Dentons swallows Fox & Gibbons

Denton Hall has acquired the 42-lawyer Middle East practice Fox & Gibbons, but is taking only one of its 11 partners into full equity.

Fox & Gibbons senior partner Robert Gibbons and managing partner Robert Sprawston will assume consultancy status while company commercial partner Paul Sheridan becomes a full equity partner.

Fox & Gibbons' 14 London-based lawyers will join Denton Hall's City office and its offices in Istanbul, Cairo and Gibraltar will begin trading as Denton Fox & Gibbons.

Denton Hall has applied for licences to take on Fox & Gibbons' three remaining offices in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Oman. Head of international John Griffith-Jones said he was “confident” that the licences would be granted.

Dentons is tendering for half a dozen telecoms and independent power projects deals in Turkey and Egypt, where Fox & Gibbons has offices, and Gibbons said his new firm would proceed with Fox & Gibbons' plan to open in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Fox & Gibbons, founded by entrepreneurial solicitor Michael Fox in 1959, was the first English practice to set up offices in the Middle East. But Fox retired many years ago and the past two years have been turbulent for the firm.

In 1996 it lost four key fee earning partners – Jeremy Key and Christopher Dixon in Dubai, Abu Dhabi partner Richard Develder and London-based partner Paul Gibbs.

Key's Dubai replacement Jane Pittaway left last year to join Wragge & Co and at the beginning of this year the firm had to pay £3,600 to barrister Ian Philliskirk, sent to Turkey to help manage the office there, after he took it to an industrial tribunal over breach of his contract.

In April, Dubai Aluminium Company filed a writ claiming £210m from its former lawyers Fox & Gibbons and its former auditors Deloitte Haskins & Sells and Coopers & Lybrand (now part of PwC) for an alleged breach of duty in 1985.

James Dallas, chairman of Denton Hall, described the suit as a “non-event”. He said the claims were being strongly contested by Fox & Gibbons and that in his view they were without merit.

The acquisition is bound to give Dentons greater leverage in negotiating its three-way merger with Theodore Goddard and Richards Butler. The latter already has offices in Abu Dhabi and Oman.