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DLA Piper and SNR Denton, the only two international firms with offices in Kuwait, are looking to bulk up in the country following the loss of key partners.
For SNR Denton the departures follow an overhaul of the firm’s Middle East management and strategy.
SNR Denton Kuwait managing partner David Pfeiffer resigned on 17 October, but it is not yet known if he is joining another firm. The firm has interim arrangements in place while it looks for Pfeiffer’s permanent replacement.
Two other lawyers in the office have also resigned and will depart in the next month, leaving SNR Denton with three associates in the office, discounting the lawyers at its local associate firm - as required by domestic regulations - International Legal Group.
Pfeiffer helped legacy firm Denton Wilde Sapte launch its Kuwait office in 2008. He joined from Bryan Cave and brought the US firm’s entire Kuwait team with him.
Following Denton Wilde Sapte’s transatlantic merger with Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal in 2010 and the UK LLP’s disappointing 2010-11 financial performance (average profit per equity partner fell by 35.6 per cent, from £360,000 to £232,000; turnover declined by 8 per cent, from £167.5m to £154.4m; net profit fell 37 per cent, from £31.4m to £19.8m), the firm began a strategic review in a bid to boost profitability.
In the Middle East SNR Denton has transformed its management structure into a more regionally focused set-up. Senior management board member Leigh Hall, who advised Qatar on its successful bid to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup, is now Middle East managing partner.
The firm has also appointed partners to lead its sector focuses - banking, energy and infrastructure, construction and disputes, and company and commercial - across the region.
“We’ve been reviewing our Middle East practice generally and that’s resulted in a number of changes,” said chief executive Matthew Jones. “We’ve regionalised the practice to match our focus on regional clients. The way we’ve structured the firm, there’s a more effective way of dealing with clients and marshalling resources.”
Jones states that there are no plans to close individual Middle East offices as a result of the regionalisation and that he wants to see Kuwait in particular grow.
“Kuwait has always been a fairly small office,” he added. “We feel it’s a country that we’ve long had a presence in, but one where we have more to achieve.
“We’ve just won two significant mandates [a TMT deal and a restructuring mandate] and we see Kuwait as an important jurisdiction.”
DLA Piper has also lost a partner in Kuwait. Adrian Low, one of two partners based in firm’s office there, has left to join Clyde & Co, which does not have an office in Kuwait. Middle East head Abdul Aziz Al-Yaqout is still based in Kuwait and said the firm is looking to replace Low.
While DLA Piper and SNR Denton are still the only two international law firms in Kuwait, Dewey & LeBoeuf has announced that it plans to open a base in the country in January 2012, with oil and gas partner Karl Hopkins overseeing the launch (TheLawyer.com, 8 August).