Dentons Launches in Kenya and Mauritius, with Sights on Nigeria

Through a series of mergers, Dentons is to enter the legal markets of Kenya and Mauritius, while the international law firm’s Africa chief says Nigeria is next.

The world’s largest law firm has grown again, entering the legal market in Kenya and Mauritius as part of a wider expansion that included mergers with seven law firms around the world.

Dentons is to merge with Hamilton, Harrison & Mathews in Kenya and two Mauritian firms, Mardemootoo Solicitors and Balgobin Chambers, alongside combinations with Dinner Martin in the Cayman Islands, Delany Law in the Eastern Caribbean, Hanafiah Ponggawa & Partners (HPRP) in Indonesia and Zain & Co in Malaysia.

The mergers, announced by the firm last month, received approval by its partnership this month and are due to go through later in the year.

The merged firms bring practices in dispute resolution, banking and finance, corporate, real estate and tax, as well as infrastructure projects experience.

The expansion will not stop there. As Noor Kapdi, Dentons’ chief executive of Africa tells ALB, Nigeria is the next country on the firm’s list and it hopes to break into what is Africa’s biggest economy in the near future.

“What’s next? Certainly Nigeria. We have the appetite for Nigeria because by then we would have covered major markets,” but that is “certainly not where we are stopping”, he says.

“It is our clear intent to have a pan-African capability and that includes many of the smaller markets. Those markets may be small as legal markets, but for our clients, they remain important markets and we are really driven by what the client wants where.”

KENYA AND MAURITIUS

Kapdi tells ALB that last year’s Ugandan merger was first “to get a foothold into that regional economy” but that the subsequent moves have been more driven by client demand.

“It is mostly client-directed, client-focused, we speak to our clients, we are in constant conversation, we understand what they need, where they are going to be next, and the requirements that they have, inbuilt reasons. That largely informs why Nairobi in Kenya is so important as well, and Mauritius.”

This is not a scattershot approach he insists, it fits in with a strategic view of business in the region: “If you look at the African continent, you look at trade flows and funding flows and the size of the legal market, it becomes pretty clear that if you are in South Africa, in Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya and Mauritius, then it would be fair to say that you have covered the major legal markets of the continent.”

Mauritius, he says, is a key gateway to the continent for foreign money and as such made perfect sense.

“Mauritius is a portal, an entry gate into Africa for much of Singaporean, Chinese, Asian and Arab investment into the region, Middle East investment into the region,” he continues, highlighting its “excellent bilateral tax treaties” and benefits as “a foreign currency treasury”.

“Some of these jurisdictions struggle with foreign currency liquidity and our clients are mostly multinationals, which means they are required to make investments in several of these regions, [which is] often very difficult if they don’t have a favourable position in terms of tax to access the capital,” he explains. “So Mauritius has positioned itself as a financial services hub to support investments in Africa.”

His comments were echoed, in a statement by global chief executive Elliott Portnoy, who said: “Our new offices in Mauritius and Kenya complement our growing pan-African presence, coming on the heels of our expansion in neighbouring Uganda just last year.”

Global chairman Joe Andrew added: “Clients within East Africa, the Caribbean and South East Asia, and clients wanting to do business in those growing regions, will benefit from high-quality legal service on a truly global scale.”

A HISTORY OF EXPANSION

Dentons has undergone rapid international expansion over the past three years, merging with firms in China, the United States and numerous countries across Europe, Asia, and Latin America to become the world’s largest firm by headcount.

Last August it signaled that Africa was next on its agenda, establishing the continent as its own region within the firm, separate from the United Kingdom and the Middle East, with which it had previously been combined, and appointing Kapdi, managing partner for South Africa, as its chief executive.

That echoed a previous move made by the firm in Latin America, which heralded a period of rapid growth, expanding into Colombia and Mexico initially, followed by Peru, Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama and Guatemala.

The African restructuring was followed almost immediately the Ugandan merger. It has had offices in South Africa and Morocco since 2014 and its office in Egypt dates back to 1964.

PASSION FOR THE PROJECT

Kapdi is keen to emphasise the firm’s history in Africa through the Cairo and London offices and says this background informs its decision making when it comes to merger partners. “We know the good law firms, we continue to work with them,” he says. Dentons considers the quality of these firms’ work alongside its clients’ feedback and information from ranking agencies.

He is bullish about what this experience means when compared to other firms, saying: “We have a generation of knowledge of the quality that exists on the continent, unlike some of our competitors who find favour in Africa these days,” although some of the firm’s rivals might contest that view.

Kapdi says he has a broad remit to identify jurisdictions which are suitable for expansion, based on client demand, and then makes the case to the global management committee and that as well as “vigorous due diligence” there is a subjective element to merger criteria too: “In the final analysis, after going through this process, the question I often ask is, would I want to be partner to this person, as a Dentons partner? Would I want to be a member of this firm? And if the answer is in the affirmative, it is a very easy decision to begin an engagement.”

Dentons’ focus is on commercial litigation – including regulatory issues, corporate and commercial work because “that is central to what our clients do”, and banking and finance.

“Where the firm doesn’t have at least those core competencies, we would not likely to be interested,” Kapdi says. Other practices which they might bring “all sorts of wonderful other things” are an added bonus.

Throughout this process, both objective and subjective Kapdi’s passion for the project burns brightly: “I meet many law firms, top, top quality lawyers, and often they don’t get it, they don’t see the need to be the law firm of the future. If there is a disjuncture that wide between our vision as a law firm and what we require our combination partners to be, then clearly that is an indicator.”

There is a crusading zeal in the way he describes the vetting of candidate firms, as he concludes: “If they don’t see Dentons as the law firm of the future and they don’t see themselves as the law firm of the future, then that is one of the key reasons why we often walk away from the relationship.”

Source: A L B

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