13 April 2009 | By Luke McLeod-Roberts
As transactional markets tighten in the Middle East, firms might welcome advice on how best to mould individual business models to meet client demands and foster existing client relationships to hold on to key work.
For some firms the economic downturn offers unprecedented opportunities to expand into new areas of work. At Linklaters, for example, the reverberations of the downturn in the Gulf are creating opportunities in restructuring work.
“Here in the Gulf we’re going through a period of stabilisation in its wider sense,” says regional senior partner Ewan Cameron. “People are taking a deep breath, revisiting the basis of their funding, looking at projected revenue lines and at business plans. There’s quite a lot of legal work in refinance, restructuring and renegotiation of contracts. We’re about to see a wave of divestments. It will create work in the short-term. For Linklaters it’s a classic example of how we need to be flexible.”
Cameron is among those who will be presenting at The Lawyer’s first-ever Business Development in the Middle East Conference. His talk will be on the changing face of the Middle East legal market in light of the credit crunch. He thinks there will be increasing consolidation among clients and there will, of course, be an attendant impact on the legal sector.
“There’s been a Yukon effect. There was a rush of firms into the region and I wonder if they’ll all survive,” he says, adding: “I don’t see any of the big players rushing into mergers in this market, but it doesn’t mean smaller players won’t.”
The key to whether a firm sticks around depends on whether it has designed the best strategy to sustain and support growth, argues Niall O’Toole, head of Clyde & Co’s Abu Dhabi office.
O’Toole says: “Any firm that wishes to be in the region for a long period must recruit both internationally and locally.”
Clyde & Co has been involved in the region for more than 20 years, but has recently grown rapidly, expanding revenue by 60 per cent over each of the past three years and headcount by 40 per cent. It now has 160 legal staff in the Gulf with a growing emphasis on local hires. In the past two years the firm adopted a management restructure to manage these changes, and O’Toole will share some of the tips at the conference.
Growth should be predicated on long-term planning that looks at the value of each jurisdiction to a firm’s overall vision. Clifford Chance has had a presence in the Gulf for more than 30 years, but only opened in United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi last August.
Many firms argue that Abu Dhabi is where the future lies because of the sheer number of opportunities offered by sovereign wealth funds as well as the untapped nature of the market. This is partly because of infrastructure questions - such as a lack of available office space, together with an insufficient supply of living accommodation. But it is also because, historically, those moving to the Gulf have often preferred the glitz of Dubai to the more understated wealth of Abu Dhabi.
Now that is all changing. Clifford Chance Gulf managing partner Graham Lovett will be telling fellow delegates about how to develop opportunities in Abu Dhabi, including the importance of the city to the wider legal market and the issues and challenges facing firms entering the market.
The Lawyer’s Business Development in the Middle East Conference will be held on 21-22 April 2009 at the Park Hyatt Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Thirty-one speakers, including Middle East heads at global law firms, in-house counsel from some of the biggest companies in the UAE and managing partners from the major indigenous firms, will offer their perspectives.
It is the first and only event of its kind researched and tailored specifically to the needs of managing partners, partners and business development professionals creating revenue streams in the Middle East.
It will be structured by means of presentations, networking events and indigenous firm panels. There will also be two client panels with organisations including Nakheel, Dubai Aerospace Enterprise, Istithmar World Capital, Barclays Capital, Shuaa Capital, Aldar Properties and the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company.