Safari, so good

In-demand Botswana firm flips allegiance as UK firms get serious about Africa

Africa may not be experiencing the same invasion of UK firms that Australia is, but activity levels there have definitely stepped up. After years of largely empty rhetoric over the continent’s promise, firms are now putting their money on the line. Following the rush into Casablanca in 2011, Linklaters has been linked to talks with South African firm Webber Wentzel and Herbert Smith has committed to launching in Guinea.

Good African firms, therefore, are not short of admirers, as evidenced by the case of Botswana’s Minchin & Kelly. The seven-lawyer practice has been free to choose between the two best-developed alliance networks in Africa.

Following a strategic review, Minchin & Kelly decided that it would join an alliance – as energy and mining deals grew more complex and became difficult for local firms to deal with alone – and in 2011 signed up to join SNR Denton’s Africa network. In July, however, SNR Denton’s African practice co-chair Paul Bugingo told The Lawyer Minchin & Kelly had left the alliance after deciding the pan-African model did not suit its South African focus.

Lo and behold, three months later Minchin & Kelly appeared on the list of new-joiners to DLA Piper’s Africa alliance. The firm joined in October along with Rwanda’s Equity Juris Chambers, Mauritius’ Juristconsult Chambers, Ethiopia’s Mehrteab Leul & Associates and Uganda’s Sebalu & Lule Advocates.

While DLA may have a similar pan-African alliance model to SNR Denton, its South African presence Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr is undeniably larger.

“We wanted a large, powerful firm for resources,” says Minchin & Kelly’s commercial litigation head John Griffiths. “We’re in southern Botswana, so Johannesburg is just 350km away and we found it difficult dealing with SNR Denton in London. DLA is larger, just over the border and has all the resources we need.”

In the summer Bugingo told The Lawyer Minchin & Kelly was still his preferred firm in Botswana.

It is not clear whether that is still the case.

James Swift