 80s. It reads,
“We inhabit a nomos – a normative universe. We constantly create and maintain a world of valid and void…No set of legal institutions or prescriptions exists apart from the narratives that locate it and give it meaning. For every constitution, there is an epic, for each decalogue a scripture. Once understood in the context of the narratives that give it meaning, the law becomes not merely a system of rules to be observed, but a world in which we live…“.
He can’t help but think the practice of law constantly creates the worlds in which nations live from time to time. That’s quite something and that’s impact – perhaps not readily visible or immediate, but still impact, Sphesihle notes.
What is the next big thing he is working on?
He is working on a lot of ‘big things’ – but if he were to pick one, it is a pro bono project in partnership with a leading multinational technology company which involves putting together a comprehensive guide for youth in every city in the world. This guide aims to aid the youth in understanding their rights when encountering the police and when seeking to lodge complaints about police treatment. It is a vital tool that they are creating, and he hopes that young people will find it very useful.
What does he consider as the millennials’ greatest strength?
Sphesihle thinks the millennial’s strength is being tenacious without being overbearing; realistic without being risk-averse and compromising without sacrificing.
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