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Law firms’ comings and goings in the Middle East have become as much a trend of 2012 as consolidation and redundancies. Earlier this month Cobbetts announced that it had begun an alliance with a Saudi Arabian firm (20 September 2012) while Cleary Gottlieb unveiled plans for the launch of an Abu Dhabi base, its first Middle East outpost (6 September 2012).
This news was preceded by Fenwick Elliot’s managing partner saying that he, too, fancied a Middle East launch (7 September 2012), Addleshaw Goddard opening in Dubai (11 July 2012), and Simmons & Simmons and Herbert Smith announcing cutbacks in the region.
Today, The Lawyer reports the first withdrawal this year by a major international firm as Hogan Lovells readies itself to pull out of Abu Dhabi and focus instead on Dubai (see story). The firm is now in talks with its lawyers and staff about what will happen post exit.
Ostensibly this looks to be about managing resources. Abu Dhabi was legacy firm Hogan & Hartson’s only office in the Middle East, but since the combination with Lovells the enlarged firm has additional bases in Saudi Arabia and Dubai - the latter being roughly a two-hour drive away from Abu Dhabi.
On top of this, sources in the region say that succeeding in Abu Dhabi is less than child’s play for any firm that doesn’t have a well-established brand (Hogan & Hartson only opened in 2008) or a clearly defined niche. Other firms, The Lawyer is told, have also been forced to take a hard look at their Abu Dhabi offices - how many lawyers they have based there and what practices they cover - but have stopped short of exiting altogether.