Clydes beats the City with Iraqi launch as it stakes key claim to lucrative post-war reconstruction

Clyde & Co is set to be the first UK firm into Iraq since the cessation of hostilities last month.

The firm has established an exclusive cooperation agreement with prominent Baghdad practice Numan Shakir Numan, one of Iraq’s largest firms.

This is Clyde & Co’s second foray into a war-torn region, having been the first firm to set up an office in Belgrade in the wake of the Yugoslav conflict.

Initially, Clyde & Co lawyers will commute to Baghdad from London and Dubai, but the firm plans to second a large number of its lawyers to Numan Shakir’s offices. They are likely to include elements from the firm’s Dubai office, which has 10 per cent of the firm’s workforce, and members of its 15-strong London-based Middle East committee.

The firm has been building links in the region for several years and last year recruited Iraqi-qualified lawyer Zainab Al-Qirnawi, who will assist in developing the working relationship with Numan Shakir.

Clients in Iraq include companies subcontracted by Bechtel, the US company licensed to handle a considerable amount of the reconstruction work in Iraq, and large Iraqi private companies in the fertiliser, sulphur, oil and gas industries. Trademark issues will also be an important source of work.

Clyde & Co partner Paul Turner said: “We can do a lot by being there in the early stages. The key factor in Serbia was that we had a longstanding relationship with several lawyers there. In Iraq there are tremendous opportunities, but it’s complicated.”

During the time Iraq’s Baath regime was in power, Turner visited major Iraqi industrialists and local lawyers, but under the official guise of acting on behalf of a Lebanese client that had won a contract to build five civilian hospitals in Iraq as part of the UN’s oil-for-food programme.

Clyde & Co’s turnover increased by 14 per cent in the past year, from £79m to £90m. Honig Preel Mettetal Buffat Coulon, the Paris firm that Clyde & Co merged with in May 2002, contributed £9m of that increase. Foreign offices contributed £20m. The number of England-based fee-earners rose from 290 to 315, and partners worldwide increased from 59 to 63.

Clyde & Co’s recent strategic review confirmed its international investment. The firm has said that it regards South America as a “significant growing opportunity”.