As war gets underway, Brendan Malkin reports on the measures Western law firms are taking to protect staff in the Middle East.

Baker & McKenzie, Bahrain
Number of fee-earners: 3
Baker & McKenzie has alternative evacuation plans in place for its Bahrain staff, in case scheduled flights are suspended. A Baker & McKenzie spokesperson said that the firm would be supporting staff who want to stay and those who want to leave. The spokesperson confirmed last week that the office remains open, adding: “Today it is very much business as usual.” This is despite the fact that Bahrain remains threatened by Iraqi scud missiles.

Norton Rose, Bahrain
Number of fee-earners: 9
Norton Rose has offered to fly out anyone who wants to leave its Bahrain office following the Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommendation that all westerners leave the country. The advice came as anti-western feeling grew in response to the arrest of five Bahrainis in connection with the hostilities. Two trainees are in the process of being repatriated. Managing partner Carol Roberts has vowed to remain in the country, but said she was leaving it up to the lawyers to decide whether they and their families stay or leave. Roberts said that she was reviewing the situation daily.

Clifford Chance, in association with Qays H Zu’bi, Bahrain
Number of fee-earners: 2
Clifford Chance left Bahrain several years ago, but last October re-forged its links through an association with local firm Qays H Zu’bi. All lines to the Bahrain office and Dubai, where the firm’s Middle East practice head John Holmes is based, were down at the end of last week, leaving it unclear what response was in place to deal with the hostilities.

Stephenson Harwood, in association with Al Sarraf & Al Ruwayeh, Kuwait
Stephenson Harwood’s associate firm Al Sarraf & Al Ruwayeh, which has trippled in size in the last three years, has contingency plans to send lawyers to sites in Dubai and Southern Kuwait. No Stephenson Harwood lawyers were based in Kuwait at the time of the evacuation. Work has not been as plentiful as hoped for after the joint venture was established following the first Gulf War. The tie-up shifted to an association around five years ago after a drop-off in work and the decision by its then key partner Paul Godwin to return to London. Senior partner Andrew Sutch said that there are no plans to establish offices in Kuwait or elsewhere in the Middle East, but the firm does expect to get involved in reconstruction work in Iraq. In the run-up to the conflict, a number of Stephenson Harwood lawyers visited Kuwait to advise on war contingency plans.

Trowers & Hamlins, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman
Number of fee-earners: 2
Last Wednesday (19 March), the office moved from security level one – business as usual, while keeping vigilant – to level four, giving staff the option to leave if they wish. The firm has also stressed the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice that all non-essential staff should leave. Arrangements have been made to accommodate Bahrain staff in Abu Dhabi. Trowers’ United Arab Emirates office went up to level two last Thursday following FCO warnings of hits on westerners in nightclubs. The Oman office followed suit. At level two, staff on trips have to maintain contact with office managers and stock up on food and water reserves in case they have to move quickly. Meanwhile, Trowers’ human resources head Malcolm Lewis will visit the offices to ensure that everything is in place to deal with the hostilities. Head of corporate Jenny Gubbins and head of international projects Adrian Creed are also flying to all of the firm’s Middle East offices on visits that were scheduled before the hostilities started.