HSF set to quadruple Johannesburg lawyer numbers by the end of the year

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) is on course to grow its Johannesburg office to around 50 lawyers by the end of 2017, the firm’s Africa co-head has said.

HSF is due to move into new premises in Rosebank, north of central Johannesburg, later this year to accommodate the future expansion.

The Johannesburg office, which currently has four lawyers based there including two partners, launched in October last year.

Martin Kavanagh, co-head of the firm’s African practice group, said: “During the course of 2016 we will probably get to around 20 lawyers, and we are on target we think to reach a size of 40-50 people within our first couple of years.”

He added that the firm is looking to add “significant partner capabilities in its corporate and dispute practices”. One partner from another firm, who Kavanagh declined to name, is set to join the office in July.

The firm is also understood to currently be in discussions with around six potential partner movers across both international and South African firms.

Kavanagh said that the predicted office growth is in response to demand in the market. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of work we’ve been receiving as well as the interest from clients in China, Japan, South East Asia and Russia particularly,” he said.

“Our work so far has focussed on infrastructure, public-private partnership projects, resources and regulatory work both within South Africa and across the continent.”

HSF’s Johannesburg office is headed by ex-Webber Wentzel head of mining regulation Peter Leon and ex-Webber Wentzel head of energy and infrastructure Brigette Baillie.

They were followed in their move by Webber Wentzel corporate partner Patrick Leyden who joined the office last month as a director. South African lawyers typically make partner sooner than their global counterparts and are often listed as directors if they move to international firms.

Ed Baring, head of HSF’s banking and finance practice in Moscow, and Bertrand Montembault, head of the Paris energy and infrastructure practice are currently in the process of moving to the Johannesburg office.

The South Africa launch followed HSF’s decision to call off a planned launch in Guinea in September 2013, a move which had been expected to take place early that year.