Norton Rose moots shifting Middle East arm to US LLP in wake of Fulbright merger

Norton Rose is considering offloading its Middle East offices to the legacy Fulbright & Jaworski arm of the firm when the UK and US outfits merge on 1 June.

Dubai

The plan would effectively ringfence the London-headquartered UK business against any downturn in the Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Bahrain offices, which have been hit a series of departures in recent years.

No plans have been finalised, but the option under serious consideration would see the region’s bases taken on by the US LLP of Norton Rose Fulbright, a separate profit pool from the UK LLP.

The overall firm is structured as a Swiss Verein, with separate profit pools in the UK, Emea and Asia, Australia, South Africa and Canada. The Verein model means the distinct arms share the brand but not fees.

Plans for the future of Norton Rose’s international offices post-merger are understood to be overseen by deputy managing partner Tim Marsden, whose portfolio focuses on global matters.

Norton Rose has seen a slow attrition of headcount in the Middle East over the past two years, with the trend demonstrated by the exit of four partners across banking, corporate and projects in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to three US firms in 2011 (8 August 2011).

The Bahrain base has also shrunk amid the departure of a small number of lawyers below partner level last year (9 July 2012).

Fulbright has existing offices in Dubai and Riyadh, but as its Dubai outpost is based in the emirate’s Festival City and not the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), it would have to apply for an offshore licence in order to obtain the right to carry out the work currently undertaken by Norton Rose, which is based offshore in the DIFC.

Most of the major Dubai banks and other key clients are located in the DIFC, suggesting Fulbright would aim to take up space in the hub or move into Norton Rose’s current premises.

Stephen Parish, chairman of Norton Rose’s UK LLP, said: “Our teams in the Middle East are already working closely together. We’re exploring a number of options as to how we combine, and will look at the best one for ourselves and our clients.”