The US-based law firm, Dewey & LeBoeuf, has snatched leading teams of lawyers from Werksmans Attorneys, a local firm, as the American group prepares for a surge in economic activity in SA and further afield in Africa.
The US firm, which has an office in Johannesburg, focuses on energy projects but plans to branch into infrastructure development, capital markets and mining activities.
One team is headed by Morne van der Merwe, who led Werksmans’ mining and resources practice; the other by Wildu du Plessis, former head of the local firm’s banking, finance and capital markets business. They take their entire teams with them.
› US firm hires top SA lawyers
› SA firms wary of investing in big projects
Werksmans yesterday said it preferred not to comment on the loss of its teams.
Mr van der Merwe said it was unique for a US law firm to enter the South African market. "It shows their commitment to SA and the continent and their anticipation of increased economic activity."
In recent times global law firms, mainly UK-based, have entered the local market. Norton Rose has taken over local law firm Deneys Reitz while DLA Piper and Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr entered into an exclusive alliance.
Mr van der Merwe will become the co-chairman of the global natural resources practice at Dewey & LeBoeuf, and Mr du Plessis will become co-managing partner of the Johannesburg office.
Dewey & LeBoeuf chairman Steven Davis said yesterday the addition of the eight respected lawyers presented "exciting opportunities to grow the practice in Africa as the continent continues to become a more significant part of the global economy".
Mr van der Merwe said demand from emerging markets such as China and India related to mining and resources in Africa would continue to grow. Mining was a major catalyst for other infrastructure development and served as a stimulant to economic expansion, he said.
The US firm has 1500 lawyers worldwide and identified the Werksmans lawyers for their expertise in banking and financial services, capital markets and securities, corporate finance, private equity and sectors such as mining, infrastructure and energy. They have advised on some of the largest equity and debt capital market deals in SA and in many mining and resources ones.
Mr van der Merwe said the team saw the move to a US-based law firm as an opportunity to practise on an international platform after gaining expertise at a well-established and dominant local law firm. "It is a matter of being internationally competitive and locally relevant."
The model Dewey & LeBoeuf had been following was to establish itself in markets where there was growth potential.
"We see this also as an opportunity to bring new energy to the South African market," Mr van der Merwe said.
Dewey & LeBoeuf opened its offices in Johannesburg in 2000 and works with clients in the energy, mining, power and telecommunications sectors. It advised on Eskom’s $1,75-billion bond offering in January last year and advised the Overseas Private Investment Corporation on the financing of power plants.