Earlier this year Latham & Watkins stunned the legal market when it revealed it was looking to launch three Middle East offices simultaneously. And as TheLawyer.com revealed last week (8 July), the firm is already dramatically scaling up its presence in the region.
Finance partner and global finance chair Bill Voge confirmed that the Middle East was a fundamental part of Latham’s global strategy. He also bullishly forecast that by the end of 2008 Latham would be the leading US heritage firm in the Middle East.
“In terms of the number of deals we’ll be doing and the number of people we’ll have on the ground, I don’t think there’ll be anyone that can touch us,” Voge argued. “We’ll become the talk of the Middle East.”
Certainly, ;Latham’s internal relocation of five partners and a team of associates ;is ;a ;major commitment and a nod to the confidence the firm has in the region. It also points to the levels of legal work the firm feels the region is likely to produce.
But its move to rapidly reinforce its fledgling Middle East offices is also a continuation of a strategy that has transformed the former West Coast player into an undisputed global powerhouse over the past decade.
In May Latham was named in The Lawyer Transatlantic Elite as one of the Sweet Sixteen firms – the pack of leading players that will shape the global market over the next few years.
The firm’s willingness to follow its clients internationally over the years has been instrumental in its inclusion in the group. Its accelerated presence in the Middle East is likely to play a critical role in Latham both achieving its global goals and remaining in the Sweet Sixteen.
“We’re moving a lot of lawyers around in 2008,” confirmed Voge, “and the Middle East is an extremely important region for our law firm.”
Within weeks Latham is likely to have an on-the-ground presence in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar. Voge said the licence for the firm’s Doha office was expected to come through within the next seven to 10 days and that Latham counsel Craig Stoehr would be travelling to the Middle East within a similar timeframe with a view to launching the office.
Voge also addressed rumours that the firm is considering opening an office in Saudi Arabia.
“We have an absolutely outstanding Saudi lawyer on our payroll, six-year associate Salman Al-Sudairi, and he’s going to be transferring to Abu Dhabi,” revealed Voge. “I believe this is where a lot of these rumours stem from.
Foreign law firms aren’t allowed to open in Saudi and we have no intentions to do so via an affiliation. But do we have projects in Saudi? Yes. Are we interested in the Saudi market? Yes. We’re considering opportunities.”
Along with Al-Sudairi, recently made-up Latham partner Rindala Beydoun, the managing partner of all three Middle East offices who joined the firm from Vinson & Elkins, is soon to be joined by a posse of Latham lawyers.
London ;is ;sending high-yield partner Bryant Edwards and M&A partner Charles Fuller to Dubai and projects partner Dennis Nordstrom to Abu Dhabi, while ;Silicon ;Valley corporate partner Nick O’Keefe and New York projects ;partner ;Ken Schuhmacher are also heading to Dubai.
In addition, New York-based Voge is relocating to London, along with California high-yield partner Tracy Edmonson. In London, partner Richard Trobman will be stepping up to fill Edwards’ leadership role as head of Latham’s European corporate finance team.
New York-based law firm consultant Friedrich Blase of Kerma Partners said one of the reasons Latham is able to be so flexible with the location of its lawyers is its remuneration system.
“Latham’s doing this because it can,” said Blase. “If your lawyers are working in an eat-what-you-kill, performance-based system, they won’t go. Latham is truly a one-firm partnership, so it has the flexibility to do this and the confidence among its lawyers that they won’t suffer financially as a result.”
As The Lawyer reported earlier this year in the Transatlantic Elite, Latham has had strong ties in the Middle East for years. Its deepest ties are to Qatar, where key clients include sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment ;Authority (QIA), Qatar Petroleum and the State of Qatar.
Voge says his firm’s Qatari client base played a large part in the firm’s motivation for launching so spectacularly in the region.
“Clients of ours were telling us, ‘you need to be here’,” he says. “They were telling us loud and clear, ‘this region needs services and you’d do well to get here’. When we really looked into it, we realised one office wouldn’t be enough.”
While Latham’s Qatar focus is broad after the firm has spent years in the market, the Abu Dhabi launch is aimed at targeting work related to the vast sovereign wealth it possesses, while Dubai is the financial capital of the region.
“You have to be in Dubai because of the financial institutions,” said Voge. “But then, when we were thinking about Abu Dhabi, it was made clear that having lawyers in Dubai wouldn’t necessarily be sufficient.
“And it was also made crystal clear that, if we were coming to the Middle East, we needed to listen to our most loyal clients.”