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Hogan Lovells is to close its Abu Dhabi office before the end of the year and make Dubai its hub for the region.
The Abu Dhabi office, which focuses on corporate and commercial work, will be wound down by the end of December, with all work transferring to the firm’s Dubai office.
A spokesman for the firm said that there are five resident lawyers – one partner, three associates and one counsel – based in its Abu Dhabi base as well as one partner, Mark Mazo, who splits his time between Abu Dhabi and Washington DC. That said, the firm’s website lists three other partners that split their time between Abu Dhabi and the US.
The firm is now in talks with the resident lawyers about what will happen to them once the office is closed. One possibility is that they could move to the firm’s Dubai office, which is larger than Abu Dhabi, with five partners and around 12 fee-earners there already.
The firm also has eight secretarial and support staff in Abu Dhabi and while no decision has been made regarding their jobs, it is not expected that they will be able to relocate within the firm.
In a statement, Hogan Lovells’ Asia and Middle East managing partner Crispin Rapinet said: “Our Abu Dhabi office has five resident lawyers. Since it was established, Hogan Lovells has grown substantially in the region and now has a strong Dubai practice as well as two offices in Saudi Arabia. Dubai provides us with a strong regional hub for work in the UAE and for expanding our practice in the wider Middle East.”
According to a partner at another international firm in Abu Dhabi, Hogan Lovells’ decision comes as no surprise since the emirate is proving to be a hostile environment for western firms that do not have a long-established presence or clear niche in the market.
“It’s not shocking,” said the partner. “The market here is fairly inclement for the international firms. A lot of firms came into the market in 2007, 2008 and 2009 but not with very well defined business plans. Not many have pulled out here yet but quite a few firms have cut office sizes down and taken lawyers and tried to find other places for them.
“You have to be focused on the right areas but a lot also depends on your brand strength. If you’re a long entrenched firm you can be full service, but if not then it’s hard to compete.”
The Abu Dhabi office was legacy Hogan & Hartson’s. The firm opened in the city in 2008 and the base was its first in the Middle East (1 July 2008).