South African Law Firms Announce Merger Plans

LAWFUEL – The Legal Newswire – Commercial law firms Webber Wentzel Bowens and Mallinicks yesterday announced plans to merge in a move that would make the new entity one of SA’s biggest law firms, and rival corporate law advisers Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs.

The new firm, which will be led by Webber Wentzel Bowens senior partner David Lancaster, will have 300 lawyers.

The Ernst & Young Mergers & Acquisitions Review for 2006, which ranks legal advisers on the value of transactions they advised on, ranked Webber Wentzel Bowens as second last year with 29 deals worth R52bn, followed by Edward Nathan with 35 deals worth R46,75bn. Mallinicks was ranked 36th with three deals worth R178m.

Combined, the firms could be a large player in the market and their merger is part of the recent trend which has seen consolidation in the legal services sector.

The merger follows that of Edward Nathan’s recent blockbuster merger with Cape Town based-law firm Sonnenberg Hoffmann Galombik. Prior to that, Cliffe Dekker entered into an alliance with the world’s second-biggest law firm , DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary.

Law experts say that the South African legal profession is a marketplace that is undergoing dramatic change. Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs chairman Michael Katz said mergers for large law firms “make good commercial sense. Nowadays law firms require scale.” Law firms must either scale up or become niche practices, he said. “Somewhere in between is problematic.”

However, Werksmans chairman Des Williams said relationships were more important at this stage than size for South African law firms to be world class.

Webber Wentzel Bowens had been looking for a merger partner for some time. “We have been focused on growth for some time now and we believe the new firm will allow us to enhance our delivery service to clients by capitalising on the enhanced quality, scale and scope of the merged firm to the advantage of our clients and staff,” Lancaster said.

The combined firm would start operating from March 1 next year . The merger would take effect when regulatory approvals were granted.

Mallinicks chairman Michael Evans said: “Webber Wentzel Bowens is the major force in corporate law in SA and merging with them will undoubtedly result in a strong, strategic and regional fit as a large part of our business is in corporate law too.”

“We will run the new merged entity as one firm. The new name and branding will underscore this fact,” Lancaster said.

Evans said both firms were committed to transformation. Between them they would have more than 100 black lawyers, of which 30 would be partners.

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