04 Apr 2022

Allen & Overy adds transactional offering in South Africa with double partner hire from Werksmans

Brian Price and Ze’ev Blieden join the UK firm in Johannesburg as it bets on booming global M&A landscape

Johannesburg cityscape on a sunny day

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Allen & Overy (A&O) has doubled down on its commitment to South Africa with the hire of a pair of corporate and commercial partners from top local outfit Werksmans to add dealmaking capabilities in Johannesburg. 

The firm said the hire of Brian Price and Ze’ev Blieden reflect its ongoing push to diversify its specialist offering in South Africa, which has already seen it add a number of partners in Johannesburg over the past year. 

Price and Blieden will lead A&O’s transactional capability on the ground in Johannesburg, where they will focus on cross-border M&A opportunities in Africa, the firm said.

The duo, both of whom were directors at Werksmans, bring experience in matters including domestic and cross-border M&A, corporate and project finance, listings and flotations, public offerings, private equity transactions and restructuring transactions. 

A&O’s said its diversification efforts in its Johannesburg office, which opened in 2014, form part of its strategy to expand its client base to align with what it called a ‘future-fit’ focus on dispute resolution, infrastructure, energy and corporate advisory work in the region. 

The diversification push saw the firm hire a six-partner team from Linklaters ally Webber Wentzel in September to bolster its banking and finance team in Johannesburg. The move followed the loss of banking and finance specialist Lionel Shawe, who was also the Johannesburg office’s managing partner, to White & Case last April. 

Tim Scales, head of A&O’s Africa group and global co-head of the firm’s projects team, said the latest hires will allow the team in Johannesburg to cover the entire lifecycle of assets in the energy, infrastructure, natural resources and telecoms sectors against an increased interest from investors in those sectors in South Africa and across the African continent. 

​​A&O’s on-the-ground Africa presence includes one other base in Casablanca, which it opened in 2011 when it became the first of the UK Magic Circle firms to establish a physical presence in Morocco. Its wider Africa group consists of 150 lawyers from its network of offices across Europe, Asia Pacific, the Middle East and the Americas. 

Gerhard Rudolph, the firm’s Johannesburg managing partner, added: “M&A activity internationally has been at an all-time high. It’s likely this momentum will continue in 2022, with significant opportunities foreseen across the African continent, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Bringing Brian and Ze’ev on board extends our capacity to better serve our clients from an African base, leveraging the firm’s global strength and experience in cross-border transactions.” 

Global M&A activity reached $5.9tr in 2021, smashing through the previous full year record of $4.2tr set in 2015, according to Refinitiv’s Global M&A full year review. Last year’s record-breaking total was 64% higher than the value of deals announced in 2020. 

Other UK firms building their platforms in Johannesburg recently include Pinsent Masons, which  hired corporate crime and forensic investigation partner Edward James from ENSafrica in January. The hire came just a couple months after Pinsents lost its South Africa transactional practice head Chris Green to Hogan Lovells, a move that marked the latter firm’s first partner-level lateral hire since its high-profile split with local ally Routledge Modise and subsequent office relaunch in 2019. 

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