Dentons is to enter one of the few European jurisdictions missing from its sprawling international network by launching an outpost in Dublin.
Law firms’ strategies in the Middle East and Asia continue to diverge, meanwhile, with Winston & Strawn concluding its five-year spell in Dubai as Cooley confirmed its third office launch in less than a year by opening in Singapore.
Dentons announced today (8 January) it was launching in the Irish legal market through a couple of lateral hires, a different approach to the firm’s usual international expansion via merger.
Former Ashurst and William Fry corporate partner Eavan Saunders will become Dentons’ Dublin managing partner while Matheson’s finance and capital markets partner Peter O’Brien will become the chair of the new office, which will open in the second quarter of 2020 under the verein firm’s UK LLP.
‘A lot of the larger [Irish] firms have a very international referral-based business model which means they are going to be slightly less focused on the approach we want to take, which is about being able to service our existing and multinational clients and take our platform to the Irish market,’ UK and Middle East chief executive Jeremy Cohen told Legal Business. ‘We felt that building the team ourselves was the best way forward.’
He added the firm had been looking at the Irish market for two-three years: ‘It’s a vibrant market, particularly in the areas we play in strongly: financial services, funds, aviation finance, but also more and more in tech and real estate.’
Saunders said she expected to have a 50-lawyer, full-service team in her office ‘in the not too distant future’: ‘This is not a niche sector play: the ambition is to build a leading international firm. What was very attractive about the Dentons platform is that it’s not a Brexit play. The ambition is greater.’
A number of firms have launched in Ireland in the nearly four years since Britain voted to quit the European Union in June 2016, including Shepherd and Wedderburn, Clyde & Co, Fieldfisher, DLA Piper, Lewis Silkin, Simmons & Simmons, Covington & Burling and Pinsent Masons.
Moving East, Squire Patton Boggs will pick up the bulk of Winston’s former ten-lawyer Dubai team, including its Middle East managing partner Campbell Steedman, just over three years after the M&A veteran joined the firm from White & Case.
Winston’s corporate partner Christopher Skipper and Middle East finance head Shibeer Ahmed will follow Steedman to Squires next week alongside at least four of the firm’s Dubai associates, after the Global 100 top 50 Chicago-bred firm announced it is shutting its only regional branch.
The new additions bring Squires Middle East headcount to around 50 lawyers across four offices, bucking a trend that has seen several Western firms retrench or leave the region altogether over the last few years.
‘We are not a fair-weather player in this market. We have been here and will be here a long time,’ Squires’ United Arab Emirates managing partner Tom Wilson told Legal Business. ‘There have been a number of firms that have opened in the Middle East just before or just after the financial crisis, either capitalising on the economic boom in the region or trying to insulate from difficulties in other markets and some of them are retrenching or refocusing – that’s not us.’
He added: ‘Our presence in the region dates back 40 years through historic relationships and representations of governments and government entities in the Gulf. [Legacy] Patton Boggs was established in the early 60s with the goal of acting for newly minted countries in their relationships with other government and global organisations. Our presence in the Middle East is rooted in more than just the latest economic boom, it’s rooted in deep, long-lasting relationships that carry on.’
The move brings to an end Winston’s quick rise and fall in the region. It launched in the Middle East in March 2015 with the appointment of Stephen Jurgenson from Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman as part of a 15-lawyer hire from the firm. The following year it added Steedman from White & Case, who had previously been legacy Norton Rose’s senior Middle East partner until 2011.
But several major law firms have been retrenching in the Middle East after overinvesting during the oil boom in the 2000s, with Abu Dhabi a primary target. Between 2015 and 2017, firms including Norton Rose Fulbright, Simmons, Latham & Watkins, Vinson & Elkins and Herbert Smith Freehills closed their doors to focus on Dubai, just 100km away. Weil Gotshal & Manges left the region altogether in February 2017.
Winston chair Tom Fitzgerald said the firm’s clients were located ‘throughout the Middle East and have cross-border legal needs that reach beyond Dubai – particularly into London’ and that the move equated to a ‘centralisation of resources’ allowing the firm to service clients more effectively.
Finally and further to the East, Cooley has confirmed plans to launch its sixteenth global office in Singapore, moving two of its partners to the city state.
Hired last year from Gunderson Dettmer, corporate specialist Ferish Patel will relocate from Hong Kong to become the partner in charge of the new outpost, while emerging company and venture capital co-chair Matthew Bartus is moving from Silicon Valley.
San Francisco-bred Cooley has picked up the pace of its international expansion lately off the back of booming business in its West Coast tech heartlands, its global revenue surging 14% to $1.23bn in 2018.