SNR Denton has added 10 firms to its Africa network, bringing its total number of tie-ups on the continent to 21. Including its own Cairo office, the firm now has a toehold in 22 of Africa’s 54 countries.
Five of the 10 new relationships have come via a new alliance between SNR Denton and Portuguese player F Castelo Branco & Associados Sociedade de Advogados (FCB&A).
SNR Denton partner Paul Bugingo, who co-chairs the firm’s Africa committee along with partners Geoffrey Wynne and Jeffrey Krilla, says the fact that FCB&A has an African presence was a key driver of the alliance.
“The big thing for us was that [FCB&A] had its own office in Angola,” he says. “Angola doesn’t have a well-developed law firm market.”
The associations are non-exclusive and only some of the firms will carry the SNR Denton brand. According to Bugingo and Wynne, what distinguishes their firm’s Africa network is that it is not just SNR Denton pulling the strings – all associated firms interact and are encouraged to help shape the network.
Once [a network] gets to a dynamic size you start to get help from existing associates,” says Wynne. “Our associated firms are introducing new firms to us. For example, the Mauritius firm in our network was picked up by our Kenyan firm. We’re just a participant in a much bigger entity.”
According to Wynne, the firm has two demands when picking a partner.
“The firm has to be the best in terms of quality,” he says. “Also, it must be hungry to grow. In South Africa the firm we tied up with was not the biggest, but it had plans for growth that were in tandem with ours.
“We want to get that third pot of work that neither us nor the local firm are getting at the moment.”
As stability and the demand for resources and infrastructure grows, international firms are becoming increasingly concerned about finding the right way to serve clients in Africa.
So far there is no clear winner in terms of strategy.
DLA Piper has adopted a similar approach to SNR Denton’s. It tied up with a Portuguese firm in January, although its relationships tend to be exclusive. Norton Rose, meanwhile, has gone further and merged with South Africa’s Deneys Reitz.
“The merger puts us in a different sphere,” says Peter Martyr, Norton Rose chief executive. “It’ll be a springboard into Africa, since Deneys has a number of low-key associations that cover 13 jurisdictions. We also have a strong francophone Africa practice out of Paris.”
Some think non-exclusive tie-ups do not amount to much, except as a way of letting clients know your firm is connected in the region.
“Most clients doing transactions in these countries are pretty sophisticated,” says Joseph Tato, chair of Dewey & LeBoeuf’s Africa group. “If they’re going to hire someone like SNR Denton or Dewey & LeBoeuf then you can be sure they know who the better in-country firms are.
“If you try to push a firm on them it may not have the best results.”
Dewey has a Johannesburg office but no official associations or networks on the rest of the continent.
“We work with in-country firms, choosing them by specialisation, but we aren’t constrained by associations,” says Tato. “We’ve been thinking for a while about opening a couple of Dewey offices in Africa – probably in West or East Africa. If we did they’d be the same as any of our other offices around the world.
“But we won’t do it unless we know it’s sustainable and we can achieve the quality clients expect.”
International firms are still tentative when it comes to Africa. Few, if any, are sure enough of local firms, or the viability of individual countries, to take a punt. Confidence is growing, albeit slowly.
“In three to five years I think we’ll see more definite steps being taking by international firms in Africa because we’re seeing increases in quality and training at in-country firms, and they’re becoming more exposed to international transactions,” says Tato. “Maybe then we’ll look back and see who had it right in terms of strategy.”
New to the Africa network
- Ellis Badenhorst dos Santos (Namibia)
– Cabinet Loudghiri (Morocco)
– Cabinet Bouhoubeyni (Mauritania)
– Minchin & Kelly (Botswana)
– Benoit Chambers (Mauritius)
– FCB&A in association with Eduardo Vera-Cruz Advogados (Angola)
– FCB&A in association with Arnaldo Silva & Associados (Cape Verde)
– FCB&A in association with Armando Mango & Associados (Guinea Bissau)
– FCB&A in association with Law & Mark Advogados e Consultores (Mozambique)
– FCB&A in association with Posser da Costa & Associados (São Tome and Principe)