Kenya’s emerging law firms took on their established rivals to bag mega corporate deals and win top ranking in the list of the world’s leading attorneys.
Newly released ranking of law firms by London-based Legal 500 magazine has placed three Kenyan law firms, Iseme, Kamau and Maema Advocates (IKM), Oraro & Company Advocates, and TripleOKlaw Advocates, in Tier One category of attorneys.
The Tier One category has traditionally been the preserve of a small clique of elite law firms that have been in existence since independence, have the financial depth to attract and retain top talent as well as expertise in specialised areas.
Legal 500 magazine reckons that despite a slowdown in mergers and acquisitions in Kenya, corporate lawyers cashed in on Nairobi’s position as a regional commercial hub to rake in fees from other areas such as construction and energy.
“Project development and project finance continue to be important areas for firms as Kenya further develops its infrastructure and pushes forward cornerstone energy projects. Mixed-use urban developments have also driven the real estate scene,” said Jonathan Armstrong, editor in charge of Africa at Legal 500.
“Kenya’s legal market is regarded as being one of the most sophisticated in Africa,” said the magazine, which published the rankings on April 12.
Critical client guide
Investors searching for advice in foreign jurisdictions where they do not have knowledge of local legal environment use the ranking of law firms by entities such as Legal 500 and Chambers Global as a guide, making them critical in the battle for clients.
Elite law firms which bagged top-tier ratings in various practice areas in the 2017 Legal 500 ranking are Anjarwalla & Khanna, Coulson Harney, Kaplan & Stratton Advocates, Hamilton Harrison & Mathews, Walker Kontos Advocates, and Daly & Inamdar Advocates.
IKM bagged Tier One ranking in the banking, finance and capital markets category, alongside Coulson Harney, Kaplan & Stratton, and Walker Kontos advocates.
IKM got the recognition for advising African Development Bank on a $148 million facility to Equity Bank in a deal that was signed in July 2015.
Coulson Harney was feted for midwifing the $335 million loan that a consortium of 10 banks, mainly from the gulf, extended to Stanbic Kenya #ticker:CFC in October 2015.
EABL #ticker:EABL relied on the legal expertise of Richard Harney in floating the second and final tranche of its five-year bond that began trading at the Nairobi bourse in April.
The Sh6 billion medium term note was priced at 14.17 per cent and oversubscribed 41 per cent.
In the commercial, corporate and mergers and acquisition category, Anjarwalla & Khanna as well as Coulson Harney were the only Kenyan law firms that made the top tier grade.
Karim Anjarwalla is recognised for advising private equity firm Helios’ acquisition of a 70 per cent stake in loss-making Telkom Kenya.
George Oraro, a senior partner at Oraro & Company Advocates, made it to the Legal 500 top tier ranking in the field of dispute resolution for representing Telkom Kenya in a protracted labour row with more than 2,000 sacked employees.
A consent to settle the dispute out of court was entered in December 2015 and saw the retrenched employees walk away with a Sh1.8 billion compensation.
Fred Ojiambo, a senior partner at Kaplan & Stratton, and Aisha Abdallah of Anjarwalla & Khanna have been recognised as Kenya’s star lawyers on litigation and dispute resolution.
TripleOKlaw Advocates and Oraro & Co made it to Tier One ranking in the employment category alongside Hamilton Harrison & Mathews, and Coulson Harney.
Legal 500 cited John Ohaga and James Oduol, partners at TripleOKlaw, as top litigators in employment matters — singling them out for successfully defending the troubled Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ against a redundancy claim from 447 employees laid off by the national carrier.
Chacha Odera, a managing partner at Oraro & Co, is named as having “a strong record in employment disputes” for successfully representing Telkom Kenya in a high-stakes labour dispute.
IKM managing partner James Kamau and lawyer Beatrice Nyabira were the legal brains behind a consortium of banks that financed the $2 billion Lamu coal plant.
The controversial project is bankrolled by Industrial and Commercial Bank of China ($1.2 billion) and South Africa’s Standard Bank ($300 million).
Hamilton Harrison & Mathews advised Gulf Energy, which jointly owns the Lamu coal project with Centum, to feature in the Legal 500 premier league under the projects and energy category.
Karim Anjarwalla, Amyn Mussa and Mona Doshi were feted for acting as legal counsel in Two Rivers, the largest shopping mall in Kenya.
Alex Njage is noted for his ‘wide-ranging legal knowledge,’ while Kaplan & Stratton Advocates are recognised for their role in helping AAR Insurance acquire two properties on Kiambu Road for a hospital project.