Ashurst, DLA Piper, Freshfields scramble to launch Dubai arms

Energy and projects boom drives City firms to the Middle East; Akin Gump, BLP, Linklaters set to follow

A wave of law firms are launching in Dubai in a bid to cash in on the booming Middle East energy and projects sectors.

Ashurst, DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, as well as US firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, are all in the advanced stages of opening offices in the key financial centre of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and Linklaters are also understood to be circling the market.

Freshfields is leading the charge, having recently opened a small local presence in Dubai after receiving a licence in May.

London-based head of global project finance Kent Rowey, who is overseeing the fledgling office, said he was considering ramping up the presence, which is staffed by one full-time senior associate and a further partner shared with Paris, following a flood of energy and infrastructure work in the Gulf region.

Akin Gump is set to follow suit, with its official launch planned for 1 October after its UAE licence was approved last week. The office will be headed by partner Gavin Watson, while offers have been put out to two further lawyers.

Ashurst will open its local office officially in September, although Dubai managing partner Paul de Cordova has already relocated from London after the firm’s licence application was approved earlier this year.

DLA Piper also confirmed plans to launch an office before the winter, although it is understood that the firm is awaiting approval of its licence application.

BLP and Linklaters both remain coy over their Middle East plans, although Linklaters is understood to be in the advanced stages of planning a Dubai launch. BLP’s plans have not progressed so far, although the firm has had a lawyer working in Dubai for the last 12 months.

Middle East expansion has become a hot topic over the last six months as firms try to leverage their positions in the booming Gulf region’s energy and projects sectors. It is also thought that Dubai would be a good base for firms to target the heavily constrained Indian legal market.

The frenzy of office launches follows that of Simmons & Simmons in July and Baker Botts in April.