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Local regulations prohibit Ethiopian law firms from having more than one partner. This means most firms are named after their founding and sole partners, although these practitioners are often supported by senior lawyers that operate as partner-equivalent but do not officially hold partner status or an equity stake in the business.

Ethiopian law firms are small by international standards, but they are growing in sophistication and in their exposure to cross-border deals. Ethiopia has a fast-growing economy and a large population of nearly 95 million people. Foreign investment is growing, though cross-border M&A is yet to become a key sector for law firms. Renewable energy projects continue to be a significant source of legal mandates and firms are frequently advising or working across the table from top international lenders and development finance institutions (DFIs). With Ethiopia opening its doors to foreign investment and with impressive GDP growth, the nation is attracting the attention of foreign and international law firms. Leading Italian firm BonelliErede launched an Addis Ababa office in 2016, as part of an increasing focus on Africa that includes a partnership with local firm Teshome Gabre-Mariam Bokan Law Office and a newly opened Cairo office.

Mehrteab Leul & Associates is a member of the DLA Piper Africa group, and has an impressive record in cross-border M&A and for advising a number of multinationals. In addition to its corporate and M&A expertise, the firm is also a market leader in intellectual property, with a large practice dedicated to trade mark registration, in addition to technology transfer agreements and brand-related negotiations. It continues to be strongly associated with the mining industry and is increasingly active in renewable energy projects and independent power producer (IPP) projects; clients include Israeli Chemicals, International Hotel Groups, Gemfields and Equator Drilling. Mehrteab Leul is the founder and principal of the firm, and Tadesse Lencho heads the corporate and tax practice. Benyam Tafesse leads the intellectual property, employment and immigration practice. Zelalem Yibrah heads the mining and energy practice and recently advised ICL on drafting a mining licence transfer agreement, the tax implications of the transfer agreement, and the procedures to be followed before approval by the Ministry of Mines.

Mesfin Tafesse Law Office is one of Ethiopia’s largest firms with ten lawyers. It has a strong record in M&A, foreign investment and competition law, and is increasingly handling private equity mandates for client such as The Abraaj Group, which it advised on its equity investment into a local diagnostics and laboratory centre. Foreign investment into oil and gas, mining, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and manufacturing sectors accounts for a large portion of the firm’s workload. Straight lending by banks and other financial institutions, as well as project financings in energy and infrastructure, are also important areas for the firm. Other clients include GlaxoSmithKline, Heineken and Boeing. The firm also acts for Chinese clients including Export-Import Bank of China, which it advised on the review of its loan agreement with Ethiopian Electric Power in connection to the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway power supply project. Mesfin Tafesse leads the firm and is recommendedfor corporate and mining matters; Tafesse is ‘on top of the issues’ and ‘tailors his advice for the international audience’. Other key figures include consultants Wossenyeleh Tigu, dispute resolution specialist Solomon Zewdie and Mekdes Mezgebu. The firm is a member of the Africa Legal Network, an alliance of independent law firms operating across 12 jurisdictions in Africa.

Tadesse Kiros Law Office has an excellent record in corporate, mining, projects and privatisations, and dispute resolution. Tadesse Kiros was previously deputy chief justice of Ethiopia and is noted for his expertise in litigation and mining. The firm is also known for financings and employment law.

Fikadu Asfaw and Associates Law Office is noted for its capabilities in commercial contracts, financing and real estate matters. The firm is also building its presence in tax, immigration and intellectual property. It represents a multitude of European and Asian clients, and receives frequent referrals from international law firms. Founder and senior partner Ato Fikadu Asfaw Demissie has a solid reputation in the local and international markets.

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