Legal Business Blogs

International round-up: Global 100 firms expand in the Middle East and Asia

Ahead of our annual Global 100 report in our November/December issue, firms have made concerted efforts to consolidate and expand in the Middle East and Asia in recent months.

Bird & Bird has announced a new office in Shenzhen, to be led by the firm’s Greater China intellectual property practice co-head Hank Leung, a Legal 500 leading individual for IP in Hong Kong. The new office will work closely with lawyers from the firm’s international network, including its offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

‘The opening of our new office in Shenzhen is a key part of Bird & Bird’s Greater China strategy,’ said Leung. ‘We see vast opportunities in the technology, life sciences, automotive, new energy, retail, gaming and e-sports sectors, which fits well with the firm’s vision to support organisations being changed by the digital world or those leading that change.’

Bird & Bird follows in the footsteps of firms such as Morgan Lewis and HFW, both of which announced their moves into Shenzhen in July. Leung explained the move in the context of Shenzhen’s growth: ‘Shenzhen is a growing city and headquarters to many of China’s largest and most innovative technology and life sciences companies, as well as being home to numerous startups, incubators, and accelerators across a range of sectors, so it’s a very attractive market for many businesses.’

CMS, meanwhile, joined an ever-growing list of firms to open offices in Riyadh. Addleshaw Goddard and Squire Patton Boggs opened in the city in March.

The firm opened the office with the hire of commercial litigation partner Mohamed Aldowish, former head of Saudi Arabia disputes at Clyde & Co. Adrian Bell, joint managing director for Asia and the Middle East at CMS, commented: ‘The decision to establish a formal presence in Saudi Arabia is not only a natural next step for the firm but also a critical component of our growth strategy across MENA.’

Bell pointed to synergy between Aldowish’s litigation focus and the firm’s prior experience handling infrastructure, construction, and energy disputes in Saudi Arabia. ‘One of the key practice areas we will focus on initially is disputes, both in the local courts and in international arbitrations. We also have an active Saudi Arabian-focused corporate practice and anticipate adding a new lateral partner in this key area soon. The third key practice area for us initially will be infrastructure and projects work – again an area that we have been active in in Saudi Arabia for a long time. In the medium term, we anticipate that the Riyadh office will broaden its client offering to also focus on real estate and technology.’

The spate of office openings in Saudi Arabia comes after the kingdom reformed its Code of Law Practice to prevent law firms operating through an association with a local firm. Also in October, the Kingdom announced that its cabinet had approved a further amendment to the code that will enable foreign law firms to advise on issues relating to Saudi law.

‘Saudi Arabia currently stands as the largest economy in the Middle East and boasts substantial growth potential. The reforms implemented by Saudi Arabia within the “Saudi Vision 2030” framework aim to diversify the economy, reduce Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil, and encourage cultural change. This involves a concerted effort to bolster public service sectors like healthcare, education, infrastructure, leisure, and tourism, and establish a more vibrant economy. These reforms have created an environment of great opportunity for businesses in the country and region.’

Kirkland & Ellis has also launched a new office in Riyadh, after being granted a foreign law licence by the Saudi Ministry of Justice. It will be led by corporate partner Kamran Bajwa. Bajwa has served as chief legal office and managing director at EFG Hermes, a leading investment bank in the MENA region and has been a Kirkland partner, leading its Middle East Practice since 2011. He will be joined by Noor Al-Fawzan and Manal Al-Musharaf. Al-Fawzan moves from Latham & Watkins and specialises in M&A, joint ventures, and corporate matters with a Saudi focus. Al-Musharaf moves from White & Case and previously acted as legal director of the Public Investment Fund Projects/NEOM Company in Riyadh.

Elsewhere, Squire Patton Boggs has opened a Beirut office, as the firm continues its international expansion strategy, following office openings in Ireland and the Netherlands earlier in the year. The office will be led by global board member and Middle East practice co-chair Gassan Baloul. He commented: ‘Formalising our presence in the Levant with a Beirut office advances our Middle East expansion strategy. Beirut sits astride the major cultural and financial crossroads of the Middle East, and our new Levant office will complement our deep practice offerings in the Gulf.’

Meanwhile, commercial disputes focused law firm Quinn Emanuel has its sights set on global expansion with several office launches on the horizon.

The firm is in the process of applying for a Foreign Law Practice (FLP) licence in Singapore. If the licence is granted this will be the firm’s second office opening in Asia this year, with the firm launching a Beijing office earlier in March. Xiao Liu Quinn Emanuel’s chair of China practice and managing partner of the Beijing office explained that the firm was keen to capitalise on maturing markets: ‘We see that Chinese companies are growing much more sophisticated day by day. Previously, there may have been a ‘one-firm-fits-all’ approach. But now, the market is much more developed than that. We’ve had occasions where the client has their own trusted corporate counsel working on every deal they have. But, where they have their most complex litigation, in the US or elsewhere, they look for the best law firms to work on just that. That builds the market for us.’

The firm is also set to launch offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, hiring King & Wood Mallesons partners Joanne Strain and Parnika Chaturvedi for the launch. Global co-managing partner William Burck said: ‘We are about to open offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. We have a long-standing, excellent relationship with the UAE but so far, we’ve done that relationship remotely, from either the US or Europe. Two things have made it worthwhile to open offices there as a litigation-only firm. Firstly, countries like the UAE, rightly, want to see that you have a presence in their country. They want to make sure you understand the market, you understand the country, and that you understand the culture. Secondly, the UAE and parts of the Middle East are booming in terms of their economic development.’

‘The UAE has been a huge success story. We have an office in Saudi Arabia in Riyadh which has been a huge success story, and it looks like the growth there is going to be tremendous. It’s not only from oil and gas. They are also investing all around the world, they’re building infrastructure, and they’re building up their countries in various ways. It makes sense for a firm like ours which has a big international component to be present there and to be able to offer our services to people in those countries,’ he added.

Elsewhere, Cooley has launched a Miami office to tap into the fast-growing technology and venture capital markets in the city. The office will initially consist of five core lawyers, moving from existing Cooley offices, led by M&A partner Derek Colla.

It will support fast-growing companies and their investors both in Florida and across Latin America, advising on regulatory and compliance challenges, raising capital, and accessing global markets.