Clyde & Co raids Linklaters ally Webber Wentzel for dual South Africa launch

Clyde & Co has entered South Africa with a five-lawyer raid on Linkaters’ ally Webber Wentzel’s insurance and legal liability group.

The firm has launched with two partners in Cape Town today (16 May) and will launch a second office in Johannesburg as soon as departure dates for a further two partners and one consultant have been agreed with Webber Wentzel.

The £4m South African business will be led by Webber Wentzel’s insurance and liability head Daniel Le Roux in Johannesburg. Le Roux will be joined by partner Rashad Ismail and consultant Warren Hiepner.

Specialist marine and trade partner Arthur James and partner Max Ebrahim are based in Cape Town.

Clydes has been seeking an opportunity in South Africa for 18 months with Webber Wentzel thought to have been the primary target for the majority of that time.

The firm plans to hire a further 10 lawyers in Johannesburg and three in Cape Town to cover the volume of work.

Clydes’ senior partner James Burns said: “We’re budgeting for significant growth in South Africa. We’re coming in with an insurance focused team but what we want to do is add to that with trade and infrastructure and complement the offering we already have across Africa and though our offices in Dar es Salaam and Tripoli.”

A further 15 lawyers, including seven partners and one consultant, work in Webber Wentzel’s insurance and liability group. Clydes was unable to confirm at this stage whether the rest of the team would come across.

Clydes’ partner Maurice Kenton, who led the deal, said: “Our clients are increasingly interested in South Africa. In terms of the sophistication of the legal market there are a number of established firms that have built up with a focus on corporate, banking and finance but only [legacy] Deneys Reitz and Webber Wentzel have built a strong reputation for insurance.”

The deal closely mirrors Clydes’ Australia launch, which saw the firm take a team from Linklaters’ ally Allens (2 July 2012).

Webber Wentzel brokered an exclusive alliance with Linklaters at the end of 2012, which went live early last year (3 December 2012).

Burns described the move as “a typical Clyde & Co expansion play”, and added: “A number of large firms do not see insurance as core to their strategy in the way we do. So we identify the leading insurance and disputes team, look to bring the team in so we have a strong foundation from which to build, and then work out into our other core sectors from that bridgehead.”

Webber Wentzel declined to comment.

Clydes is the latest in a string of international firms to launch in South Africa. Already this year Dentons (9 April 2014) has launched there, joining recent arrivals Hogan Lovells (19 November 2013) and Eversheds (4 December 2013). Baker & McKenzie, Fasken Martineau and White & Case all have offices in the jurisdiction. Legacy Norton Rose became the first international firm to merge with a South African outfit when it tied up with Deneys Reitz in 2010 (15 November 2010).

Clydes is already present in sub-Saharan Africa with an office in Tanzania (25 January 2010) and a best-friends relationship with Zimbabwean firm Scanlen and Holderness (24 November 2011).

The expansion into South Africa follows several years of international growth for the firm. Clydes became the first international firm to move into post-Gaddafi Libya after it hired Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) general counsel Albudery Shariha in July 2012 (12 July 2012).

Further afield, Clydes also has a presence in Mongolia via an association with local firm Khan Lex Advocates (12 March 2012). The firm gained regulatory approval for a Beijing opening from China’s Ministry of Justice in May 2013, which became its third office in Greater China, following Hong Kong and Shanghai which were established in 1981 and 2006 (16 January 2006) respectively (7 May 2013).

It hired two partners from US firm Robins Kaplan Miller & Cires to launch its fourth US office in Atlanta (19 June 2013) and strengthened its presence in Asia last year through a formal association with seven-partner Indonesian firm Lubis Ganie Surowidjojo (2 September 2013).

For more on the South African legal market, see our Africa Elite analysis, Down and clout