Norton Rose’s Middle Eastern operations have been hit by the imminent departure of Dubai finance partners Nadim Khan and Zubair Mir to launch Herbert Smith’s new Dubai offering.

The defections halve Norton Rose’s Dubai partnership, leaving behind Graeme Muir and recent recruit Tahir Ahmed.

Herbert Smith has been examining the possibilities of opening a Dubai office for some time after securing instructions on a number of deals in the region, including the $9.8bn (£5.2bn) Rabigh project for Sumitomo.

Senior partner David Gold told The Lawyer: “We have convinced ourselves that for us to undertake more projects there, we need a presence in the region. I think we’re in a wonderful position to take advantage of it.”

The firm is currently searching for offices and hopes to be up and running by the New Year following a successful partnership vote last night (18 October).

Paris-based projects partner Neil Brimson, who has advised on Eurotunnel among other issues, will relocate to Dubai to head up the new office.

Gold said that another senior projects lawyer, either a senior associate or junior partner, would be sent out from London to join the team, along with a junior M&A partner.

Norton Rose’s head of banking Stephen Parish said the firm had tried to persuade Khan and Mir to stay, and admitted the departures were a loss. However, he added that Norton Rose would rebuild the team and said the firm still had a strong presence in the Middle East.

“The fact of the matter is that yesterday we had 30 good lawyers in the region, today we’ve got 28,” Parish said. “I do feel that because with the strength of our Middle East practice generally, encouraging people to come to our Middle East offices should not be a real problem.”