Legal Business Blogs

Middle East moves: Herbert Smith Freehills to reopen in Saudi Arabia

Four months after shutting down its Abu Dhabi office and two years after terminating its association with a Saudi Arabian firm, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) is returning to Riyadh.

Management at HSF decided to re-enter Saudi Arabia at the start of 2015 and are now hoping to gain local approval for an association agreement by March 2016. The move comes just two years after the end of its six-year exclusive association with Saudi Arabian firm Al-Ghazzawi Professional Association (GPA) in 2013.

HSF, which entered the Gulf in 2007 with offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, has struggled for growth in the Middle East and wants to reposition its standing in the hope of attracting greater volumes of projects and infrastructure work.

Down to just one partner in Abu Dhabi at the start of the year, project finance partner Alexander Currie, the firm decided to close the office and relocate a five-lawyer team to Dubai. The Abu Dhabi office suffered a series of exits, with Islamic finance specialist Adil Hussain departing to join Clyde & Co’s local office late last year, real estate partner Nick Turner returning to London and office managing partner Andrew Newbery resigning in 2013 to pursue a corporate career in the UK.

In addition to Dubai the firm opened in Doha, the capital of Qatar, in early 2012 and the office is home to two partners.

Despite a series of closures by international law firms across the Middle East, with Latham & Watkins closing its Abu Dhabi and Doha offices earlier this year and Baker Botts also withdrawing from Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia is attracting attention as a hub for Middle East finance work. Simmons & Simmons expanded its links in the country through opening a second associated office with local ally Hammad & Al-Mehdar late last year and Shearman & Sterling formed an association with three-office Saudi firm Abdulaziz Alassaf & Partners earlier this year.

The head of HSF’s Middle East practice Zubair Mir said: ‘The Middle East is a very important region for us and our strategy is under constant review. Clearly we’re looking at our footprint and how best to increase our capability to service current and future clients in the region.’