Thandiwe Nhlapho elected to serve on the ILFA National Committee

Thandiwe recently completed the International Lawyers for Africa (ILFA) advanced training and secondment programme. ILFA is a capacity building Africa focused organisation founded in 2006 to enhance the quality of legal services and strengthen the rule of law in Africa. Thandiwe is joined by Fateema Benjamin, Programme Manager of ILFA, where they discuss international opportunities offered by the organisation for lawyers on the African continent. Thandiwe has also been elected to join the ILFA National Committee in South Africa. Congratulations Thandiwe!

24 Jan 2023 12:39 Minutes Podcast

At a glance

  • Thandiwe recently completed the International Lawyers for Africa (ILFA) advanced training and secondment programme.
  • ILFA is a capacity-building, Africa-focused organisation founded in 2006 to enhance the quality of legal services and strengthen the rule of law in Africa.
  • Thandiwe is joined by Fateema Benjamin, Programme Manager of ILFA, where they discuss international opportunities offered by the organisation for lawyers on the African continent.
  • Thandiwe has also been elected to join the ILFA National Committee in South Africa. Congratulations Thandiwe!
Thandiwe Nhlapho elected to serve on the ILFA National Committee

Thandiwe Nhlapho elected to serve on the ILFA National Committee


Thandiwe Nhlapho elected to serve on the ILFA National Committee


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Thandiwe Nhlapho: Hi, everybody, and welcome to CDH Conversations! Today's episode will slightly differ from the usual ones, but will hopefully be exciting and insightful. We are honored to be joined by Fateema Benjamin all the way from Dubai. Fateema is a Programme Manager at International Lawyers for Africa, which we'll keep referring to as ILFA. 

My name is Thandiwe Nhlapho and I'm a senior associate at CDH in the Corporate & Commercial practice. Part of why we're having this conversation today is because I've recently had the pleasure of completing my secondment at Debevoise & Plimpton in London, through one of the programmes that Fatima will be telling us about. 

Fateema will be telling us about the secondment programme and other programmes offered by ILFA. Thank you for joining us, Fatima. Over to you!

An introduction to International Lawyers for Africa (ILFA )

Fateema Benjamin: Hi, Thandi, thank you so much for that introduction. I'm so happy to be online with you today. As Thandi mentioned, I'm the Programme Manager for ILFA. ILFA is a capacity-building, Africa-focused organisation that was started in 2006 by leading law firms and partners within those law firms. The message was really quite simple. It was:

How can we go into Africa, enhance the quality and delivery of legal services and strengthen rule of law in Africa?

After many minds sat together, including the founder of ILFA, Tim Taylor, they came up with the ILFA programme. It was really short, sharp, three months secondment in a firm in the UK, which eventually spread to Dubai, France, and more recently, Hong Kong.

Given the COVID years it has quieted down in the last few years. But last year, 2022, we had the secondment programme back for the first time, and we are really excited about where the future is for ILFA! We genuinely are so excited about the capacity building opportunities that we can grow in the next year especially. But we've also moved away from our traditional programmes, and we have a few more exciting ones.

ILFA programmes for law students

Thandiwe Nhlapho: That's exciting, Fateema, indeed. Could you please tell us more about the different programmes that ILFA offers? I know there's the ILFA Flagship Secondment Programme, which I was part of last year. But I'm also aware of different programmes, which might be suitable for other candidates that may not be able to complete a secondment for three months away from their country.

Fateema Benjamin: Yes, absolutely. Thank you. So one of the brainchilds we had in the last few years is the ILFA Legal Excellence Academy. This is a really sharp, three day online training program. It's classroom style learning. We work in different jurisdictions. So last year, we did one in Uganda, and we did one for West Africa. We work with local Bar Associations and law societies.

So the lawyers that do attend the training don't just benefit from having an ILFA training that's backed by all of these various law firms, they also get accreditation points in their jurisdiction. So it's three days. It's online. It's exactly for those who don't have the time to be away from their jobs, their positions, their families, their countries for three months to do an in-person program in London. And again, it's called the ILFA Legal Excellence Academy. 

We have recordings available of the training and it's free for any lawyer who does wish to attend. So I highly recommend that programme. 

So those are our two main programmes. We have another exciting one coming up. I can't say too much about it right now. You'd have to keep your eyes posted on our social media pages for it. But for now, the ILFA Flagship Programme and the Online Legal Excellence Academy is what we're working on.

Thandiwe Nhlapho: Great. Those sounds like exciting opportunities for lawyers across Africa! And I'm sure there's plenty to learn, and networking opportunities while at it. To move on, I'd like us to talk about the application process, specifically for the ILFA Flagship Secondment Programme, which I understand, applications are currently open at the moment.

The ILFA application process

Fateema Benjamin: Yes, you're correct. So applications at the moment are open for the flagship. Just to reiterate, the flagship is our three month programme from September to the end of November in Dubai, London, and possibly Paris this year. 

So applications are open. What we suggest is that you email us at, or you can reach out to us on any of our social media platforms. We'll send you forward all the application details and all you need to do is fill out the application, send it back to us and, upon evaluation, you will be contacted.

Thandiwe Nhlapho: Great. So just to confirm that, Fateema, the application is not online but interested applicants will have to email you initially and then follow the process thereafter. 

Fateema Benjamin: Correct.

Thandiwe Nhlapho: Great, those are the questions from my side.

