French firm Gide Loyrette Nouel is opening an office in Tunisia - the first international law firm to break into the country.
The firm is sending four associates in to launch the office, with Paris-based head of structured and acquisition finance Kamel Ben Salah taking responsibility for the practice. The firm has a raft of clients already active in the country, including Siemens and Société Générale, and because the country's legal system is modelled on the French one it expects a lot more work. Ben Salah said: "The main reason for opening the office is because there are historical and cultural links between Tunisia and France, and also because the legal systems are quite similar. "In the economic context there is a very significant trend of liberalisation, for example, this year there are roughly 40 companies to be privatised in Tunisia, and the banking system is also undergoing restructuring." The firm plans to increase the office to 10 lawyers by the end of the year, and then to expand to nearer 20 in the long-term. Ben Salah will make at least one trip a month to the new office, and two of the assistants on the ground are senior. The practice will focus on privatisations and banking, and assisting French companies setting up their subsidiaries in Tunisia. Ben Salah said that the firm is acting for two Tunisian companies, one in information technology and one in insurance. They are seeking listing on the French Stock Exchange. The country is also developing legislation to introduce banking structures to allow things such as securitisation into the country. It is in the process of deciding on the distribution of second generation mobile phone licences. He said: "Before setting up our office we've had to have various meetings with the officials there and also with the Tunisian bar because it was quite important to us to make sure they were happy with it. We're the only international law firm in Tunisia, so there's no other competition."