Dennis Reitz/Norton Rose SA; pushed deeper into global sphere

The heritage of yesteryear South African legal title Dennis Reitz has been plunked deeper into the global corporate sphere with news that London based firm Norton Rose which took over Dennis Reitz last year will now combine with US law firm Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P to form on June 1, 2013 Norton Rose Fulbright.

The merger which has significant implications for a considerable community of South African based legal community housed inside Norton Rose South Africa was announced yesterday.

Rob Otty, Managing Director of Norton Rose South Africa said “I am delighted that we are combining with a practice that shares our ethos, our culture and most importantly, our passion and ambition for Africa and its people”.

“When we joined Norton Rose we said we still had work to do, and more jurisdictions to enter.  The biggest and most important of these is the United States,” said Otty.

The statement said Norton Rose Fulbright will have 3,800 lawyers and will be a top 10 global legal practice by gross revenue and by number of lawyers. The enlarged practice will have 55 offices internationally, including 11 offices and close to 800 lawyers in the U.S., in Austin, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Pittsburgh-Southpointe, San Antonio, St Louis and Washington D.C.

The statement added that Norton Rose Fulbright will also have an office in Riyadh and additional strength in London, Dubai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Munich. The practice will have world class expertise in litigation and dispute resolution, corporate, intellectual property and banking and finance.

By industry sector, Norton Rose Fulbright will occupy a market leading position in the areas of energy; pharmaceuticals and life sciences (including healthcare); financial institutions; infrastructure, mining and commodities; technology and transport.

Peter Martyr, Chief Executive of Norton Rose, will be the Global Chief Executive of Norton Rose Fulbright. The Chair-Elect of Fulbright, Ken Stewart, will serve as Managing Partner of the U.S. operations and will take a senior position on Norton Rose Fulbright’s Global Executive Committee. Other Fulbright partners will also sit on the Global Executive Committee. Norman Steinberg is the Global Chairman of Norton Rose.

Martyr said “The U.S. legal market is the largest in the world and our combination will create a truly global practice with significant depth of expertise in the world’s principal business and financial centres.

“We have been looking at the U.S. market for a number of years, seeking a firm that meets our requirements for excellence in law, good business synergies and a compatible culture. Fulbright & Jaworski meets all our criteria; it is financially strong, with forward-looking management and similar strategic growth aspirations.”

“As Norton Rose Fulbright, we will continue to invest in our strongest practice areas and develop our expertise across our key industry sectors. We also expect to continue extending our global business not only in the U.S., but in the emerging growth markets of the future, in particular in Latin America, Africa and Asia.”

The former Dennis Reitz community, now Norton Rose SA, is made of more than 500 people with 200 lawyers represented in South Africa’s major cities Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town and describes itself as having one of the largest legal footprints in South Africa with clients in the mainstream financial sector, industrial and commercial corporations, mining houses, parastatals and government departments. As such the evolution of this community is very a considerable matter of public concern.

 While the move will be largely celebrated as progression for the former Dennis Reitz entity it may cause unsettlement in certain sectors. For others the takeover of Dennis Reitz by Norton Rose last year formed part of the much needed embrace of South Africa by globalised capital. It was an expression of confidence on South Africa by a global corporate entity. As such it has to be celebrated in the same way that the takeover of Absa by Barclays or the takeover of Massmart by Walmart. This may present bigger opportunities for South Africa and its professionals to express themselves, on a global scale. But still this does not address concerns that South Africa’s originated entities are positioned on the receiving end of this global movement.

It would be naïve to neglect the fact that this global movement does come with certain cultural nuances, ways of doing things and organisation of power, which could end up marginalizing local talent.  On a more softer view of the world, the very disappearance of local names like Dennis Reitz is something to be mourned as it represents an end of certain histories. This point was well made by one journalist who wrote a piece titled “The commercial killing of our economic history” “They (the disappearing names) carry our histories, our pains and struggles and our hopes to interact among ourselves and with the world and live our mark as liberated people. They have become significant public symbols which can be used to tap into human passion that can take us further”.


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