Linklaters moots South Africa joint venture in wake of Allens deal

Linklaters is planning to launch in South Africa through a joint venture with a local firm, with domestic leader Webber Wentzel emerging as the lead candidate to enter a tie-up with the magic circle outfit.

The UK firm, which is understood to have held early-stage talks with headhunters about the possibility of taking on defunct US firm Dewey & LeBoeuf’s Johannesburg team, is seeking a tie-up with a local firm in the country rather than launching on the ground on its own.

Linklaters has longstanding ties to Webber Wentzel, although the magic circle firm’s recent blockbuster mandate for commodities trader Glencore International on its merger with mining company Xstrata saw it line up alongside South African outfit Werksmans (6 June 2012).

A Linklaters partner said: “If you’re going to do something [in Africa], you do it on a bilateral basis. We keep talking. I think there’s still talks that go on between us and a whole load of firms. Discussions are going on with firms, but I don’t think that there’s anything about to be announced.”

A spokesperson for the firm said: “Linklaters is recognised for its leading African practice, having worked on numerous landmark transactions, in almost every country in the continent, over the past 20 years. South Africa has always been and remains an important market for us and we’ve built up excellent working relationships with the best local law firms there, meeting with them frequently as you would expect.”

Webber Wentzel Africa mining and energy projects chief Peter Leon declined to comment on Linklaters’ plans because the “market is so dynamic at present”, but he added: “Webber Wentzel has excellent working relationships with most leading law firms in Africa and the rest of the world.”

According to a source at Linklaters the firm had looked at the possibility of taking on a Dewey team consisting of 16 Johannesburg lawyers, but that team ultimately joined Baker & McKenzie (29 May 2012). A spokesperson for Baker & McKenzie said: “There were no talks between Linklaters and the highly regarded ex-Dewey team that chose to join Baker & McKenzie.”

A South African tie-up would come in the wake of Linklaters’ exclusive alliance with Australian firm Allens, which went live on 1 May this year (23 April 2012).