Algiers, Algeria.
Algiers, Algeria. (carolecastelli/iStock)

UPDATE/CORRECTION: 1/27/14, 11:00 a.m. EST. DLA Piper has officially announced its opening in Algeria by adding several lawyers from French firm Lefevre Pelletier’s local affiliate in Algiers. The seventh paragraph of this story mistakenly included the name of one Lefevre Pelletier partner who has not joined DLA. We regret the error.

As noted in The American Lawyer’s latest Focus Europe supplement, Am Law 100 firms are opening offices and forging alliances across Africa in a race to capitalize on deal work tied to the abundance of natural resources on the booming continent.

Amid the rush, DLA Piper—the world’s largest firm by gross revenue and lawyer head count—is poised to add to its already-robust network on the continent by entering Algeria with an office in the country’s capital, Algiers, according to a report by Africa Intelligence.

DLA’s move into the energy-rich North African nation comes a little more than a year after Baker & McKenzie—the world’s second-largest firm in terms of revenue and head count—announced it would open an outpost in nearby Morocco. Baker’s official expansion into the coastal city of Casablanca last year, a development noted by Africa Intelligence, followed similar moves by international firms Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Norton Rose Fulbright, according to our previous reports.

Algeria—whose border with Morocco has been closed since 1994, creating a barrier to regional trade that continues to enrich black marketeers—has not been as popular as its neighbor with the world’s legal giants. The country’s capital, Algiers, may be best known in Western circles for the famous 1957 battle waged between French forces and Algerian revolutionaries chronicled in the award-winning documentary film ” The Battle of Algiers” a decade later.

Though Algeria is a member of OPEC and Africa’s largest country by landmass, the only Am Law 100 firms Algiers has attracted to date are Dentons—whose predecessor firm Denton Wilde Sapte forged an association six years ago with Hadj-Hamou & Djouadi—and the local affiliate of Thompson & Knight.

Meanwhile, many leading French firms—Gide Loyrette Nouel among them—also have offices in the city. And according to Africa Intelligence, it is French firm Lefevre Pelletier & Associes that DLA has raided for partners Fatima-Zohra Bouchemla and Mohamed Lanouar. Both lawyers’ names had been removed from the Lefevre Pelletier website as of Thursday, and an email sent to Bouchemla at the firm was not immediately returned. A similar email sent to Lanouar’s firm account bounced back.

Africa Intelligence reports that the pair will form a new Algerian outfit called BL & Associes that will function as a DLA affiliate. Lanouar is a former Algerian communications minister, while Bouchemla specializes in dispute resolution. Others joining the new firm are ex–Lefevre Pelletier associate Ryma Allouche, who changed her personal LinkedIn account to reflect BL & Associes’ affiliation with DLA.

Algeria has had a turbulent history, suffering through a brutal decade-long civil war that pitted the current government against Islamist rebels. The conflict ended in 2002, but its repercussions still resonate today.

Last year health problems forced Algeria’s longtime president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to spend four months in Paris. Bouteflika, who is currently mulling a 2014 run for a fourth term as president, may face competition from Algerian lawyer Ali Benflis, the former secretary general of the country’s ruling National Liberation Front. According to Africa Intelligence, DLA’s Bouchemla is backing Benflis, whom she once served as a minister-delegate during the latter’s own tenure as prime minister from 2000 to 2003.

Algeria is technically a constitutional republic, but Bouteflika is the face of a ruling party that includes unelected officials and military leaders, as noted in myriad U.S. diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks. The Algerian government authorized a raid by security forces last year to retake control of a natural gas facility that had been seized by Al Qaeda–inspired militants. The attack on the facility—jointly owned by Algeria’s state oil company Sonatrach, BP and Statoil—resulted in the deaths of 39 foreign workers.

The incident at In Amenas, located in the eastern part of Algeria near the border with war-torn Libya, shocked the country’s oil industry and temporarily halted some production. Nonetheless, one of Algeria’s top lawyers in the United States, Foley Hoag partner Gare Smith, says the In Amenas attack was an aberration and that the country is perfectly safe compared to its more restless neighbors.

“[Algeria] is a major producer of oil and gas,” says Smith, who lobbies on behalf of the country and has also done work for BP. “I’m assuming [DLA] did a risk assessment, but I certainly can’t confirm that.”

The Am Law Daily has previously reported on DLA’s own work for BP, the world’s third-largest oil company. While the London-based energy giant pushed back plans to expand the In Amenas project, Algeria’s energy minister said late last year that the country expects to double its oil production over the next decade. (The role of the country’s military was questioned in a September report released by Statoil assessing the security situation at In Amenas.)

DLA’s move into Algiers comes on the heels of a review conducted last year of the firm’s African initiatives. Federico Sutti, the former head of DLA’s Italian operations, was named the firm’s managing director for Europe and Africa. Sutti was traveling and unavailable for immediate comment on DLA’s entry into the Algerian market. M&A partner Simon Charbit—who joined DLA last summer from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe—and telecommunications partner Florence Guthfreund-Roland, both of whom work on Africa-related matters out of Paris, did not respond to requests for comment.

A DLA spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter.

Two years ago, the firm bolstered its African legal network by reaching affiliation agreements with firms in Botswana, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Rwanda and Uganda. By then, DLA already had alliance partners in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia. (The firm sent some lawyers to Tanzania to do pro bono work last year, according to sibling publication Texas Lawyer.)

All alliance firms share the DLA brand, infrastructure and marketing budgets, according to a report last year by Legal Week. The U.K. publication also notes that the firm’s new Africa strategy has focused on closer integration among network firms, with a premium on breaking into the Nigerian market. The country boasts massive oil reserves and is home to Africa’s richest man, oil magnate Aliko Dangote.

Joseph Tato, who joined DLA in May 2012 after serving as chair of now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf’s global project finance and infrastructure practice, discussed the firm’s African affiliates with The American Lawyer for the magazine’s Focus Europe story about the continent’s legal market.

“The benefit we get from our network is that we align with the most competent firms so quality and responsiveness are assured, and it means that our clients get comfortable working with Africa-based firms,” says Tato, now head of DLA’s U.S. projects and infrastructure group. (The firm has an in-depth report about Africa’s mining sector posted on its website.)

DLA, which is structured as a Swiss verein, has been focused on streamlining its operations since hiring ex-Linklaters chief Anthony “Tony” Angel as its new global cochair in late 2011. In an interview this week with The Jerusalem Post, Angel explained why he believes the mega-firm model is the wave of the future.

Angel’s firm is hardly alone in seeking to take advantage of the growing opportunities presented by Africa, which according to 2013 report by The Economist is both the world’s fastest-growing continent and its poorest.

In addition to such longtime DLA rivals as Baker, Clifford Chance and Norton Rose, Global 100 firms like Herbert Smith Freehills, Linklaters, Orrick and Hogan Lovells—which merged in November with South Africa’s Routledge Modise—are also trying to carve out niches for themselves, as are mid-tier U.K. firms such as Berwin Leighton Paisner, Eversheds and Pinsent Masons.

And it’s not just law firms that are betting big on Africa.

Last month Robert Diamond Jr., a former CEO of British banking giant Barclays, raised $325 million through an initial public offering for his African investment venture Atlas Mara that will focus on acquisitions in the financial sector. Greenberg Traurig advised Atlas Mara on the IPO, according to Legal Week, which in November looked at the various U.K. and U.S. firms heading to Africa.