In a move that marks the largest investment yet over in Africa, Dewey & LeBeuf have announced Wednesday that it is expanding its existing seven-lawyer Johannesburg office with the addition of eight partners and four associates from the Werkmans Attorneys, which is one of South Africa’s lending old-line firms.
The new additions make Dewey’s South African office one of the biggest to be opened in the country by an international law firm. White & Case has seven lawyers in Johannesburg; and DLA Piper, which runs under the Swiss verein structure, it is affiliated with 270-lawyer Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr , who is one of South Africa’s biggest firms. Two of the U.K.-based firms, Norton Rose and SNR Denton, have also merged or associated with the South African firm in the past two years or so.
In those that are making the lateral move are Morne van der Merwe, who let the Werkman’s mining and resource practice group, and Wildu du Plessis, who was formally the head of the South African firm’s banking, finance and capital markets practices, but is not anymore. Joining the van der Merwe and du Plessis team are members of their core deals and finance teams, including the partners Chris Moraitis, Astrid Berman, Amelia Heeger, Muhammed Sader, Mike van Rensburg, Esme Ferreira, and several other associates.
While they were at Werkmans, some of the members of the group had worked on many large South Africa-based mining and resource-related transactions, while others helped to jump start the country’s securitization industry or played a key role in the major South African infrastructure projects. According to the Werkman Website, the firm was ranked first in South African for corporate work back in 2006, 2007, and 2008; Mergermarket placed Werkmans at the top of the ranking list for M&A deal value in the first three quarters of 2011 for the firm’s work on the 21 transactions.
At Dewey, van der Merwe is going to serve as the co-chair of the firm’s global natural resources practice alongside Nabil Khodadad. Du Plessis, meanwhile, has been named the co-managing partner of Dewey;s Johannesburg office, joining Scott Brokdsky, who just happens to be the resident managing partner for Dewey.
Joseph Tato, who is the chairman of Dewey’s Africa practice group, says that he has been taking to van der Merwe and du Plessis about trying to make a lateral move since way back in November of 2010, when–with the help of a search consultant–the firm moved to expand their offerings in corporate M&A, mining and natural resourced, banking, and even finance.
Despite the tightening of credit across Europe–and an accompanying decline in the hunger for investment in the areas on the part of European financial institutions–Africa, that is continually attracting the international investors, says Tato.