Herbert Smith closes in on African launch in Guinea

Herbert Smith is expected to make a decision on whether it establishes a footprint in Africa by the end of next month, with the Republic of Guinea emerging as a strong contender for an office launch.

The Lawyer reported late last year (7 December 2011) that Herbert Smith was mulling an office launch in sub-Saharan Africa, in countries such as Ghana and South Africa.

But in the past few weeks multiple sources in and around Herbert Smith said Guinea has been discussed as a likely office location.

The move is understood to be driven by the firm’s mining practice. In 2011 Herbert Smith, led by Africa head Stéphane Brabant, advised Rio Tinto on a settlement agreement for a multi-billion dollar Simandou iron ore project in the country.

One senior partner at the firm commented that no formal decision had yet been made by the partnership with regards to Africa but said Guinea was in the running and that they hoped a decision would be reached by the end of next month.

Another partner would not comment on specific jurisdictions but told The Lawyer: “The firm has already indicated that it’s interested in Africa and is looking at some locations in the continent. In particular Francophone sub-Saharan Africa is an area of interest for us. Our Africa practice is going from strength to strength and it would only be natural for us at some point to have some kind of footprint in Africa. A lot of very important clients have interests in Africa and at times being on the ground can provide a better form of support.”

Brabant said that it would not be appropriate to discuss the potential office launch before a decision had been reached by the partnership but added: “Herbert Smith committed to Africa many years ago and remains committed. We have great respect for the continent and don’t want to be a firm that works in Africa through London or through Paris. We want to be a firm that works in Africa through Africa.”

In addition to looking at Africa, Herbert Smith is also planning to launch a litigation-focused office in New York, an office in Seoul and is in tie-up talks with Australian firm Freehills (10 May 2012).