Werksmans is a go-to firm for arbitration in South Africa, thanks largely to chairman Des Williams.
- People in Who’s Who:
- Pending cases as counsel:
- Value of pending counsel work:
- US$1 billion
- No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
Werksmans’ international arbitration practice first grew shoots in the 1970s under the leadership of Cyril Jaffe. Des Williams QC – who became chairman of the firm in 2005 – worked closely with Jaffe and has continued to invest resources in developing the arbitration practice. A highly respected figure in the arbitration bar, Williams has recently been appointed as the sole South African member of the ICC’s Court of Arbitration.
That said, South Africa still isn’t a place where many lawyers can focus exclusively on arbitration – some members of the practice also do general commercial litigation (including David Hertz and Roger Wakefield).
Werksmans was one of the charter members of the Arbitration Foundation of Southern Africa, and Williams has been a director of the foundation from its inception.
The Johannesburg-based firm merged a few years ago with Cape Town outfit Jan S de Villiers, boosting the dispute resolution team from 60 to 75 lawyers.
It is now in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Tyger Valley, Stellenbosch and Paarl. The firm is also a member – and co-founder – of the Lex Africa legal network, which has members in 25 countries.
Who uses it?
The firm has played a lead role in many of the country’s most high-profile arbitrations. Williams acts for SA Breweries in arbitrations proceedings against Shoprite Holdings over the sale of the OK Bazaars Group in 1997. SA Breweries has been successful in two arbitrations thus far; a third dispute is ongoing.
Williams is also counsel to Katanga Mining – part of the Glencore group – and various associated companies. Katanga Mining is embroiled in various disputes related to a mining project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In one matter, the company is facing off against China’s Zhongji.
Canada’s Aberdeen International is another client; it is in arbitration against Simmer & Jack Mines.
Williams successfully represented South African wireless provider Telkom in a long-running breach of contract dispute with US-based Telcordia. The case began with an ICC claim in 2001, before spilling out to the local courts. The matter was finally settled in July 2010, with Telkom paying about half of what the other side originally claimed.
Meanwhile, the firm’s work for SA Breweries has had a 100 per cent success rate, so far.
Werksmans made a high-profile lateral hire in September when it brought Greg Nott into the arbitration team. He joined from the Johannesburg office of Dewey & LeBoeuf, where he was a managing partner. Nott said he’d had first-hand experience of Werksmans’ calibre, having faced them in the Telkom case when he was counsel to Telcordia. He has a special interest in the oil and gas sector.