World’s top lawyers vie for a piece of Kenya’s contracts

Milimani Commercial Courts in Nairobi. Nairobi has emerged as the favourite destination of global law firms. Photo/FILE
Milimani Commercial Courts in Nairobi. Nairobi has emerged as the favourite destination of global law firms. Photo/FILE  Nation Media Group

East Africa’s increased attractiveness to international investors and multinationals has sparked a scramble for Kenya’s top corporate lawyers by the world’s leading legal advisory firms hunting for new revenues in frontier markets.

About 10 of the top 16 global law firms have inked partnership deals with Nairobi’s top corporate law firms, according to the International Financial Review 1000 (IFRL1000), a research firm that  ranks global legal houses.

The research indicates that 12 international firms are active in Kenya, aiming for an edge in bidding for international legal tenders in projects located in eastern Africa.

The rising interest in East Africa is linked to the recent trooping to the region of foreign investors chasing a piece of the multi-billion shilling infrastructure deals, legal work for multinationals with regional operations and natural resource projects, especially oil exploration deals.

These activities are generating millions of shillings in legal fees, making it critical for top international firms to have a local footprint.

“Africa is considered as the last frontier and this has seen many multinationals come to do business in different African countries,” said James Kamau, the managing partner at Iseme, Kamau and Maema (IKM) Advocates, which has a partnership with DLA Piper.

“These multinationals have law firms that service them in their country of origin and find it better to do business with firms in Africa that have forged working relationships with their main firms.”

A number of multinationals including General Motors, Pepsico, and HSBC have set up shop in Kenya with an eye on the enlarged East Africa common market, which is acting as a catalyst for fresh investment in the region as big corporates had shunned it due to the small size of fragmented markets.

Nairobi, with a track record for superior legal capacity in handling cross border transactions, has emerged as the favourite destination beating Dar and Kampala.

In recent months, East Africa has been a centre of oil and gas exploration after several big discoveries including Kenya’s second oil find announced by British explorer Tullow Oil and Canadian venture partner Africa Oil last week.

The IFRL1000 says that top global legal firms including Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Bowman Gilfillan, Webber Wentzel, Hogan Lovells, Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs, and White & Case have signed partnerships with Kenya’s top law firms.

The pacts mainly concentrate on the top end of the legal services market where corporate finance legal giants such as Anjarwalla and Khana, Kaplan and Stratton, Hamilton Harrison and Mathews, and Daly and Figgis are found.

Indigenous firms such as Muriu Mungai and Company, Muthaura, Mugambi, Ayugi and Njonjo and Oraro and Company Advocates are also on the hunters’ radar.

“We are getting lots of inquiries. They (global firms) are fishing around for partners to form exclusive associations,” Mr Richard Omwela, the managing partner at Hamilton Harrison and Mathews told the Business Daily earlier.

“The driver is that they need prominent firms that understand the local terrain. That should make it easier for them to pitch for international tenders for projects in East and Central Africa,” said Mr Omwela.

Having a footprint should enable the law firms to tap into local projects that have an international reach by circumventing the law that bars foreigners from practising in Kenya.

Under the Advocates Act, the law that regulates legal practice in Kenya, no person can be admitted as an advocate unless he is a citizen of Kenya, Uganda, or Tanzania.