5 Minutes With South African Lawyer, Brian Kahn

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Brian Kahn is the founding partner of Brian Kahn Inc. Attorneys, a 47 year-old Law Firm that acts for listed entities, large private companies, family conglomerates, entrepreneurs and individuals alike, with a client portfolio ranging in regions from Abu Dhabi to Zambia.
Kahn, who is one of South Africa’s most revered Lawyers, has acted for various departments and organs of state in the Republic of South Africa as well as for sitting and former Heads of State in Africa as well as for African royalty and Ultra High Net Worth Individuals in Southern Africa.
I recently had the chance to briefly connect with Brian in Johannesburg where we discussed how rule of law in particular is ensuring not just stability but growth in emerging markets in South Africa and across the continent.

You’re one of South Africa’s most revered Lawyers. How did you get to where you are today?

I served articles in the 60s when legal life was much simpler but far less challenging and exciting. On the day I was admitted as an attorney, I put out my shingle and have been practicing law uninterrupted since then. Over time the practice developed to what it is today; a very focused and dedicated boutique law firm in which we practice business law – both corporate/commercial advisory work, transactional work and dispute resolution – i.e. litigation and arbitration, both local and offshore. I like to think that part of my firm’s ethos – its DNA if you will – is to think creatively, constructively and determine how best to achieve the client’s desired outcome. A simple enough proposition but one that requires a range of skills and instincts which the legal profession hones with time. The wisdom that comes with 5 decades of experience also contributes to the way in which we execute our mandate.

What are some of the challenges of operating in certain African countries where rule of law is, shall we say, more malleable than in South Africa?

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Operating in any environment in which the rule of law is not well entrenched is difficult. An environment in which the legal system and the courts are not as commercially sophisticated and experienced adds a layer to the difficulties. Anyone who suggests that operating in Africa is easy is naïve or simply hopeful.
Of course one can’t paint all African countries with the same brush but there is no doubt that there are quite a number of African countries in which conducting business is more than a challenge – it is high risk.

Do you feel the onus of responsibility falls on the private sector in forging a trajectory to prosperity for emerging economies?

No one person or organization – be it government, business or the individual – has an exclusive responsibility. Like everything in life it requires co-operation and sometimes a very fine balance. Agendas are very often different – sometimes for good reason and sometimes it is hard to find a reason but the harsh reality is that whilst business clearly has a role, government has a massive role to play – arguably a greater role because of the enormous political, administrative and legislative power they wield. Having said that, it is neither fair nor responsible to allocate different areas of responsibility to different role players.

Where do you envision Brian Kahn Inc. Attorneys in five years‘ time?

Wiser, smarter and more experienced. We don’t really want to become much larger because then we lose our identity and the very essence of our DNA. We will lose that which our clients want and we will also lose that which we – as a law firm – want which is to render great service to great people and in the process, fulfil all of the firm’s clients and its many stakeholders’ aspirations.

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