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Herbert Smith Freehills launches first African office with Johannesburg opening

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has become the latest firm to launch in Africa with a four-partner office opening in Johannesburg.

HSF, which has a strong client book in the mining and energy sectors, launches in South Africa after securing a double partner hire from Linklaters’ alliance firm Webber Wentzel.

Head of energy and infrastructure Brigette Baillie and mining chief Peter Leon both make the switch to HSF, leaving Webber Wentzel after 28 and 16 years respectively.

Their hires are a huge coup for HSF, which has long-sought an on-the-ground presence in Africa and came close in 2013 before scrapping advanced plans to open in Guinea’s capital Conakry. 

Baillie and Leon will be joined in Johannesburg by two relocating HSF partners already working in the firm’s Africa practice. Ed Baring, head of the firm’s Russian finance practice, and Bertrand Montembault, Paris head of energy and infrastructure, both move to South Africa to launch the office.

Many of the firm’s major clients including energy major BP, state-owned oil corporation China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), mining giant Rio Tinto and Standard Chartered Bank are all extremely active in Africa.

HSF co-chief executive Mark Rigotti said: ‘Africa is a core feature of our global strategy. With clients from across our international network looking at the tremendous growth opportunities, the opening of an office in Johannesburg is an important step in how we provide a pan-African offering. This is an exciting milestone for the firm which underlines our commitment to provide an end-to-end service for leading global businesses’. 

Leon added: ‘Herbert Smith Freehills is a tremendously well respected global law firm that already has a significant presence across the continent. I am proud to join the firm and very much look forward to working with Brigette and my new colleagues to further entrench our leadership in the region.’