Recently, it was announced that Dentons, the world largest law firm, combined with two firms in Mauritius. One of them is Balgobin Chambers. Barrister-at-Law and Senior Partner, Priscilla Balgobin-Bhoyrul explains that partnering with Dentons is not only a huge step for her firm but for the country as well. In this interview, Priscilla Balgobin-Bhoyrul elaborates on Dentons’s strategy and how technology has impacted legal world.
Dentons in Mauritius, that’s a big step. How will this merger help the jurisdiction of Mauritius?
Dentons is the first global law firm to operate in Mauritius. This is indeed a huge step not only for the firm, but also for the country, as it confirms the reputation of Mauritius as an investment platform and international financial centre, as well as an emerging platform for global legal services. This combination will give Mauritians access to the experience and talents of lawyers working in 77 countries. We will be able to continue supporting our clients with significant additional talent across our practices and sectors, particularly in the areas of banking, finance, corporate, tax, private equity, litigation and arbitration. The aim is to apply global expertise to deliver solutions in Mauritius.
What will be your strategy in Mauritius?
Dentons’ strategy is to become a pan-African law firm and to become the market leader in the Indian Ocean and Africa. We are very much driven by excellence and our objective is to keep providing first class services to our existing, as well as future clients. As a member of Dentons polycentric firm, the combination enables us to benefit further from Dentons' global network and infrastructure and our strategy will consist of using the network to better serve our clients. We are a one-stop shop where the clients can find attorneys and barristers who can assist them locally or refer them to a colleague in whatever jurisdiction they are interested in doing business. This being said, at Dentons Mauritius, we do not only have corporate clients. We also value and welcome individuals who need legal assistance.
Dentons has two differentiating platforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America. Can you tell us about the big picture of their footprint in Africa?
Dentons traces its presence in Africa to the establishment of a Cairo, Egypt office, in 1964. It also has offices in Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya, Casablanca, Morocco, Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa, with an extensive network of associated firms in Algeria, Angola, Cabo Verde, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Uganda and Zambia. In 2015, Dentons became the first Level 1 Black Economic Empowerment qualified global law firm in South Africa. The continent therefore remains our prime focus, the more so that most deals in Africa today have a ‘Mauritius’component.
Otherwise, in recent years, there has been a huge amount of energy surrounding innovation and creativity in the legal IT sector. What are your views on this?
Dentons policy is to be the law firm of the future all the time. In order to enable this to happen, innovation, especially as far as IT is concerned, is key. On our side, we have had to invest heavily into our IT infrastructure so as to enable us to communicate with our clients in a safe manner, while protecting their data. We have also been provided with many tools in order to enable us to communicate, very often freely, with our clients based all over the world. Each lawyer at Dentons Mauritius now has a number of Apps on his/her phone that enables him/her to do a number of things that results in more efficiency at work. Our new IT tools are transforming our client experience and we are very excited about this.
How has technology impacted the corporate and tax world?
Technology has changed the way we do business in general. From daily interactions with clients or service providers worldwide through video conference systems, keeping abreast of evolving and changing regulatory landscapes, to firm management and billing, technology has brought an enormous array of platforms and advantages. Efficiency at work has sky rocketed and we are all working at a higher pace than ever before. Technology is what will enable our small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean to achieve its ambition of being an International Financial Centre. We cannot afford to be slow and disconnected or inefficient.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for legal tech in the next five years?
I would think the biggest challenge would be security and protection of confidential information and data. As legal teach enables us to become more flexible, we also carry valuable information and client data around.
Another challenge would be the availability of lawyers who are capable of understanding and using the new technologies. Whilst the younger generation is keen to adapt, the more senior ones sometimes like to do things ‘the way they have been done in the past’ and see technology as an obstacle rather than an advantage.
How far has Mauritius been able to come with laws on data protection?
Very well, I must say! Mauritius has recently aligned its local laws with international standards, in particular, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 commonly referred to as GDPR.
The new Data Protection Act 2017, which came into force on 15th January 2018, aims at modernising the existing data protection principles. The privacy of the data subjects remains the core element of this new legislation and the changes brought about by the Data Protection Act 2017 provide additional safeguards to their rights.
In an age where data is referred to as ‘the new Oil’, given how precious it is and given how many important data breaches there have been in the past years worldwide, even in large companies like Yahoo, among others, the legislators worldwide have deemed it important to put in place adequate safeguards to protect individual’s data.
Also, Mauritius is aiming at becoming an Offshore hub. But why is this sector always facing criticism?
Terms like ‘tax haven’, ‘shell companies’, ‘depriving Africa of its income’ are words that have been unfairly used in the past for Mauritius and they are arguments that hurt. Mauritius is a well-regulated and transparent jurisdiction, with more than two decades’ track record in cross border investment and finance, a platform of substance for investing into the growing African continent, amongst other emerging economies. The double taxation avoidance agreements we have signed with a number of countries have encouraged investment in those countries albeit through Mauritius. It is therefore unfair to state that we are ripping off those poor countries.
We also have a stable and transparent regulatory framework based on international standards and Mauritius is engaged in the fight against tax evasion. The OECD has already rated Mauritius as being ‘compliant’ and Mauritius has signed the multilateral convention to implement tax treaty related measures to prevent base erosion and profit shifting.
In 2018, the regulator has again introduced new substance requirements to be satisfied by companies holding a Global Business Licence with a view to adhere to international best practices and standard.
How can we therefore secure our Offshore sector?
First and foremost, we should encourage investors to invest in Mauritius or through Mauritius because we have a stable country politically, where it is easy, and especially less costly, to do business, with a justice system that is fair and not corrupt and where the ultimate court of appeal is the Privy Council. We should draw attention to the large number of skilled, bilingual labour force available. And lastly, but certainly not firstly, because we have an attractive tax system.
How far do you agree with the new law of controlling comments on social media?
Generally speaking, I am against any laws that try to unreasonably restrict one’s freedom of expression. That being said, I agree that spreading fake news is far from being beneficial to any society. I think, however, that we should rather strengthen our existing laws as far as possible to cover offences such as identity theft and fake profiles.