Allen & Overy hires six-partner team from Linklaters ally Webber Wentzel in Johannesburg

UK Magic Circle firm reaffirms faith in South Africa market as 'key part' of its strategy in Africa

Alexandra Clüver, Alessandra Pardini and Ryan Nelson

Allen & Overy (A&O) has reaffirmed its faith in South Africa as a strategic base for wider Africa work with the hire a six-partner team from Linklaters ally Webber Wentzel to bolster its banking and finance offering in Johannesburg.

The team, which specialises in banking and projects matters, consists of partners Ryan Nelson, Alexandra Clüver, Alessandra Pardini, Alexandra Felekis, Gillian Niven and Mongezi Dladla. 

The move comes after the UK giant lost its Johannesburg managing partner, banking and finance specialist Lionel Shawe, to White & Case back in April. He joined the US firm seven years after spearheading A&O’s Johannesburg launch in 2014. 

Nelson, who re-joins A&O after previously working in its London headquarters as a senior associate between 2006 and 2011, will lead the firm’s local banking practice. Dual qualified to practise South African and English law, his experience covers general corporate lending, acquisition finance, leveraged finance, real estate finance, fund finance, project finance and restructuring. 

Clüver, meanwhile, focuses her practice on the development and financing of projects in the energy, infrastructure and oil and gas sectors in South Africa and the wider Sub-Saharan Africa region for domestic and international clients alike. A partner at Webber Wentzel for more than a decade, including four years as head of its project finance team, she handles equity and debt funding structures as well as private equity and secondary market activities. 

Pardini, who held roles at regional firms Rudolph Bernstein & Associates and Roodt prior to joining Webber Wentzel in 2021, has extensive experience advising clients on construction and project development in the mining, energy and infrastructure sectors. Her specific focus lies in engineering, procurement and construction arrangements, as well as operations and maintenance contracts and power purchase agreements and concessions and public private partnership arrangements. 

Clüver and Pardini will be joined in A&O’s projects team by partners Felekis, Niven and Dladla, who all specialise in matters across the mining, energy and infrastructure sectors, covering environmental and regulatory as well as construction and financing expertise. 

With this crop of senior hires, the UK firm intends to capitalise on the recent developments in South Africa’s green energy push as well as pursuing energy and infrastructure opportunities in the wider Southern and Sub-Saharan Africa region. 

Wim Dejonghe, A&O’s senior partner, identified South Africa as a key part of the firm’s broader Africa strategy, explaining that the new hires will work closely with its other banking and projects groups across its global network on transactions and disputes throughout Africa. 

Johannesburg managing partner Gerhard Rudolph said: “By focusing on the complete integration of the new teams into the wider network, we will ensure that our South African banking and projects practices enjoy the full benefit of A&O’s global platform and vice versa.”

South Africa's economy enjoyed a buoyant start to 2021 with analysts predicting growth of more than 4%. However, there are concerns that riots in July prompted by the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma combined with a third wave of Covid-19 lockdown measures may derail the economic recovery.

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. 

Earlier this year, the firm reported a 5% jump in revenue to £1.77bn against a 17% jump in profit per equity partner, marking a strong rebound in PEP after a 1.7% fall last year to hit £1.90m.

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