Freshfields keeps it in the family and signs deal with Saudi sponsor’s father

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has changed the sponsorship arrangements governing its Saudi practice, swapping its local associate for his father.

The firm, which has had an associate relationship with Fares Al-Hejailan for the past two years, has ended that tie-up for an exclusive relationship with The Law Firm of Salah Al-Hejailan (LFSH), which is run by Fares’ father Salah.

Under the previous arrangement, Fares was Freshfields’ sponsor, while the firm also operated a non-­exclusive strategic alliance with LFSH. LFSH ­previously worked with ­Clifford Chance, until that relationship came to an end in the late 1990s. It ­subsequently established best-friends relationships with Freshfields and with Hogan & Hartson, which will gain a Saudi office when it merges with Lovells on 1 May 2010.

“Freshfields has known LFSH for more than 15 years and it has been our preferred counsel for that time,” said Joseph Huse, managing partner of ­Freshfields’ Middle East
and North Africa practice (Mena). “Approximately two years ago we launched our formal presence in Saudi Arabia, which was undertaken through a licence with Fares. We saw this as a series of incremental steps ­leading up to full ­association [with LFSH].”

Freshfields and LFSH have been close for some time, with both operating out of the same buildings in Riyadh and Fares – Salah’s youngest son – having worked alongside his ­brothers and sister in LFSH.

Fares, who set up his own law firm to allow the magic circle firm to practise in the kingdom, will “essentially” discontinue that entity, according to Huse.

Fares began working with Freshfields less than a decade ago, as an associate in the London office’s finance department, having been educated in the UK.

The Mena chief ­emphasised that Fares, now co-head of the firm’s Saudi corporate practice and a partner, was “one of the best and brightest upcoming Saudi lawyers”.

“We’re extremely excited about his career with us,” Huse added. “Fares is a key element in our Saudi ­strategy.”

LFSH was established in 1967 and Salah was licensed in 1962. Asked whether the new Saudi sponsor was still practising, Freshfields Saudi managing partner Tobias Müller-Deku said that while Salah is not “in the office every day” he “still [does] case work”.

Müller-Deku is a relatively recent newcomer to the office, having relocated to Riyadh from Munich in 2009 to build up the ­regional finance practice. He joined as Bob Charlton, finance partner and former Saudi head, left the firm to work at DLA Piper in its London projects practice.

The more conservative social and political environment in Saudi continues to be a barrier to many ­international firms deciding to open on the ground. However, a number of ­global firms have decided to do so of late.

These include Lovells, which formed an ­association with Al-Yaqoub Attorneys & Legal Advisers (The Lawyer, 8 ­February 2009), recently opening up in the second city of Jeddah, US firm Maalouf Ashford & ­Talbot, which launched with Mohammed Al-Sunbusi (The Lawyer, 5 January), and Eversheds, with Hani Qurashi Law Firm (The Lawyer, 27 April 2009).