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A&O closer to launching new South Africa office with Bowman team

Allen & Overy (A&O) is getting closer to becoming the first Magic Circle firm to launch a South Africa base following the hire of banking head Lionel Shawe from local firm Bowman Gilfillan, along with a team of partners.

The firm is understood to have been in talks with several Bowman partners for some time now with Shawe leaving his former firm last week (29 August) to join A&O for the firm’s launch in South Africa.

Shawe previously headed Bowman’s banking and finance team, and joins A&O with expertise in mining and aircraft financing transactions, acquisition and leveraged financing, real estate financing, securitisation, capital markets and debt restructuring transactions.

An A&O partner said details of the office launch date are still being organised and are subject to the partnership vote, which is to be confirmed. The source also confirmed that partner and former banking chairman Michael Duncan, will be relocating to head up the new office.

This will leave around 12 banking partners in the firm’s City practice. Duncan’s experience includes advising on structuring, syndicated loans, acquisition financing, Islamic finance, asset financing, restructurings, derivatives and commercial paper programmes, and trade finance. He has been a London-based partner in A&O’s finance practice since 1987.

The launch would make A&O the first Magic Circle firm to officially set up shop in the South African market without an association with a local firm, although Linklaters was the first of the group to enter the region in 2012 when it formed an alliance with local firm Webber Wentzel.

A&O said in a written statement: ‘Africa is a strategically important region and one that we continue to monitor very closely for further growth opportunities. We are regularly approached by interested parties across the continent but we have nothing to announce at this time.’

Bowman was not available for immediate comment at the time of press. The firm’s exits follow the departure of Bowman energy specialist and oil and gas head Lizel Oberholzer who joined Norton Rose Fulbright in August to strengthen the its energy practice in South Africa

Other firms to expand in South Africa include Baker & McKenzie, which in late May opened an office in Johannesburg with lawyers and staff from Dewey & LeBoeuf, after acquiring local competition firm Vani Chetty. Simmons & Simmons also forged a presence in the region through an alliance with Fasken Martineau in a bid to enhance its respective African offerings.