Being able to rapidly respond to what the market needed while delivering high-quality, cost-effective legal advice in a transformed firm was what drew senior M&A lawyer Deepa Vallabh to “leave the comfort” of a large law firm practice for the unique proposition at CMS South Africa.
“Transformation in our culture is almost a given,” said Vallabh of the full-service commercial firm in Johannesburg she joined in 2019 as it was combining with global giant CMS. “It is us, it’s our identity.”
“We think there are very talented individuals that are female or non-white sitting in some big firms not getting access to the high-quality work,” Vallabh continued. “We were very deliberate in how we grew, and continue to grow, our teams and the access and training that we give them. Four of our largest practice group areas are led by women whilst more than 50% of our equity partners are black and female.”
After 20 years in corporate law, including leading roles at some of Southern Africa’s largest firms, Vallabh chose to partner with similar minded senior lawyers to build a firm that is transformed, modern and a more cost-effective platform to service clients, with the same efficiency and quality of the larger firms.
Vallabh is now Head of Africa: M&A and Co-Head, Corporate & Commercial at CMS South Africa, which combines the high-quality expertise, local knowledge, and agility of a South African law firm with the backing of a global group of 5,000 lawyers in 44 countries.
With over 40 lawyers, including dual qualified Africa-focused lawyers, CMS South Africa is building a profile of working with multinationals, listed companies, regulators, development finance institutions and government bodies in sectors demonstrating opportunity and resilience in the region.
With expertly geared teams working on big deals, CMS South Africa is training its younger lawyers to interact directly with clients, thus creating a unique learning and relationship building opportunity they may not have received elsewhere.
“These young lawyers are looking for an environment where they can know and be part of the vision of the firm and help it get there,” said Vallabh.
The CMS organisation has also “invested a huge amount of money in different technologies”, said Vallabh. Partners and lawyers thus have access to cutting-edge tools which allow them to create better efficiency for clients and the way they work. One such platform is Lupl, an open industry platform for legal matters being developed by a group of legal departments and law firms, including CMS.
Joining the right organisation which had aspirations to grow within Africa while enabling local firms to retain their autonomy, was also important to Vallabh because a large part of her practice centres on cross-border M&A work. She can close out transactions for clients wherever they do business, using networks and relationships across different jurisdictions while coordinating local counsel who help deliver the end product the client needs.
“At the end of the day,” she said, “despite the fact that we offer the market better prices, transformation and agility, our institutional clients support us because we deliver excellent quality and experience.”
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