DAWSON EDWARDS AND ASSOCIATES 20TH ANNIVERSARY SPEECH MANAGING DIRECTOR PETER EDWARDS ON 29 SEPTEMEBR 2016
The Dawson Edwards team is extremely proud to welcome you all on board to celebrate our firm reaching this 20 year Port of call on its voyage into the future. We are happy to have such a broad attendance this evening including clients, counsel, service providers, staff and family.
Thank You to Event Organisers
To start, I would firstly like to express our gratitude to my beautiful wife Leigh for heading up the organisation of this event right down to the last detail. She was ably assisted by the Dawson’s staff being Porcia, Candice, Zee and Arlene. Thank also to Kelvin Grove for their professional co-operation.
The early days:
We at Dawsons always like to see ourselves as doers rather than talkers and as my late friend always use to say, “talk is cheap , money buys the whiskey” as Grant’s whiskey club will no doubt attest to. In any event I think it is fitting at this juncture of our voyage to give a brief account of ourselves.
The firm opened its doors in October 1996 with just Peter Dawson and his then articled clerk Grant Clark, who Peter often referred to as Clark clerk. The firm’s origin was an offshoot from the boutique shipping law firm established by the late Roger Field in the very early 1980’s. This is where Peter Dawson started his legal career and learnt his ropes as a maritime lawyer.
From the early days we have vivid memories of practising at our first office at 56 Spin Street in the centre of Cape Town. The firm was a hardworking cargo vessel with no room for passengers. The sanding and varnishing of the office floors was carried out by the professional staff on more than one occasion. I recall in particular one of previous our staff having to sit down because the varnish was making him feel feint.
There was no lift in the building although there was a dangerous empty lift shaft where we directed opposing attorneys who wanted to serve papers on us.
The three flights of wooden stairs were extremely steep but this proved to be a blessing in disguise. It shaped our policy to rather go out and consult clients at their places of business which allowed us to meet their staff and to get to understand the environment in which they operated. Peter Dawson would often go off to meetings with clients on one matter and then return with a number of other matters.
These were busy and exciting times, getting the work done, trying to expand our client base and planning for the future with a very tight budget.
The big move to Vriende Street:
The big move to our current offices in Vriende Street occurred in March 2000, which I personally believe was prompted by the opening of an Adult World branch right outside of Peter Dawson’s office window. He often liked to stand and dictate his correspondence while staring out of the window and he could do this no-longer.
We also of course needed a more practical work space and a more user friendly boardroom to consult with our ever expanding client base. The cries from the lift shaft were also becoming distracting,
Adult World apparently had the last laugh on the day of our move when the removal men disappeared for about an hour and a half only for Sean Durr (a director at the time) to find them reading books in Adult World – I’ve never seen his face go so red.
Our Vriende Street offices have proved to be perfect for our style of practice giving a relaxed work environment with plenty of space but also close enough to the Courts and counsel if we need to arrest a vessel or bring an urgent application. It also has two showers, so in the early days our directors’ meetings were often conducted during a jog around Molteno Reservoir on the slopes of Table Mountain.
The departure of Peter Dawson
The firm’s next challenge was of course the departure to New Zealand by Peter Dawson at the end of 2001. At this point it was just Peter and myself as directors of the firm and I had to make the choice to personally step up to the challenge and move from the engine room of the firm onto the bridge – while still operating the engine room.
Thanks to the smooth takeover from Peter Dawson and the support of the staff at the time, the firm managed to keep steaming at a good pace. I must also say thank you to my wife Leigh who at the time encouraged me to take up the challenge when I had moments of doubt.
Expanding the Board of Directors:
In my view by far the most important entries on the firm’s log were the taking on board of Alistair Downing and Grant Clark who in time became fellow directors of the firm.
We are different in many ways but share the same ambition and drive to strengthen the firm’s position in the maritime niche. I can honestly say that I am truly blessed to have two such talented men of integrity to share the helm of the Dawson Edwards ship.
Despite a pressurised work environment and the responsibility of running a practice, we enjoy what we do and work together as a team.
