Yemiru Nega (left) of YENKOMAD Construction and Bizuaywhu Tadelle of East African Holdings join Mihereteab Leul (middle) opening the office which aspires to become one of the first legal firms in Ethiopia.

Located on the 8th Floor of Dembel City Centre, one of Addis Abeba's posh properties and prime locations on Africa Avenue (Bole Road), MLA's office evokes images of a modern investment bank rather than a law firm.

According to people knowledgeable with MLA’s evolution, the firm spent a little over 1.5 million Br on renovating its office, which earns an estimated one million dollars in revenue from corporate clients that include Japanese Tobacco and Eagle Hills. The latter is new to the Ethiopian market with its flagship real estate development project, La Gare Eagles Hills. MLA declined to confirm its income or what it spent on the renovation of its offices.

The principal of MLA, Mihereteab Leul, is an experienced attorney well recognized in corporate law and has gained recognition in corporate litigation, taking over the mantle from the late Teshome G. Mariam, another well-known expert in corporate law. Despite its new appearance, MLA is essentially a law firm.

The office is divided between a client receiving area and the main operation space, where young lawyers are busy at work in their stations.

Under Ethiopian there was no clear rule regulating law  firms. This is to change soon as part of the many legal reform efforts that are underway by the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD). The change in the law will allow lawyers like Mihereteab to reposition themselves and emerge as corporations.

Mihereteab is shy when discussing money matters, including how much he spent in renovating his offices and the size of the revenue he earns from his corporate clients. But he is bullish about meeting the goals he has set out for his firm in the coming few years.

Naturally sheepish, he is determined in his resolve to establish his firm as a corporate entity on par with other firms in Africa and elsewhere.

He has come a long way from his days as a young lawyer, canvassing courthouses and spending his time litigating on behalf of his clients in court chambers. Although he misses those days, he no longer does litigation but focuses on providing legal and business advice to corporate clients, a service several other firms in the industry are increasingly drawn to.

The office renovation work that took half a year was completed by an Italian firm, Fabio Construction, which has experience working on projects for OCP, a Moroccan company, and start-up incubator Bluemoon. MLA held an inauguration ceremony for its renovated offices on Thursday, February 21, 2019.

According to Mehrteab, the renovation will help create a business-friendly atmosphere for his clients.

"Most of our clients are international corporate entities, and we are determined to meet the standards of international law firms.”

MLA works with international law firms like DLA Piper, Baker Mckenzie and Slaughter and May. It represents 68 international clients including Coca-cola, General Electric, Motor & Engineering Company of Ethiopia (MOENCO), ABB Group and Mahindra & Mahindra Limited among others.

"We also aspire to be a proper law firm," said Mehrteab, who employees 33 workers including lawyers, paralegals and administrators.

MLA is a member of the International Bar Association, the Ethiopian Lawyers’ Association, and the International Trademark Association.

The office works in areas like investment and corporate law, taxes, energy, mining, intellectual property, hospitality and real estate. It is also involved in dispute resolution and arbitration, conducts legal due diligence, as well as advising clients on company formation, mergers and acquisitions.

Currently, the Office of the Attorney General is preparing amendments on advocacy laws to activate the legal registration of law firms. An advisory committee, of which Mehrteab is a member, has conducted a pre-amendment study and has delivered a report to the Attorney General, who will draft the bill.

The Attorney General is amending the 18-year-old Federal Court's Advocacy Licensing Proclamation with the main aim of establishing competent law firms.

The existing legal framework does not permit the establishment of individual law firms as unique entities, established to practice law under their own licenses.

The new law will formalise the current customary trend of law offices in the country, according to Kahsay Gidey, dean of Meqelle University's School of Law.

"As there are no laws regulating the establishment and operations of law firms, many law offices have been operating as de facto law firms. We hope the new law will regulate this," Kahsay said.

Kahsay also believes that the new law will help clients to access specialised lawyers in one place and make a company liable rather than individuals during disputes.

But it could also have some disadvantages if the Attorney General does not include stringent articles in the proclamation, according to the expert.

"The lawyers could abuse the business model as the company would be liable, not them individually," Kahsay said. "The proclamation should have provisions that regulate this."

PUBLISHED ON Feb 23,2019 [ VOL 19 , NO 982]

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