Media reports indicate that a deal has been sealed bringing together two prominent Kenyan law firms, Hamilton Harrison & Mathews (HHM) Advocates and Oraro and Company Advocates. It is reported that the Competition Authority of Kenya has been notified of the merger and the law firms are awaiting the latter’s approval before an official announcement is made.
HHM partner Richard Omwela confirmed the merger and told the media: “Once we get the greenlight, the new firm will be bigger and better, allowing more lawyers to specialise.”
Although details of the merger are sketchy, it is reported that the new firm, which is likely to be known as HHM Oraro will seek to position itself for local and regional mega deals in oil, infrastructure and various aspects of commercial transactions.
One possible area for growth and specialisation is intellectual property (IP) law. In a previous post here, we highlighted the sharp increase in IP-related disputes reported in the media as well as those taken to court. This trend bodes well for IP-savvy lawyers keen on assisting their clients to enforce their various assets as well as those seeking to expand and develop IP jurisprudence in Kenya. However, our recent survey on IP specialisation among Kenyan lawyers (see here) shows that only a paltry 25 lawyers spend a minimum of 60% of their time on IP matters. Therefore, it may argued that the HHM Oraro merger could result in an increase in the number of advocates actively handling specialised areas of IP for both local and foreign clients.
However, let us examine the two firms from in terms of their respective areas of expertise in IP.
Each year, the World Trademark Review 1000 (WTR 1000), an essential guide to the world’s leading trademark professionals recommends 1000 global law firms and attorneys considered to be the leaders in the field and delivering top-quality trademark services.
In Kenya, HHM is currently ranked in WTR 1000 Silver Band. HHM’s WTR 1000 review reads in part:
“This leading full-scope business law firm has long maintained a solid and reliable trademark practice, primarily servicing the needs of its existing – largely multinational – corporate clientele. Trademark registration is a particular forte, though as a top-rated commercial litigation firm, it has also proved to be a proficient performer in IP disputes. Richard Omwela and Kiragu Kimani are the key contacts for intellectual property.”
Oraro is not featured in the WTR 1000 rankings however two of its Associates have worked in WTR-ranked firms namely Cindy Oraro and Jackson Awele, the latter with extensive IP experience from a WTR 1000 Gold Band firm.
As many know, Chambers and Partners is a company which identifies and ranks the most outstanding law firms and lawyers in over 180 jurisdictions throughout the world.
According to Chambers & Partners, HHM is ranked Band 2 in the Corporate and Commercial category law firms in Kenya. In the Corporate/Commercial: Intellectual Property category, Richard Omwela is in Band 3 among Kenya Ranked Lawyers.
HHM’s review reads in part:
“Hamilton Harrison & Mathews is a very high-quality firm and well rounded. It offers a very strong and commercial service
Head of the firm’s commercial and conveyancing department, Richard Omwela also has substantial experience of IP matters. Clients greatly admire his “judgement and gravitas.””
Oraro is not ranked among the Corporate and Commercial category of firms.
In the Dispute Resolution category, both HHM and Oraro are highly ranked by Chambers. Both firms occupy two of the three spots of Band 1 ranked firms in Kenya. George Oraro SC (Founding Partner at Oraro) and Kenneth Fraser, SC (Senior Partner at HHM) are widely considered as the most seasoned dispute resolution lawyers in the country and are both ranked in Band 1. Chacha Odera (Managing Partner at Oraro) is ranked in Band 2, George Murugara and Michi Kirimi (both partners at HHM) are ranked in Band 3 alongside Walter Amoko (partner at Oraro). George Oraro SC enjoys singular distinction as he is also ranked in Band 1 in the category of Dispute Resolution: Arbitrators in Kenya.
All in all, it appears that this is a merger of two notable dispute resolution law firms. Therefore, in the context of IP practice, HHM Oraro would definitely be the go-to firm for contentious IP matters. However with a combined workforce of 15 partners and 20 associates, HHM Oraro could also prove to be a force to be reckoned with in non-contentious corporate and commercial IP work.