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HSF launches Riyadh office in the wake of Saudi legal reforms

Herbert Smith Freehills has announced the launch of its new multi-disciplinary practice in Riyadh following the reforms made to the Saudi Code of Law Practice last year. Managing partner, Joza AlRasheed, will be joined by energy and infrastructure lawyer Alexander Currie and projects and project finance specialist Phil Hanson. They will work in union with HSF’s regional team, consisting of eight partners and 30 associates.

Before last year’s changes to the code, non-Saudi law firms were required to enter into a contract with Saudi-licensed lawyers in order to advise on Saudi law. However, under the newly reformed code, HSF was able to end its alliance with The Law Office of Mohammad Altammami (LOMAT) and reopen as HSF Riyadh.

Qualified to practise law in Saudi Arabia and New York, AlRasheed is a corporate lawyer who provides advice on M&A, joint ventures and regulatory compliance. She is sought by a range of clients including private entities, governments and other public bodies in the energy, mining and infrastructure sectors. Previously an associate at both White & Case and Baker McKenzie from 2014 to 2021, AlRasheed joined LOMAT as a partner in May 2022.

During his 18 years working as a partner at HSF, Currie has been based in offices all over the world, including Moscow, Dubai, London and Sydney. He advises his clients on project development and financing, disposals of energy and natural resource assets, and restructuring distressed projects. His experience includes representing First Ammonia in its unprecedented agreement to purchase 500MW of solid oxide electrolyser cells from Danish decarbonisation-solutions company Haldore Topsoe in September 2022.

Hanson joined HSF’s Dubai office as an associate in 2014, making partner in May 2022. He acts on behalf of sponsors, lenders and procurers across a spectrum of international project finance and projects matters. Hanson is active in the energy and infrastructure sectors with expertise in water, wastewater, power and transport. Key work includes advising the lenders to a joint venture which reached financial close in April this year between utilities company Engie and EDF on the Noor 2 street-lighting project in the UAE.

In conversation with Legal Business, HSF managing partner of the Middle East region, Stuart Paterson, explained the rationale for setting up in Saudi Arabia: ‘The decision to build a regional practice in Riyadh is an evolution of our strategy to support our international clients in the Kingdom.

‘The Saudi vision of diversification also brings a whole host of opportunities in energy and other key sectors for investors and advisory firms like us to get involved in.’

AlRasheed added: ‘Like other international firms, we already had a presence in the Kingdom but had contractual obligations to regional firms as we couldn’t have a direct presence under the previous law. Some firms were fully integrated in the shell of local firms, but now the new law has opened the market, a lot of firms are following suit.’

Paterson added: ‘Up until last year, we were not licensed to open as HSF Riyadh. When the new regulations came out, we planned and implemented a very careful strategy to open our own office. We hired Joza last year to lead what would become HSF Riyadh in due course. We applied for our licence completely separately from the old team.’

When probed about how practising in Saudi, a country not necessarily recognised for its prioritisation of human rights, resonates with HSF’s ESG commitments, Paterson responded: ‘We are a business that takes these matters seriously and responsibly, with policies in place to make sure we are taking on the right clients and mandates in Saudi.

‘We have policies specifically on human rights and how to manage our supply chains to ensure that any ESG concerns are assessed. The ESG challenge in Saudi is different to other jurisdictions which we are astute to, as well as flexible and proactive in our approach.’

AlRasheed summarised the impact of the new legal regulations: ‘The key driver of this law from the Kingdom’s perspective is to transfer knowledge so that the Saudi legal framework is on par with international legal standards.

‘The government is putting a lot of effort into making it easier for international big players to invest and give them the comfort that their investment is protected.’