A&O to open first office in Africa with launch of new base in Casablanca

Allen & Overy (A&O) is set to open its first office on the African continent with the launch of a Morocco base.

The magic circle firm is recruiting two local partners from the Moroccan offices of French leader Gide Loyrette Nouel to staff the new Casablanca base, which will open in September when corporate partner Yassir Ghorbal joins from Gide’s local arm Naciri & Associes.

The office will be headed up by project finance partner Hicham Naciri, who will join A&O from Naciri & Associes later in the year. Naciri & Associes partner Philippe de Richoufftz is also joining A&O, but will be based in the firm’s Paris office in a counsel role.

Ghorbal and Naciri will be joined at the new base by A&O corporate partner Francois Duquette, who will relocate to Casablanca from the magic circle firm’s Abu Dhabi office.

The launch means A&O is the first magic circle firm to establish an official presence on the African continent, and comes after Legal Week reported in April this year that Clifford Chance was in the early stages of planning a launch on the ground in Morocco.

The Casablanca office will help A&O to build on its existing Africa business, with the firm planning to have 25 lawyers on the ground by 2012.

Global managing partner Wim Dejonghe commented: “Morocco is rapidly establishing itself as a key hub for international companies and investors looking to build a presence in Africa. It also has strong trade links with other markets in our network, particularly France, the Middle East and Spain, with growing interest from China, India and Japan.”

Tim Scales, the head of A&O’s Paris-based Africa desk, added: “Hicham and Yassir have succeeded in establishing the leading commercial legal practice in Morocco. Their experience both in Morocco and the wider region will be invaluable to us and our clients.

“Morocco is one of the leading destinations for foreign direct investment in Africa and was one of the few to see an increase in FDI projects in 2010. We see huge opportunities in the region, particularly in the energy, infrastructure and mining sectors.”

The news comes in the same week that Allen & Overy launched its new Washington DC operation, taking its network to 39 offices in 27 countries.