Clifford Chance launches in Abu Dhabi

Clifford Chance launches in Abu Dhabi” />Clifford Chance plans to open in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

The new office, which is waiting for regulatory approval, will be the firm’s second base in the Middle East after its 74-lawyer presence in Dubai.

Clifford Chance’s Gulf managing partner, Graham Lovett, said: “The decision to apply for a licence in Abu Dhabi represents a great opportunity for the firm in one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic countries in the region.

“An office in Abu Dhabi will demonstrate the continued commitment of Clifford Chance to the UAE and the region.”

Recent deals for the firm in the region include advising Middle East private equity house Abraaj Capital on the US$1.41bn acquisition of Egyptian Fertilisers Company, and advising Aldar Properties PJSC in connection with the establishment of its Islamic convertible sukuk issuance programme listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Clifford Chance is just the latest in a string of firms to scale up their Middle East operation in recent months, including Magic Circle rivals Allen & Overy (A&O) and Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer.

As reported by The Lawyer (18 June 2007), A&O opened in the city in June, the same month as it launched an association in Saudi Arabia.

The firm hired Simmons & Simmons’ Abu Dhabi managing and project finance partner Ibrahim Mubaydeen to start the new office, along with Simmons Canadian-qualified structured finance partner François Duquette and A&O’s own Singapore projects partner Jas Gillar.

Freshfields meanwhile announced plans this month to parachute its former London head of finance to the Middle East as part of a renewed focus on the region (The Lawyer, 9 January 2008).

Bob Charlton, likely to be based in Dubai, will become the region’s new head of finance and be responsible for heading the firm’s Saudi Arabia group when he returns from sabbatical at the end of February.

Freshfields is one of the few firms able to advise on Saudi law through the licence of senior associate Fares Al-Hejailan, as most overseas law firms can only advise on Saudi law through an associated Saudi firm.

The firm also secured a licence to practise in Bahrain in July 2007, where it has a three-lawyer offering.

Also opening in Abu Dhabi in coming weeks are Ashurst, DLA Piper, Herbert Smith and Wall Street firm White & Case.

Ashurst’s Abu Dhabi presence is pending regulatory approval, but will focus on corporate, financing and projects work.

It will be headed by energy partner David Wadham, who joined the firm in 2006 from International Power Middle East where he was general counsel (The Lawyer, 1 October). Joining him will be at least five other lawyers from within Ashurst and from other firms.

DLA Piper announced plans to launch an office in Abu Dhabi late last year, which it plans to follow with one in Qatar during the first quarter of this year.

Jayshree Gupta, former Dubai managing partner and head of corporate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is spearheading the firm’s Gulf/India cross-border development, linking its Indian and UAE client bases.

Herbert Smith is set to open in Abu Dhabi next month pending regulatory approval (The Lawyer, 29 October 2007), with a Saudi Arabian presence to follow.

The firm’s five lawyer office will focus on projects and be run as an extension of the Dubai office opened last year after poaching finance partners Nadim Khan and Zubair Mir from Norton Rose.

White & Case late last year also announced plans to launch in Abu Dhabi, marking the firm’s second office in the region (The Lawyer, 3 December 2007).

The firm, which has an association office in Riyadh with The Law Firm Mohammed Al-Sheikh, will relocate three associates from New York and two from London, and hire one partner from a local firm.

The Abu Dhabi base will focus on project finance, Islamic finance, private equity and funds.