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US firm Masons Thelen Reid has become the latest Western law firm to develop a presence in Iraq after setting up an association with a local firm.
As first revealed on www.thelawyer.com (23 February), Masons has linked up with Baghdad firm Salam Abdullah & Partners, and is the second firm into Iraq following Clyde & Co’s arrival in June 2003. Salam Abdullah is understood to have close links with Iraq’s governing council.
The move seems a natural one for Masons. It is the longstanding adviser to Bechtel, the US company heavily involved in Iraqi reconstruction. However, most firms have avoided building such direct relations in Iraq due to political instability, the ongoing hostilities, and logistical difficulties.
One lawyer said: “It could take a day to satisfy one client appointment as you could spend a day in traffic. The email and phone systems barely work, although they are improving.”
Some firms believe it is worth the risk. Bryan Cave, which already has an office in Kuwait, has been scouting around Basra, claiming it is one of the few safe places in the country. But such steps are few and far between. Even Clydes has not put any of its lawyers on the ground in Iraq in recent months, largely because of safety concerns. Instead, many firms, particularly those with long-term experience of Iraq, are sticking to advising their network of international clients on inward investment from outside the war-torn country.
This does not require sending partners on dangerous missions to Iraq, but building networks of contacts there. Firms need to have Iraqi lawyers to handle local law and regulatory issues.
An association named the Anglo-Iraqi Law Association has also been established under the behest of Tony Baldry, joint head of One Essex Court and Conservative MP for Banbury. Its membership comprises 20 Iraqi lawyers and 20 English lawyers.
Clients of Anglo-Iraqi Law Association’s English members can make use of the Iraqi lawyers’ knowledge and contacts, and vice versa. The Iraqis also have access to a pool of talent conversant with international law.
Fostering relations with a country as potentially lucrative as Iraq is also useful for any business-savvy English lawyer or barrister. Baldry’s chambers tapped into the mountain of work that arose out of the First Gulf War – including becoming standing counsel in London for the Kuwaiti Government, and has recently handled litigation for the Kuwaiti Investment Office.