Where are we on the map?:
The legal landscape of South Africa has certainly changed over the last twenty years and the maritime sector is no different. During our early day’s in Spin Street there was an abundance of admiralty arrest work where ships were arrested on a weekly basis. However a quick glance at the admiralty register at the beginning of September of this year shows only 42 issued matters since the beginning of the year. In the old days this number would have been 200 and over.
Over the years we have had approaches to merge with large firms but despite temptation we have decided against them all in order to keep our unique identity in the sector. When discussing the merger proposals as directors I recall Grant Clark’s view was that we should always see ourselves as the “hot blonde and let the other party do the running”. I must say thank you to you Grant for bringing out the “hot blonde” in me.
With the changing legal landscape Dawson’s expanded its focus to deal with a much wider range of commercial and regulatory matters with a special focus on local vessel operators particularly in the fishing industry.
We could no longer stay cooped up in the old admiralty law cocoon and needed to offer clients a wider range of expertise which stayed in touch with the legislative developments in our country. As a result our workload covers many other areas of the law outside of those traditionally practised by the “shipping or maritime lawyer”. Company law issues, a wide range of contract drafting, Tax issues , Administrative Law issues, Environmental law issues, Competition Law issues ,Customs issues and even deceased estates .
Ultimately I believe that the true strength of our firm is our flexibility, accessibility and the ability to work together as a team to solve matters.
Above all for me the real joy of practising at our firm has been the interaction with people from all walks of life. Over the years our support staff have contributed greatly to our success and currently we have Porcia, Candice, Zaakieyah, Arlene and our trusty Shepherd who always show total commitment to their day to day tasks. Certain of our staff I regard role models.
With regard to our professional staff, other than the directors, we have our senior associate Nic Britz who is a very bright young lawyer who has boosted our commercial drafting practice. He is also finishing this year his masters in environmental law – depending on how things go at UCT. We currently have Michelle and Kean as our candidate attorneys and these ladies along with certain other young lawyers that have started their careers at Dawson’s give one faith as to the quality of lawyers that are going into the profession.
The high quality of training of maritime lawyers in South Africa in my view is largely due to the UCT Shipping Law Unit previously headed by Professor John Hare and now headed by Professor Graham Bradfield. Myself, Grant and Alistair have all had the privilege of doing our Masters through this unit.
As a firm that litigates, over the years we have relied heavily on the guidance of good counsel. Cape Town boasts some of the best advocates in the country and we must say thank you to these counsel who have played an integral part in the matters of our firm.
Gratitude must also go to our service providers being the auditors, brokers, IT people and graphic designers who have helped us navigate along the way.
On behalf of myself and fellow directors Grant and Alistair we can safely state that we would never have been able to exert the energy required to manage and take the practice forward without the support of our wives Leigh, Jacquie and Tracy. Ship arrests, casualties, urgent applications and the like do not keep office hours and our families have over the years often seen us rush off at all hours and during Christmas holidays, or to arrive late at school concerts.
On the other hand when we do find a gap we have the freedom to shoot off to watch a hockey or tennis match. I remember after one match my youngest daughter asked if my boss would be angry that I was not at work, to which I proudly stated that I was my own boss. She replied, “I thought Richard Kramer was your boss”.
This brings us to the people without whom we would not have a Dawson Edwards. It is you our loyal clients. We are proud to have acted for a wide range of clients in the maritime sector over the last twenty years. In my view the most fulfilling part of our job is learning about your businesses and how they operate and where we can add value with our expertise. We have learnt that running a business that ultimately relies on the sea as a source of income takes vision, talent, intellect and a special kind of determination.
We have learnt much from you over the years and value your loyalty and support.
Operation Phakisa is a government policy aimed at generating jobs, income and opportunities from our blue economy (the ocean) our 200 nautical mile EEZ. This policy is currently bringing to the fore new legislation and regulation in the maritime sector which is going to create both challenges and opportunities for stakeholders.
As a firm we need to continue to keep abreast of these developments and to be there for our clients to assist them in managing the way forward. Ultimately, we want to continue our contribution to the practice of law in the maritime sector and to meet the changing needs of our clients.
Thank you once again for attending this celebration, I hope you enjoy yourselves.