A divergence of strategies is emerging in the Middle East, with some international firms expanding their presence in the region as others pull out.
Meanwhile, Trowers & Hamlins, which closed its Jeddah base recently, is understood to be feeling the pressure of increased competition from international firms in Dubai and Riyadh.
Another firm that has withdrawn from the region in recent months is Gide Loyrette Nouel, which closed its Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Riyadh offices in October 2010.
Last month Eversheds announced it had merged with Middle East legal consortium KSLG (TheLawyer. com, 25 May). The merger gave Eversheds offices in Dubai, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to add to its existing presences in Abu Dhabi and Qatar.
KSLG United Arab Emirates member firm Khasawneh & Associates and Sanad Law Group in Jordan and Iraq will become part of Eversheds’ LLP and will be known as Eversheds KSLG. Saudi firm Dhabaan & Partners will operate as an associated office due to the country’s licensing restrictions.
As revealed by The Lawyer last week (30 May), SNR Denton has relocated its Africa committee co-chair Paul Bugingo to Dubai to broaden its Africa and Middle East practices, while Addleshaws has set out its stall to launch in Dubai to focus on international arbitration (The Lawyer, 24 May).
Eversheds international head Stephen Hopkins said the firm had assessed the economic and political risks of opening in the Middle East and considered it worth the investment.
Hopkins added that the “fundamental strength” of the region’s economy made it a natural choice for the firm’s expansion plans.
“A lot of firms expanded extremely rapidly just before the recession hit,” he noted. “They’ve had to rethink their strategies in the past couple of years.”
Hopkins said Eversheds had considered a range of options in the region, but had found a good “cultural fit” with KSLG.
He added that the firm had looked at ways to merge with previous Saudi alliance partner Hani Qurashi Law Firm, but had decided instead to wind up that relationship.
Saudi Arabia has been the main source of problems for Trowers, which closed its Jeddah office less than a year after its launch. Four partners have left the firm’s Dubai office in the past two years, followed by four associates in the past few weeks, and there have been recent redundancies in Riyadh.
A source in the Middle East said that Trowers, which has been in the region for several decades, had suffered from the influx of larger global players in recent years.
Trowers head of international Martin Amison insisted that the firm still has a “substantial presence” in the region.
“We have more than 150 people living and working in the Middle East and in the medium term we expect that number to grow,” he emphasised. “We certainly don’t expect there to be much of a change up or down this year.”