The ambition of Africa’s newest international law firm is to build a business legacy on the back …
The ambition of Africa’s newest international law firm is to build a heritage on the backs of continental trade, foreign investment and cross-border relations.
“We were all based in Paris 15 years ago and we have all known each other for some time,” says Salimatou Diallo of the four founding lawyers of the North and West African law firm DNA in June of this year.
Lawyer in project financing Diallo trained alongside Foued Bourabiat, Safia Fassi-Fihri and Sydney domoraud, having also attended the Sorbonne University with the latter.
“It’s a pretty old relationship that we’ve developed. But after having worked for several years in international law firms, each of us decided to return to our country.
Bourabiat returned to Algeria in 2012, Diallo to Guinea in 2013 and more recently Domoraud and Fassi-Fihri in Côte d’Ivoire and Morocco, all founders of companies in their country of origin.
“The idea of working together and joining forces was there from the start,” continues Diallo, managing partner. “To date, the legal market in French-speaking Africa does not have a strong player in the market, we have a lot of very good law firms, but most of them operate on a national basis.
Thus, the quartet joined forces to form a regional company whose name translates as “together” in Bantu. The launch “was quite eventful,” but speaking from the back of a taxi in Guinea, Diallo says the founders “received a very warm welcome from the legal community, in Europe in particular, and of our customers “.
The founders received advice from Deloitte on tax, currency, compensation and profit sharing during the two-year inception process. The result is that ADNA is fully integrated as a single partnership, subject to certain regulatory issues, sharing decision-making and costs, but Diallo stresses that the individual offices will retain a great deal of independence.
A NEW ROLE FOR A NEW FIRM
For now, the firm is focusing on corporate mergers and acquisitions, private equity and project finance, particularly driven by foreign direct investment, and around the firm’s jurisdictions, Diallo reports a reasonable level of transaction activity, despite Covid-19 and the uncertainty caused by the elections. in Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire last year.
The company also has banking and finance, and dispute resolution capabilities, and offers regulatory and employment services. So she wants to bill ADNA as a full service business.
Carving out a place in the market can be difficult, and ADNA is aiming high: “We want to position ourselves as different from African law firms, like the Slaughter and May in Africa, ”said the managing partner, with strong domestic practices and a strong focus on foreign investment in Africa from Europe, the United States and China. One area that has been reserved is overseas investment, working with clients “to develop their business in other African countries and beyond the continent”.
In a year that has started with the opening of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), intra-continent trade is expected to be on the rise and Diallo envisions a business “at the heart of the market”. As a result, ADNA will work across North Africa and the countries of West and Central Africa. who compones Organization for the Harmonization in Africa of Business Law (OHADA), and has the ambition to open offices in new countries over time.
This is where the firm’s relationship with Africa Legal Network (ALN) comes in. Three of the founding companies were already part of the network, and Karim Anjarwalla of ALN, the managing partner of Anjarwalla and Khanna in Kenya persuaded partners to join the network for further NLA integration over time. In the meantime, membership gives ADNA access to business, financial and business development support, and the ability to go to market with companies in 15 countries.
ADNA also has a relationship with South African society. Webber Wentzel, who has herself recently formed an alliance with the Mozambican firm Avurez Bacar Centeio & Cambule, and with companies in Ghana and Nigeria.
BUILDING A NEW AFRICA
Diallo says the firm’s success means becoming “the benchmark firm for our clients in the African legal market. We want to show that Africa can have its own legal champion ”.
In June, Fassi-Fihri declared that the founders wanted “to participate in the development of the Africa we want”. Diallo clarifies that “the key driver for us is really to build a legacy”, continuing: “We wanted to build an institutional law firm that would outlive us.”
“We could have stayed in our own markets,” she continues, “we could have stayed individually”. Instead, the quartet chose to build something: “We wanted to join forces to work together and build an institutional law firm, to have good talent, to be able to attract talented lawyers from all countries and to serve our clients. differently.