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Norton Rose has lost four partners and made a new hire from Clifford Chance as part of a major reshuffle of its Middle East practice.
Abu Dhabi-based projects partners Dominic Harvey and Jonathan Brufal are defecting to rival Vinson & Elkins, Dubai-based banking partner Anthony Pallett is leaving for Latham & Watkins and Dubai corporate partner Campbell Steedman will move to White & Case.
As part of the shake-up Norton Rose has also hired debt capital markets of counsel Alex Roussos for its Dubai office from Clifford Chance and will relocate the firm’s Bahrain-based co-head of Islamic finance Mohammed Paracha and Singapore-based conventional banking of counsel Matthew Escritt to Dubai in September.
Norton Rose deputy managing partner Tim Marsden is overseeing the ‘root and branch review’, and said all four departing partners had made their own decisions to leave the firm.
“These guys decided to go of their own volition and they are going to different firms, but we have been looking to shake up the Middle East practice for a while,” he said.
“The Middle East market changed significantly during the financial crisis and Arab Spring and we must shape the business to reflect those changes.”
The shake-up comes just weeks after the firm’s announcement that it will open a new office in Casablanca in September, but Marsden said the Moroccan economy would offer a far more buoyant market than the firm’s existing Middle East offices.
“They are very different markets and Morocco has been largely unaffected by the events of the Arab Spring,” he said. “It’s an increasingly important North African hub, it’s financially sound and its banks did not get into trouble during the financial crisis – it’s a very interesting economy.”
Norton Rose has a long history in the Middle East with 62 lawyers across its three regional offices in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Dubai, but Marsden said challenging trading conditions in the region had necessitated a reorganisation in the region.
He said the Bahrain office had been particularly affected by a recent downturn of work and admitted further partner losses in the region were possible.
“We are currently in the process of reorganising where we place our strengths in the Middle East, whilst assessing the primary client and business demands for the region over the next few years,” he said. “The obvious priorities are servicing client needs in a commercially effective manner.”
He added: “We need to ensure we have the right people with the correct expertise in the appropriate locations.
“Further hires and relocations will follow as we realign our practice with the current Middle East market.”