How to stand out as an applicant

Fateema Benjamin: Well, actually, I thought it would be exciting for applicants to know, how do they stand out. Of course, Africa is a huge continent, many lawyers, many applications. And something that I can say that we're looking for at International Lawyers for Africa, the prime benefit has always been about strengthening rule of law in Africa. So when you are referencing the reasons why you've applicated in your motivation letter, keep that in mind, I would say. And how you would then take back that same messaging after your secondment is completed. And also, Thandi, you've just recently completed yours. How do you feel like your application stood out amongst the rest?

Thandiwe Nhlapho: Thanks, Fatima. I absolutely agree with everything that you've mentioned. Over and above that, perhaps I can add that, at least what I think from my perspective made my application stand out is how I set out my experience in the last five years. Because you will see that one of the requirements is that you need to have a PTE of at least five years. And I set out mainly some of the cross-border transactions that I have done. 

And I do sympathise with some lawyers who may not have completed cross-border transactions. But I think you do need to show an interest in cross-border transactions and matters even when you have not had an opportunity to complete these. And I think, again, your eagerness to build long-lasting relationships with African lawyers that you will be completing the program with is very key. And over and above that, relationships with other lawyers internationally that you'll be meeting during the program, and potentially clients that you could win during the secondment programme. 

What is also important, is that you inform your employer on time, when you indicate an interest applying this program, as opposed to waiting until your application is successful. Then you will be giving your employer an opportunity to make staffing arrangements while you're away. 

And I think that's my insight from the application process. And just, overall, as an ILSA alumni, I've had a really great experience.

As I've mentioned in my previous podcast, it has been a life-changing experience for me just from being exposed to the inner workings of an international law firm, working with some of the best legal minds in the world, as well as building a strong professional network. And I would really encourage lawyers in Africa to apply for this Flagship Secondment Programme, and any other programmes that might be suitable for them.

Fateema Benjamin: Thanks, Thandi. That's a great insight. I would like to touch on one item you said, which was, there is a benefit if you have a cross-border experience. But quite often, what I've seen in my two years with ILFA and the experience we've had with the law firms is they're not just only interested in:

If you feel you're lacking in experience in a certain field, and you're applying to gain that experience, put that in your motivation. The law firms, and us at ILFA, we like seeing that because it is capacity building. So if you don't have that experience, and we happen to be able to add a few coins in that bucket for you, then please let us know. Let us know what you're looking for out of this experience.

Thandiwe Nhlapho: Absolutely. And I can attest to that. Just from my experience being seconded to Debevoise & Plimpton, most of the matters that I worked on, probably 9 out of 10 were cross-border transactions in African countries. So you will be equipped and trained on how to deal with matters that involve different jurisdictions. So absolutely agree with that.

Fateema Benjamin: Just from my side, and we've had this conversation, Thandi, how was your experience as an alumni? Do you recommend it?

Thandiwe Nhlapho: I would absolutely recommend it! Honestly, I think young lawyers in Africa, particularly those who meet the requirements, should apply for this opportunity, because you get to learn, firstly, from reputational law firms that are part of the programme and sponsor the programme. So it's not just working in the law firm that you are seconded at.

But during the first two weeks, you will have opportunities to visit some of the Magic Circle law firms and get training at their offices, have opportunities to engage with them and also create a network, like I mentioned. You also get opportunities to meet some of their clients, which is amazing.
Overall, you work with your host firm and you gain so much experience, not only from a technical perspective, but also business development and building a practice going forward. So, absolutely, would recommend it!

Fateema Benjamin: Amazing. Even with the cold weather, I'm happy to hear that! 

Thandiwe Nhlapho: Actually, the cold weather only comes towards the end of the programme. So it's actually not that bad. I experienced the cold wealther in the last two weeks of my secondment. But, overall, even with the weather, it's still an amazing experience!

Fateema Benjamin: Right, I'm so happy to hear that! And, hopefully, this podcast today encourages more and more applicants. Last year was a very interesting here. We had 90% of only females. And one male was was a part of the group. So that was quite interesting. So I would love to encourage as many people as possible to apply. Like I said earlier, send us an email, or contact us via social media, and we're happy to send you the application steps. And hopefully we get flooded with applications this year.

We have some exciting news, Thandi, that we we'd love to share with the network. Thandi, would you like to do the honors?

On Thandiwe being elected to serve on the ILFA National Committee

Thandiwe Nhlapho: Absolutely. I have recently been invited to join the ILFA National Committee in South Africa specifically. I am honored to be part of this committee. When the invitation came, as Fateema would know, I gladly accepted almost instantly. This for me is a massive opportunity, because then I'll get an opportunity to make an impact on the programmes that are offered. I have gained so much experience from the people involved directly and indirectly, such as yourself, Fateema. I would like to pay it forward and look forward to making a positive impact and contributing meaningfully during my time as a member.

Fateema Benjamin: That's exactly the kind of takeaway we would want from those that do our program, to walk away feeling like you've left with knowledge that you can pay forward to those who come after you. So I was very happy and delighted to extend the invitation to join the committee to you and I'm even more over-the-moon that you chose to accept it. Really looking forward to working with you on these projects!

Thandiwe Nhlapho: It's a pleasure! Looking forward to working with you as well. Thank you so much for your time, Fateema, and our listeners for tuning in. All the best with the 2023 applications.

Fateema Benjamin: Thank you so much! And I, really, am very happy to have been your guest today and I look forward to us speaking more soon.

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