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‘Dynamic and excellent’: A&O chooses Johannesburg for second cost-saving hub as Steptoe launches in Hong Kong with CC pair

Allen & Overy has built on the success of its Belfast cost-saving centre with the launch of another in Johannesburg as Steptoe and Johnson has forayed into Hong Kong with the hire of a Clifford Chance (CC) team.

Set to open its doors in the first half of 2020, A&O’s Johannesburg Legal Services Centre (LSC) is hoped to emulate the success of the firm’s Belfast offering, geared towards cost-effective resourcing of transactions by legal professionals, associate solicitors and science analysts.

As with the flagship Belfast hub, staff in Johannesburg will work on document-based matters, including due diligence, litigation reviews, drafting, negotiating and research, aided by project management and legal technology. The LSC will form part of the firm’s Advanced Delivery and Solutions (AD&S) offering, which includes Fuse, A&O Consulting, Peerpoint and A&O’s legal tech solutions.

Belfast opened in late 2011 and now houses more than 115 fee-earners. Early this year, Angela Clist, A&O’s securitisation partner and co-head of the global financial institutions group, was hired as head of the LSC to replace Jane Townsend when she retired.

Andrew Trahair, A&O’s former banking co-head and managing partner hopeful, was hired in January to head the AD&S a week after Peerpoint chief executive Richard Punt departed for Thomson Reuters. Peerpoint founder and managing director Ben Williams and Asia-Pacific head Carolyn Aldous took Punt’s place.

Speaking to Legal Business about the rationale for choosing Johannesburg and her ambitions, Clist said: ‘We needed to increase the service in the UK and European markets. Having a similar time zone was key and Johannesburg offered us that.

She added: ‘We have had an office there for five years so we are able to use existing space in that office to house the new team. We are able to learn from really good legal experts here – it was the obvious solution.’

Clist said the plan was to be more conservative with headcount than in Belfast, with a target to grow to around 30 people within the next three years. She said that hiring was also continuing apace in Belfast, with 25 graduates hired this year.

‘I am so impressed by the team on the ground in Johannesburg and that we’ll be creating something as dynamic and excellent as we have in Belfast. The reason we have LSC is to provide value for our clients and ensure that the junior and process-driven tasks are performed at the right level and at the right price.’

It is expected that most of the work will come via A&O’s European and UK networks and that recruitment will start in mid-January.

Clist added that it was not a matter of simply transplanting the Belfast way of doing things to a different jurisdiction and that some tweaks would be likely, for example of the training programme for new graduates, owing to the different education system.

Elsewhere, Washington-based Steptoe has hired Wendy Wysong from CC to spearhead the expansion of its cross-border investigations, compliance and enforcement practice in Asia with the opening of a Hong Kong office.

Wysong will be joined by CC counsel Ali Burney, with the move following on from the hire to the London practice of Zoe Osborne from the Magic Circle firm in October. Wysong was previously an assistant US attorney in Washington DC and deputy assistant secretary for export enforcement in the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry & Security.

The new office, which has been approved by the Hong Kong Law Society, will be the firm’s second in Asia after the Beijing office opened in 2010. Partner Susan Munro will move over from the Beijing office with further counsel and associates set to join in Hong Kong soon.

Steptoe chair Phil West commented: ‘Wendy is perhaps the most prominent Hong Kong practitioner in areas that complement key Steptoe strengths: white-collar defense, FCPA, export controls and economic sanctions. Wendy and her team will bring great additional talent to our already deep bench in these areas, enabling us to further support our clients’ Asia-based needs.’