As Libya ponders its future, international law firms look set to become increasingly active in the country’s economic and political landscape.
Frozen assets held around the globe by the Gaddafi regime are gradually trickling through to Libya and firms with presences in North Africa are considering how they could play a role in shaping the country’s future.
“I think a lot of the work that’s been done is going to need to be redone,” says Michael Lacey, managing partner at SNR Denton’s Cairo office. “Transactions under a former regime may need to be redeveloped.
“We’ve been hearing a lot about our dispute resolution process. There’s still a lot of money to be chased.”
Lacey adds that the main focus for Libya is to get back on its feet and secure investment from interested parties.
The country’s natural resources will be instrumental in achieving this and firms could expect to work with multinational oil companies such as BP and Shell.
Mustapha Mourahib, partner and head of the francophone North Africa group at Clifford Chance, agrees that Libya needs to stabilise politically and realise its freedom first. He also gives a nod towards the development of oil, gas and infrastructure work in the near future.
Norton Rose partner Alain Malek believes the firm’s strategy for Libya will be to seek involvement in the boom in legal requirements that will emerge during the stabilisation of the country. Malek heads the Middle East and North Africa practice from his base in Paris.
“I’m sure that the legal need will start soon,” he states. “Many things will be privatised. From Paris and London, we’ll continue to be very active in Libya.”
Allen & Overy (A&O) managing partner Wim Dejonghe is more sceptical about the way in which events in Libya might necessitate the involvement of law firms.
“It’s too early to call that,” he stresses. “It’s a country with a lot of potential, but it’s early days. Definitely there’s some building to be done, including building relationships [with local firms]. It’s early days for law firms to be moving in there.”
Libya does have a long way to go. Estimates suggest that 60 per cent of Tripoli, the country’s capital, is without water or sanitation.
Malek is doubtful that the events in Libya will affect law firm activity adversely in the North Africa region. As reported by The Lawyer, A&O, Clifford Chance and Norton Rose all recently announced plans to open offices in Morocco.
“Considering the limited number of intraregional transactions in North Africa, and between Morocco and Libya in particular – as opposed to transactions between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, which are more usual – we don’t consider that the situation in Libya affects our current work in Morocco,” says Malek. “Conversely, the change in the political situation’s likely to offer significant opportunities for law firms, especially those that have experience in the region and the country, like ours in privatisation, foreign investment and infrastructure projects.”
As part of Norton Rose’s Africa strategy Malek says the firm is looking to expand its footprint by opening more offices in the future.
“I can’t say, but we have a clear idea of where,” he states.
Lacey says SNR Denton has no plans to open new offices in North Africa at this stage, but may consider doing so when countries across the region begin to show stronger signs of stability.
SNR Denton currently works with associate firms across North Africa, including Tumi Law Firm in Tripoli.
“The advantage is having capabilities and relationships with good firms,” stresses Lacey. “It’s a good way to get to know them. We can see how the office functions and determine the next step.”
Lacey adds that he is trying to integrate these regional firms and that they have all been responsive during the recent unrest across North Africa.