A tribute to our Chairman and Senior Partner, Robert Legh (1962 - 2021)
Last month we tragically lost an integral member of the Bowmans family, a world class lawyer, and an equally outstanding person, our chairman and senior partner, Robert Legh.
Rob was with Bowmans all his professional life. As Alan Keep, the Bowmans group managing partner, said when he gave the firm the tragic news of Rob’s death: ‘Bowmans was the only place that Rob worked, and he cared very deeply about the firm and its people’. And as Ezra Davids, now a deputy chairman, said in 2014 when he nominated Rob as chairman and senior partner: ‘He has a deep and abiding love for this firm as is demonstrated by his willingness to always go the extra mile in carrying out numerous time-consuming firm-wide non-fee earning responsibilities’.
Rob joined the firm as a candidate attorney in 1986. He was an associate from 1988 to 1990, a senior associate from 1990 to 1992 and he became a partner in 1992. He was elected as the chairman and senior partner of Bowmans in 2014 and re-elected to that position in 2018.
Unlike many of us (including me), Rob was a multi-faceted lawyer having initially practised in various fields: Commercial Property, Labour, General Litigation, and eventually Competition and Mining. But also, unlike some who try their hand at various things, he was effective in all the areas he worked in. I think his legacy achievement in practice was being one of the founding fathers of competition law in South Africa and the founding partner of Bowmans’ Competition Practice in 1999 which, today, is internationally recognised as one of the leading competition practices on the African continent. Rob’s status was recognised in 2014, the year he became chairman and senior partner, when he was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Competition Law at the South African Professional Services Awards.
What I think is particularly noteworthy is how Rob’s leadership qualities came to the fore from the start. In 1993, just one year after he became a partner, he was elected to Bowmans’ Executive Committee, and he had been a member of the Executive Committee and then the Partnership Board ever since - a remarkable and unrivalled record of 28 unbroken years.
Equally noteworthy is that, even before he became chairman and senior partner, Rob was involved in the most important strategic and business-related processes of our firm. Many of these activities were new activities which Rob was asked to, and did, develop and nurture and they all went on to play major roles in the firm’s continuing development and success.
I can say from personal knowledge that Rob’s involvement in these activities was not due to self-advancement but was because the people who were setting up and staffing the processes knew that his sterling qualities and skills would make him one of the best possible people for the job.
Rob’s contribution to Bowmans went way beyond his professional, strategic, and operational activities. His values not only reflected those of the firm, but he practised, drove and nurtured those values and he actively took on a custodial role to preserve and protect them in the firm. He was very involved in Bowmans’ social activities as well. The firm’s cohesiveness is in no small measure due to the example of his personal behaviour and his encouragement of others.
Although, after his family, Bowmans was probably the major part of his life, there was much more to Rob. Evidence of this comes from the warm and glowing tribute which was paid to him by the Minister of Trade & Industry, Ebrahim Patel, who referred to his work representing the business community on the 2018 Competition Amendment Bill, his frequent pro bono advising of the Ministry on various relevant, issues, and, most recently, the very important work he did for the country in leading the Labour Market Working Group for the Business 4 South Africa Covid 19 initiative. Bowmans was especially proud of Rob’s tireless work for this initiative which, as was the case with so much of what Rob did, brought honour and esteem to the entire firm and contributed to enhancing Bowmans’ reputation across Africa as well as abroad.
Some personal reflections:
- Rob and I were colleagues for 35 years - from when Rob started his articles with Bowmans.
- We did numerous overseas business trips together. He was a fantastic and fun travelling companion and a wonderful colleague to have with you in important meetings with clients and with partners of major international law firms with whom we have very important relationships.
- During my time as chairman I cannot think of a single issue of significance where I did not seek Rob’s counsel. Nor of an occasion where his input was not hugely valuable.
- I’m not a believer in a law firm leader grooming a successor as I have no doubt that, at least in our firm, fresh blood in leadership, rather than ‘clones’, has been crucial to the exponential improvements and resulting success we have experienced over many decades; and our history has shown that we can comfortably leave it to the collective wisdom of the partners to choose the right person for the times to come. But I could not have been more delighted or comfortable when Rob was elected to succeed me if I had myself selected my successor; and the current state of the firm as well as its trajectory and achievements since Rob became chairman and senior partner (and the individual tributes that have been paid to Rob from all quarters within the firm) confirm that Rob was the perfect person to have led Bowmans.
- I (and I’m pretty sure the other partners feel similarly) loved knowing that in Rob we had someone who had all the qualities anyone would most value in a partner, and especially in a leader: decency, integrity, loyalty, dedication, trustworthiness, reliability, intelligence (both intellectual and ‘street smarts’), toughness when required and thoughtfulness.
Our hearts go out to Kathryn, Tommy, and India. You have lost a loving and wonderful husband and dad. Bowmans has lost a respected, trusted and admired leader and colleague. And we have all lost a decent man. But we are all the better for having had the time we were allowed to have with him.
This tribute was written by Bowmans’ senior consultant and former chairman, Jonathan Schlosberg. Other tributes have been pouring in from around the world. We have collated some of these. Click on the link below to read them.