White & Case shifts strategy with hire of Emirati partner in Abu Dhabi base

White & Case has appointed UAE-qualified lawyer Abdulwahid Al Ulama as a partner in Abu Dhabi, making it the first international law firm to add an Emirati partner to its headcount there.

Al Ulama, who has extensive experience of working in private practice and in-house across the region, joined White & Case’s global mergers and acquisitions practice group on 12 November as part of the firm’s ongoing efforts to strengthen its practice in the UAE and embrace the local government’s Emiratisation initiatives.

He joins the firm after most recently undertaking a commercial finance role with Mubadala GE Capital. Al Ulama previously worked as group chief legal officer at sovereign wealth fund Dubai World Group. Prior to these in-house roles he was a partner at Gulf-based firm Al Tamimi & Company.

Commenting on Al Ulama’s appointment and its strategic importance for the firm, executive partner of the firm’s Abu Dhabi office Margaret Cole said: “With more than half a century of commitment and experience with the Gulf Cooperation Council and wider Middle East region, and with six partners based in Abu Dhabi, White & Case already has a highly experienced team working in the UAE.”

“[Al Ulama]’s addition reflects our continued commitment and desire to strengthen strategically our practice in the UAE, and our commitment to Emiratisation in Abu Dhabi.”

Al Ulama joins the firm’s global M&A practice group as a partner. He will also support White & Case’s financial regulation, capital markets, banking and finance, projects, real estate, litigation and arbitration practices. He was admitted to practise before the UAE courts in 2000 and is a certified arbitrator with the Dubai International Arbitration Center and the International Chamber of Commerce.

Al Ulama’s hire signals White & Case’s ongoing efforts to bolster its Abu Dhabi practice, having hired corporate partner Campbell Steed from Norton Rose’s Dubai office last last year (8 August 2011). Energy and project finance partner Saul Daniel also relocated to Abu Dhabi from the firm’s London office in early 2011 while banking partner Shibeer Ahmed, who has considerable expertise in Islamic finance and project finance, joined the firm in November 2010 from legacy Lovells where he had been the firm’s Dubai head (5 February 2009).

These moves mark a considerable rebuilding since Vinson & Elkins poached one of White & Case’s leading Abu Dhabi capital markets partner Sami Al-Louzi in early 2010 to further develop its Middle East practice there (25 January 2010).

Speaking of the signifiance of Al Ulama’s appointment, François Leloup, regional section head for M&A/corporate in Western Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: “As an Emirati national and highly regarded UAE-qualified lawyer with over 12 years’ experience in both industry and the legal profession, Abdulwahid significantly bolsters our local presence, and enhances our ability to deliver UAE law expertise to both leading UAE-based businesses and our global clients seeking to do business in the UAE.”

“As the markets in the Gulf continue to mature, clients increasingly require local expertise, and together with our existing team in the UAE, Abdulwahid reflects our commitment to meeting that demand.”