Eversheds is setting out to grow its network of African best friend firms as work coming into the continent continues to boom.
The renewed focus on Africa follows the decision of South African ally Routledge Modise to split away from Eversheds International, the firm’s grouping of foreign firms operating under the Eversheds brand (22 October 2012).
That decision came after Eversheds fought a legal battle in the jurisdiction over the branding of Routledge Modise. The firm got into hot water after it formally changed its name to Eversheds in July 2009, leading to the domestic law society, The Law Society of the Northern Provinces, to claim that Eversheds had broken the Attorneys Act and ordered a reversal.
Eversheds successfully challenged the ruling but before the firm reverted to its orginal branding after their commercial relationship came to an end.
Now Eversheds is looking again at how best to grow its reach across the continent.
Litigation partner Stuart Dutson, who has worked extensively in East African countries including Ethiopia and Malawi, said the firm was planning to expand its network of relationship firms particularly in Anglophone Africa as a result of increasing interest from clients in other parts of the world.
“We’ve always had a very strong Francophone Africa focus,” said Dutson.
Eversheds already has a close cooperation in Casablanca, formed two years ago (28 March 2011) and its Africa group is led out of Paris by partner Boris Martor, supported by London-based Howard Barrie. However Dutson said Anglophone African work was growing and English law was highly used while international arbitration is a popular dispute settlement method.
”English law is still the premier law for the financing of most transactions,” he said.
He said Eversheds had existing relationship partners in many African countries, but wanted to grow this to meet demand from clients.
“We’re increasingly finding Asian countries wanting to invest in Africa,” Dutson added, pointing to Chinese developments across the continent. ”It’s really obvious that the Chinese are there in a way they weren’t five years ago,” he said.
Dutson stressed the importance of having local relationship firms in different countries as each is “culturally very different”.
A number of other international firms have been boosting their Africa presence in the last few months. Slaughter and May hosted a conference for its African best friends last autumn (24 October 2012). Linklaters sealed an alliance with South African firm Webber Wentzel at the end of the year (3 December 2012), giving it access to associated membership organisation Africa Legal Network.
Meanwhile Norton Rose launched a Tanzanian office (23 October 2012) prior to its recent merger with Fulbright & Jaworski. The combined firm is now eyeing opportunities in more African countries, including Egypt and Kenya (7 June 2013).
South African firms are also expanding across the continent, with ENS opening offices in Rwanda and Burundi last year (8 August 2012).