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A different Middle East playbook: Dentons launches in Jeddah as CC and HSF pull out of Qatar

Dentons has announced today (7 February) it is to launch in Jeddah at the same time as Clifford Chance and Herbert Smith Freehills have revealed plans to scale back their presence in the Middle East.

Jeddah will be Dentons’ second office in Saudi Arabia, alongside Riyadh, providing a mix of Arabic and western language legal capability and will be led locally by corporate partner Anas Akel.

Dentons’ global chairman Joe Andrew said: ‘Our clients will benefit from better access to legal services in the western province, close to many multinational corporations and home to Saudi Arabia’s leading merchant families.

‘As the largest importer of oil from Saudi Arabia, China in particular is looking to undertake outbound transactions to the Middle East and our new Jeddah office will help facilitate those client needs,’ added Dentons’ global CEO Elliott Portnoy.

And while Dentons’ global board is today holding its regular monthly meeting in Qatar as it launches a new office in the region, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) and Clifford Chance (CC) have both announced the closure of their offices in Doha, joining the growing trend of international firms cutting back on their Middle East footprint.

CC is to close its Doha office later this month, while HSF confirmed today it will cease activity in the region in August.

CC’s office opened in 2011, but the firm has recently diminished its presence significantly in the region, with office managing partner Jason Mendens the only fee-earner based in the city. He is to relocate into the firm’s office in Dubai and will continue to head the Qatari practice from there.

A spokesperson for CC said: ‘From our ongoing discussions with Qatari and international clients, it is clear that there is no longer the same need for a presence on the ground in Doha. Rather, while consolidating those relationships into Dubai …we look forward to working with our clients as we continue to develop our Qatari practice in this next phase.’

HSF’s Doha office was established four years ago, and operates as a separate limited liability partnership (LLP).

HSF’s head of Middle East Zubair Mir said: ‘The Middle East region is a key strategic market for the firm. We will continue to invest in our leading practice in the region, which was which significantly strengthened this year with the lateral hires of Anthony Ellis, Euan Pinkerton and Nasser Al-Hamdan, the promotion of Chris Skordas and the opening of our Riyadh office.’

Neither CC nor HSF is expected to make any redundancies as result of closures, as both are relocating staff in the region, most likely to Dubai.

HSF also closed its Abu Dhabi base in June 2015 and relocated staff to Dubai, while Latham & Watkins closed its Doha and Abu Dhabi bases in 2015 and Simmons & Simmons also closed the doors of its Abu Dhabi office in 2016.