Bakers opens for business in Baku

BAKER & McKenzie has opened for business in the Azerbaijan capital, Baku, nearly a year after it decided to move into the country.

The international firm has beaten Scottish practice Ledingham Chalmers in the race to become the first firm to win a licence.

Baker & McKenzie's licence was issued in December but the firm has not announced it until now.

Ledinghams obtained its licence only two weeks' ago, although it has a longer history in Baku.

US energy firm Baker & Botts has also applied for a licence since new regulations were introduced in May. Its three local lawyers are understood to have received individual licences, but the firm as a whole is still waiting for one.

Michael Arruda, who has managed Baker & McKenzie's office in Kazakhstan since the departure of Michael Wilson last year, will take additional responsibility for the Baku office.

He says: “Baku allows us to anchor our Caucasus practice. We think Azerbaijan will soon assume a prominent position in the Caspian region.”

Baker & McKenzie is believed to have held back on committing its lawyers until the licence was secured. Resident manager Brian Cassidy returned to Edinburgh in January and was replaced by Michael Walsh. The Baku office is currently staffed by two expatriates, four local lawyers and four administrative staff, who will soon be joined by resident partner Daniel Matthews.

Ledinghams is said to be galled at being beaten by the US giant. The firm's managing partner, David Laing, says: “We were the first foreign firm to establish an office and it's no secret that it has been a struggle to get a licence, even with the support of the DTI. We are glad we have it now.”