Morocco may be pushing hard for UK investors, but it is the French and Spanish firms that are making their mark on the emerging region.
As reported by The Lawyer (16 November), French firm JeantetAssociés is launching an office in Casablanca after hiring a corporate partner from fellow French firm Brandford-Griffith & Associés.
The firm is not alone in setting its sights on the North African country, with the past few years seeing a number of French and Spanish Morocco entrants.
In December 2005 Garrigues opened in Tangiers and Casablanca and two years later Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira launched in Casablanca.
Gide Loyrette Nouel has the largest presence in Casablanca. It entered into an association with Moroccan firm Naciri & Associés in 2003 and, according to Jeantet partner Laurent Sablé, it has around an 80 per cent market share. But that may soon change.
Although Norton Rose has no on-the-ground presence in Morocco, it is active in the region and has not ruled out the possibility of moving there in the future.
But the legal market is still malnourished. One reason, according to Norton Rose of counsel Godefroy Le Mintier, is the growing sophistication of Moroccan banks, which increasingly demand international firms’ experience and knowhow.
Sablé agrees that more investment by foreign firms is needed. “There’s a lot of project finance work and we have some magic circle firms, like Clifford Chance and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, that have some files, but the main Moroccan actors are asking that firms open an office in Morocco so people can arrive to meetings in 10 minutes, not three hours,” he said.
Also, with Gide it’s quite a monopolistic situation, and that’s another reason why people are asking firms to come, because it’s not sane that one actor is doing 80 per cent of the files.” Senior associate and director of Cuatrecasas’s Casablanca office Fedwa Bouzoubaa believes international firms can be a boon for the country.
“Attracting firms is a way of attracting investors,” says Bouzoubaa. “Attracting firms like Cuatrecasas also attracts the best clients of Cuatrecasas, in Spain and all over the world.”
Although the country’s tourism drive has stalled since the financial crisis, its growth is strong. Morocco was protected from toxic assets by restrictions on foreign currency, and there is an emerging richer class who, Sablé said, “have a lot of cash to spend”.
Le Mintier has noticed it too. “A lot of luxury stores have been created,” he said. “We’ve been advising clients on setting up a mall, which will be the largest in North Africa. I think the demand comes from the existing bourgeoisies and the fact that you have a number of people coming back into the country who get paid better than average and have money to spend.
“And of course you have the general growth. Although the market isn’t large enough to attract the magic circle, it’s still a good prospect, and there’s always room for some healthy competition.”