White & Case is fastest-growing law firm in Africa since 2019, study finds

US firm grew African headcount 177% between 2019 and 2022, according to Africa Legal

Johannesburg, South Africa – home to one of White & Case’s two African offices, alongside Cairo Shutterstock

US firm White & Case was the fastest growing law firm by headcount in Africa between 2019 and 2022, according to new research published by Africa Legal.

White & Case increased its number of Africa-based employees by 177% over that period to 83, significantly faster than second-place Dentons, which grew headcount by 86% to 255, data from Africa Legal’s African Law Firm Dynamics 2019-2023 Report shows. South Africa’s Strauss Daly grew the third fastest, with headcount increasing by 77% to 55. Nigerian firms Babalakin & Co, G. Elias & Co and Olaniwun Ajayi also saw significant headcount growth, expanding 74%, 64% and 61% respectively to 40, 41 and 142 lawyers.

Despite White & Case’s rapid growth, it was only the 16th largest firm in Africa at the end of 2022. South Africa’s ENS remained the continent’s largest law firm by headcount, employing 469 lawyers – 30 more than second largest DLA Piper Africa (439) and 49 more than third largest Bowmans (420). Of those top three, Bowmans grew the fastest between 2019 and 2022, increasing headcount by 7%. ENS, by contrast, saw headcount contract by 2%.

Africa Legal said: “While South Africa undeniably asserted its dominance in terms of legal headcount, Nigeria showcased its ascendancy as a formidable player… Additionally, the increasing presence of international law firms, with boosted headcounts, signifies Africa’s escalating appeal as a significant global legal market.”

Other international firms that saw African headcount growth over the 2019 to 2022 period included Allen & Overy, the eighth fastest growing firm with a 45% increase in African lawyer numbers to 68; Clyde & Co was the 15th fastest growing, expanding headcount by 20% to 100; and Herbert Smith Freehills was the 18th fastest, increasing lawyer headcount by 15% to 47.

International firms that reduced African headcount over that period included Norton Rose Fulbright, cutting lawyer numbers by 3% to 171, and Baker McKenzie, reducing headcount by 22% to 68.

Firms that took on the most trainees in 2022 included Olaniwun Ajayi with 77, ALN with 59 and Bowmans with 55. However, the research showed that Africa has a trainee retention problem, with only 55% of African trainees being retained, compared to 87% in the UK.

The top 50 largest firms operating in Africa also saw the average number of female partners increase in 2022 compared to a year earlier. Women made up 36.38% of African partnerships last year, compared to 35.26% in 2021. At the end of 2022, Angolan firm Fátima Freitas & Associados had the most female partners as a proportion of the overall partnership, accounting for 71.43% of partners. South Africa’s Shepstone & Wylie had the second largest proportion of female partners with 56.82%. Lusophone firm AVM completed the top three, with women making up 54.55% of its partnership.

To request a copy of the report, click here. The research draws on the annual Africa Top 50 report, which is compiled by Africa Legal and Law.com International.

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