Five months after word leaked out that they were in talks, Linklaters and South Africa’s Webber Wentzel announced Tuesday that their respective partnerships have voted to approve an exclusive alliance between the two firms that will take effect February 1. Under the loose union’s terms, 4,500-lawyer Linklaters and 400-lawyer Webber—which have long worked together closely via referrals—will retain their separate names, management teams, and financial operations, while sharing clients and collaborating on pitches for business. Linklaters and Webber leaders say the formal alliance will benefit the companies they represent and help create new business opportunities for both firms. The official announcement of the alliance follows nearly a year of negotiations, with news of the Linklaters-Webber alliance talks leaking in July, as The Am Law Daily reported at the time. Webber is one of the country’s few remaining large independent corporate law firms. Others include Bowman Gilfillan, Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs (ENS), and the smaller Werkmans. As The American Lawyer noted in its October issue, a surge in inbound direct investment in Africa in the past few years has pushed global firms’ interest in their top-tier South African counterparts to a fever pitch. Recent entrants into the South African market include Norton Rose, which joined with Deneys Reitz as a verein in 2010, and DLA Piper, which joined with Cliffe Dekker Hoffmeyr as a verein in 2008. More recently, Canada’s Fasken Martineau DuMoulin announced six weeks ago that it was merging with a smaller corporate firm, Bell Dewar. That announcement came on the heels of September’s news that SNR Denton had agreed to affiliate with its second South African firm and Baker & McKenzie’s move into the South African market with the addition of Dewey & LeBoeuf’s 16-lawyer Johannesburg office amid that firm’s disintegration. (In a related development, Baker announced Tuesday that it is nearly doubling the size of the Johannesburg outpost by adding 23 lawyers and staff from South African disputes–focused boutique firm Rudolph, Bernstein & Associates.) As for Webber’s union with Linklaters, the South African firm said it expects the alliance to benefit its clients by giving them access to the Magic Circle firm’s lawyers in the Asia-Pacific nations that are among Africa’s key trading partners—specifically China, India, Korea, Japan, and Australia—Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East, as well as the Africa-focused resources Linklaters boasts in London, Paris, and Lisbon. David Lancaster, Webber’s senior partner, said the alliance “is a vote of confidence in South Africa and Africa. It’s also a strong endorsement for Webber Wentzel. With the demand for cross-border legal services continuing to grow, Webber Wentzel and Linklaters will be working together for the benefit of clients across Africa. This arrangement is consistent with our strategy of helping clients wherever they do business in Africa.” According to a Webber source, the negotiations related to the alliance were led on the Linklaters side by Sandeep Katwala, the regional managing partner of the firm’s Emerging Europe, Middle East and Africa practice; Andrew Jones, cohead of the firm’s mining sector group; and Patrick Sheil, a senior corporate partner. Webber was represented by Lancaster and corporate head Christo Els. Els told The Am Law Daily Tuesday that the alliance is similar to the one Linklaters formalized with Allens Arthur Robinson in April, and that the two firms will establish a coordinating committee to look for areas of collaboration. Conflicts issues, to the extent they arise, will be dealt with on an individual basis, Els says. Els said the alliance model avoids the kinds of complications a merger can create, including regulatory obstacles in South Africa and difficulties integrating vastly divergent pay scales. South African partners typically earn about half of what top U.K. or U.S. lawyers earn, according to The American Lawyer‘s October cover story.
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