Baker & McKenzie plans expansion into DIFC

Baker & McKenzie’s newly-expanded United Arab Emirates offering is eyeing up expansion into the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

The firm merged with Abu Dhabi and Dubai-based Habib Al Mulla & Co on 1 July (17 April 2013), gifting it a much larger UAE footprint including a Dubai office. 

However Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla, as the firm is now known in the region, is currently only in ‘onshore’ Dubai rather than in the DIFC. Al Mulla told The Lawyer last week that it was looking at premises in the DIFC and was planning to apply for a licence to establish a second office there, in a bid to strengthen relationships with banking clients in particular.

The DIFC office would be in addition to the existing office.

Al Mulla was one of the first members of the DIFC’s Regulatory Council in May 2002 and was the founding chairman of the Dubai Financial Services Authority in 2004, stepping down in 2007.

The DIFC was set up as an international finance centre in 2002, with common law legislation distinct from Dubai itself. It has zero income and profits tax and entities are allowed to establish there with 100 per cent foreign ownership.

The DIFC remains the most popular location for foreign firms to set up in Dubai, with over 30 international law firms currently active there. Entrants during the past 12 months including Addleshaw Goddard (11 July 2012), Berwin Leighton Paisner (10 September 2012) and Stephenson Harwood (23 April 2012).

White & Case confirmed it had secured a licence to launch in Dubai two months ago (28 June 2013), but will be outside the DIFC. Morgan Lewis, which is setting up in Dubai with hires from Vinson & Elkins (2 July 2013) is still mulling over its choice of the DIFC or onshore Dubai.

For more on the UAE legal market, see our recent special report, Spring-loaded.