Don’t get burned in Africa

The international legal bandwagon is on a roll in Africa, but perils await the unwary

It’s official. The legal rush to Africa is under way. Forget Asia – the hot airline tickets now are to Casablanca, Cape Town or Lagos.

Last week, Eversheds became the latest firm to launch an initiative designed to open the gates to the land of opportunity. The firm plans to launch offices in Ghana, Kenya, Morocco and Tunisia as well as return to South Africa, just a year after its alliance there fell apart. Meanwhile, it is teaming up with local firms to build training and commercial opportunities across the continent.

The moves follow several international firms’ efforts to expand their Africa networks. Norton Rose Fulbright is eyeing up launches in several countries and Portuguese firms are focusing on Angola and Mozambique for work. Other firms, such as King & Spalding and Mishcon de Reya, are hiring Africa specialists for European offices, or looking at building links with the continent through pro bono projects.

Even African firms are intent on growing their regional networks – witness the addition of a Botswanan firm to South Africa’s Bowman Gilfillan Africa Group.

Perhaps even more than Asia – the last region to experience a legal rush – Africa is fraught with difficulties. Regulation makes opening offices under your firm’s brand name impossible in many countries. Other jurisdictions have immense potential, but little infrastructure.

Those firms that want to succeed would be wise to do deep due diligence on the bandwagon’s wheels first.