Global business firms lead the international pack in African relationships

The largest global business firms, such as Baker & McKenzie, Dentons, DLA Piper, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) and Norton Rose Fulbright, have the deepest relationships with African independents, research by The Lawyer has indicated.

Leading independent firms interviewed for The Lawyer Africa Elite 2014, published on Monday (31 March) named those international firms adopting a global strategy as the most common referrers of work.

Dentons’ and DLA Piper’s strategy of establishing their own networks of African allies appears to have paid off, with several of the top African independents members of one of these firms’ Africa groups.

Baker & McKenzie and Norton Rose Fulbright, both of which have their own offices in South Africa, have made the most of their presence on the ground to develop strong relationships outside that jurisdiction. Both have plans to continue expanding their African presence – Baker & McKenzie through an informal network programme (25 November 2013) and Norton Rose Fulbright from South Africa, where it merged with local outfit Deneys Reitz in 2011 (15 November 2010).

The firm’s South Africa managing partner Rob Otty told The Lawyer: “There’s absolutely no doubt that the idea of having additional offices in the continent makes perfect sense.”

HSF’s penetration of the African market is also strong. Led from Paris by energy partner Stéphane Brabant, the firm is named as a major referral partner and co-counsel on significant deals by firms from across sub-Saharan Africa.

Other firms to be named by a large number of African independents include Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters. The latter’s decision to ally itself with South Africa’s Webber Wentzel (3 December 2012) has also strengthened its market position, particularly in the southern Africa region.

US firms have a weaker presence in Africa than their UK-headquartered rivals, but Latham & Watkins, Shearman & Sterling and White & Case are all popular referral partners for local firms.

The amount of referral work coming from international firms means that most African players are determined to remain independent to reap the benefits of relationships with as many global outfits as possible.

The Lawyer Africa Elite 2014 will be published next week. It features an in-depth look at 46 leading independent firms’ strategies in 15 key sub-Saharan jurisdictions, as well as the views of in-house counsel from some of Africa’s largest companies and will be available online to all registered users of – click here to register on the site.