Allen & Overy raids local firm to launch first magic circle South African office

Allen & Overy has become the first magic circle firm to set up its own practice in South Africa after raiding local outfit Bowman Gilfillan for a seven-lawyer team including four partners.

The Johannesburg office, which will open its doors later this month, will be led by former Bowman Gilfillan banking and finance partner Lionel Shawe and former head of A&O’s banking practice Michael Duncan, who is relocating from London.

In August, Legal Week first revealed that A&O had entered talks with partners at Bowman Gilfillan with a view to opening in the jurisdiction, with Shawe’s resignation from Bowman in September leading to speculation that the move was imminent.

Shawe will be joined by fellow Bowman Gilfillan banking and finance partners Khurshid Fazel, Alistair Collins, and Anthony Colegrave, as well as three other lawyers from the same practice.

A&O said it hopes to grow lawyer headcount at the office to 40 in 2015.

Tim Scales, head of A&O’s Africa group, said: “This opens an exciting new chapter for A&O’s Africa Group. Lionel, the foremost banking and finance lawyer in South Africa and Mike, one of the leading lights in A&O’s global banking practice, are a powerful combination and we are very excited by the depth, quality and energy of the wider team.”

A&O is the latest of a number of international firms to enter the South African market.

In August Clyde & Co opened offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg, after taking partners from Webber Wentzel to lead its South African practice.

Linklaters was the first of magic circle firm to enter the country when it formed an alliance with Webber Wentzel in 2012. However, A&O’s launch marks the first time one of the UK’s big five firms has opened its own base.

Earlier this year, partners at Clifford Chance suggested that the firm was looking to open in South Africa within the next 12 months.

Related: Allen & Overy, Baker & McKenzie, Eversheds, Norton Rose and White & Case line up for top prize in African Legal Awards

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