Chris Watters Attorneys was established in 1989. From 2003 to 2005, Chris was a member of the Immigration Advisory Board. He served on the Law Society’s immigration law committee for 15 years. He represented the Law Society in making submissions to Parliament on immigration. He sat on the Law Reform Commission’s immigration task team. He was also a member of a committee of experts appointed to advise the minister of home affairs on immigration reform.
What was the most challenging part of setting up your own firm?
Getting good professional and support staff. Immigration law is a very niche area in South Africa and is not a “popular” area of practice, not least because of the perceived challenges.
How has your practice adapted to recent changes in immigration policies in South Africa?
My motto is, “Don’t sweat the small stuff – even if it’s massive.” I see my job as understanding policy and practice trends and shifts, and then breaking that down into manageable “lumps” for clients to get to grips with.
In what ways does your firm distinguish itself from the competition?
We try to ensure that we do not lose the old-fashioned personal touch while working with our clients. We also strive to maintain a constructive relationship with the immigration authorities in the interests of promoting our clients’ best interests.
What skills are most useful for an immigration practitioner to have?
At the risk of sounding flippant, it is very important to keep a sense of humour. At a professional level, it is important to be alive to international trends and best practices.
How has the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) impacted your practice?
A high percentage of our clients are European companies or nationals. We have to be appropriately vigilant to ensure we comply with the GDPR. To be on the safe side we are using the GDPR requirements as the benchmark for the protection of all client data.
What is your primary concern regarding technological innovation in the corporate immigration market as a practitioner?
There is a real danger that, in seeking to achieve the appropriate balance between needing technology to deliver a better product and servicing our clients, we will lose sight of who the client is and what the client needs. We have to stay very alive (which the legal profession is well trained to do) to the need to deliver a human service to our clients, which addresses the fears and worries most people have when engaging with the immigration authorities.
How do you see corporate immigration practice changing the most in the next five years?
Within South Africa, the major challenge will be to try to ensure that the authorities do not lose sight of the benefits of immigration and of the needs of the corporate world. In terms of service delivery, the major challenge will be to stay on top of developments in customer service technology and practice management.
What advice would you give to lawyers who want to set up their own firm?
It is an exciting time to be in this field. So welcome to a world that is populated with incredible colleagues across the globe who will always be there to assist you. Just ask – as Colin Powell once said, “There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers!”