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Saudi Arabian firm Bafakih & Nassief is introducing alternative billing structures by offering its clients unlimited advice in return for a one-off annual fee.
The Jeddah-based firm, which also has offices in Medina and the Saudi capital Riyadh, is including the annual retainer option as part of a menu of fees, which includes hourly billing rates, contingency fees and risk-sharing arrangements.
The news comes after The Lawyer reported (21 September) that UK in-house counsel are putting increasing pressure on private practice firms to offer substantial discounts on rates. The biggest impact has been on magic circle partner headline rates, which have fallen by as much as 30 per cent.
However, falls in hourly rates are seen as being of symbolic rather than material importance, with a trend towards alternative billing arrangements.
Under the arrangement at Bafakih, clients will agree a fee for a 12-month period and in return will receive unlimited advice across chosen areas. The advice typically covers the corporate, commercial and employment sectors, although clients can choose to add other specified areas such as IP.
Bafakih managing partner Dr Wael Bafakih told The Lawyer: “In the Saudi market legal panels are rare, with the exception of those set up by financial institutions.
“Annual retainer arrangements are an innovative and cost-effective alternative for providing top-quality legal services to clients with high-volume corporate and commercial matters in the kingdom.
“This arrangement enables Bafakih & Nassief to study the client’s business over a period of time and in turn deliver custom-tailored legal services while clients control their costs.” The firm claims it has already inked deals with more than 10 large companies on this basis, including those in the list of the top 100 Saudi companies.
Fees typically range from $75,000 (£46,200) to $100,000 for a year. However, this varies between practice area, and a package involving more run-of-the-mill employment advice might set a client back $30,000.
For the agreed fee the client can turn to the firm as many times as it requires within that 12 months.
Only third-party fees, government fees and the costs of court experts in the case of litigation are excluded.
The firm will not normally charge for any faxes, delivery of documents, meetings or telephone calls and it says it will guarantee a face-to-face meeting with a lawyer within 48 hours.
Anas Akel, a senior associate in the corporate and commercial team who deals with a number of international clients on this basis, said: “A lot of Arab companies want to have set rates to be able to put it down on their books [and plan accordingly]. If [the client doesn’t] have a high volume of work, it’s not as beneficial, but sometimes two or three instructions would be enough [to justify the arrangement].”