South Africa has faced more than its fair share of economic and social challenges in recent years, but with foreign investors and international law firms attempting to tap into the wider region, the queue of firms looking to enter the country is lengthening.
Recent years have seen DLA Piper and Baker & McKenzie enter the market, while Norton Rose and Linklaters have tied up with top tier local advisers. Now the word in Joburg is that Clifford Chance (CC) is aiming to strike a similar deal to the alliance between Webber Wentzel and Linklaters, which went live on 1 February.
According to several local lawyers, CC’s discussions have focused on Bowman Gilfillan. An alliance with Bowman would offer a tie-up with a top tier South African firm and one of the leading finance practices in Africa. The full service Bowman is also a leading player in corporate and litigation and has offices across four African states, as well as an associated firm in Nigeria. Bowman chair Jonathan Scholsberg, however, denied the firm was in discussions with CC.
Local lawyers have also linked CC to Routledge Modise, the firm that was previously allied to Eversheds, though Bowman is seen as a more credible tie-up for the London firm. Partners at three separate major South African firms stated their belief that CC had investigated securing a South African partner, with one claiming the City giant’s bid was ‘the worst kept secret’ in the local profession. Another head of a local firm told Legal Business: ‘It’s well known that CC has been looking for a partner in the market.’
One CC partner contacted stating that the Magic Circle firm would not look to open its own office in Africa’s largest economy but declined to comment on a potential alliance partners or Bowman. CC opened its first office in Africa last year after launching a branch in Morocco.
A CC spokesperson declined to comment on individuals firms but provided the following statement: ‘We have been advising on significant Africa-related matters for over 30 years and are widely recognised for the breadth and quality of our expertise in the continent. Africa is an exciting and dynamic market for us and for our clients, so we continue to invest in developing our own capabilities and in deepening the privileged relationships that we have forged with a strong network of independent counsel across the continent, for example, through the recent launch of Clifford Chance’s Africa Academy.’
Expectations of more tie-ups between international firms and South African practices come amid a fluid period for the local legal market, historically the dominant hub in the region. Foreign advisers are regarded to have had considerable success moving into the market, while South African firms have widened their practices to increasingly focus across the continent.
International investors are also increasingly focusing on a host of fast-growing African states drawn by high demand for natural resources, infrastructure projects and modernising economies. While South Africa had previously dominated inward investment, foreign companies now looking to states like Nigeria, Kenya, Mozambique, Ghana and Botswana.
See the November edition of Legal Business for a special focus on Africa.