Freshfields rainmaker spearheads Middle East push

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer will parachute its former London head of finance to the Middle East as part of a renewed focus on the region.

Bob Charlton will become the region’s new head of finance when he returns from sabbatical at the end of February. Charlton has experience in the region, having previously worked in Jeddah.

Although likely to be based in Dubai, Charlton will also be responsible for heading the Saudi Arabia group. Freshfields is one of the few firms able to advise on Saudi law through the licence of senior associate Fares Al-Hejailan. Most overseas law firms can only advise on Saudi law through an associated Saudi law firm and Freshfields also has a close working relationship with The Law Firm Salah Al-Hejailan, the oldest and largest law firm in the Kingdom.

Although Freshfields has had an office in Dubai since 2005, co-senior partner Guy Morton as recently as last week told The Lawyer that the firm would invest in emerging markets, including the Middle East (see The Lawyer, 7 January).

In addition to Dubai, the firm secured a licence to practise in Bahrain in July 2007 and has a three-lawyer offering there where it often works for the Bahrain ministry of finance. The relationship with the island kingdom comes through head of international arbitration Jan Paulsson, who advised the Bahrain government on a dispute with Qatar.

The firm commented only that no new office opening in the region was imminent.

Generally, the region has proven very successful for Freshfields with the Dubai office hitting its 2008 budget five months ahead of schedule, according to office co-head Joseph Huse.

Magic circle rival Allen & Overy opened last year in Abu Dhabi and through association in Saudi Arabia to add to its Dubai offering.

Meanwhile, Freshfields’ current London head of finance is Perry Noble, who is also global co-head.