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MIDDLE EAST

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Regional Summaries

The Legal 500 Middle East

The Middle East's riches and diversity makes it an attractive and interesting market in which to operate, but a complex one with a range of different legal systems. Many international law firms maintain offices in the largest markets, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia and a number also have offices in other markets in the region.

The decline in oil prices has had a major economic impact, leading several countries to launch or accelerate economic and energy diversification strategies. Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 plan, which was announced in April 2016, contains several measures aimed at drastically reducing the Kingdom's dependency on oil revenues. In the UAE, the renewable energy sector – notably solar power – has seen steady growth and the government set ambitious renewable energy targets for 2020; new public-private partnership (PPP) legislation may also increase the number of projects in Dubai. In Qatar, the pressure is now on to complete major infrastructure projects by the start of the 2022 World Cup – the majority of contracts for these projects have been awarded but there has been an uptick in dispute work around non-payment and contract termination matters. Kuwait is trying to diversify its economy by focusing on social infrastructure, resulting in an increase in PPP projects.

January 2016 saw the lifting of some of the international sanctions previously imposed on Iran. Law firms with Iran desks are potentially well positioned to advise banks and multinationals considering business opportunities in the region. Dentons was the latest international firm to establish a presence in the Iranian legal market through a tie-up with Arman Pirouzan Parvine Legal Institute.

In Saudi Arabia, international firms may only operate through an association with a local firm, although exceptions exist which allow for the formation of joint Saudi and foreign-owned law partnerships. For the purpose of simplicity, the name of the international partner law firm has been used throughout the chapter, regardless of local office name variations or affiliations.

Law firms are ranked according to legal expertise, cross-border capabilities and experience in the Middle East. Market share, client feedback on quality of service and geographical spread are also key factors. A firm that is ranked highly in one individual market in the region may not achieve a high ranking.

Allen & Overy LLP has an impressive track record in acting on high-profile mandates across the region. For example, the corporate team is advising on the $175bn merger of National Bank of Abu Dhabi with First Gulf Bank. The banking team also handles conventional and Islamic finance or refinancing, advising clients such as Abraaj Capital, GEMS Education and Emirates Global Aluminium. The firm also advises on commercial and construction law matters as well as investment treaty arbitrations, with growing expertise in corporate and financial services investigations. Tom Butcher returned to head the Middle East TMT and IP practice after two years at Simmons & Simmons Middle East LLP. Key names to note within the 25-partner Middle East practice include Simon Roderick, Ibrahim Mubaydeen, Samer Eido and Zeyad Khoshaim.

The 'consistent clarity of advice, exceptional response times and eye for detail' of Clifford Chance's lawyers 'ensure a top standard of service'. The firm opened its first Middle East office in 1975 and now has a presence in all the major markets in the region. In Saudi Arabia, it entered into an association with Abuhimed Alsheikh Alhagbani Law Firm (AS&H) in August 2016, replacing the standalone licence it obtained from the Saudi Ministry of Commerce and Investment in 2013. The project and finance team advised Kuwait National Petroleum Company on its multibillion-dollar Clean Fuel Project. In the mining sector, a cross-border team acted for Mubadala Development Company on its joint venture investment with Trafigura Beheer BV. Debt capital markets (DCM) specialist Stuart Ure assisted DP World with its Reg S/Rule 144A sukuk issuances. Managing partner Robin Abraham is 'a vastly experienced lawyer with deep knowledge of local business practices and laws'. Other names to note include corporate partners Mike Taylor and Khalid Al-abdulkareem, Islamic finance practice head Qudeer Latif, project finance expert Richard Parris and asset finance specialist Antony single.

Al Tamimi & Company is 'first choice for local law issues' and, to some, is 'clearly a leading firm in the UAE and in various other Gulf countries'. It handles local law issues, including litigation, across these jurisdictions, regularly collaborating with international law firms. Recent highlights include assisting Aster DM Healthcare, an issuer with significant operations across the region, on the Middle Eastern and African aspects of its Bombay Stock Exchange IPO and acting for GlaxoSmithKline on a series of employment issues arising from its simultaneous asset swaps with Novartis. Managing partner Husam Hourani is a key figure in the banking practice, which also includes the highly regarded Jody Waugh. Litigators Hassan Arab and Essam Al Tamimi, corporate head Gary Watts and regulatory specialist Andrea Tithecott are also recommended.

Clyde & Co LLP is one of the largest international law firms in the Gulf region and one of the few that is able to offer local law advice. Its dispute resolution team has extensive experience in construction, insurance, shipping and employment disputes. Clients include Big Bus Company, Sky News Arabia, Marriott International and Atradius. Under the leadership of the well-regarded Rob Deans, the group also has a fine record in intellectual property matters; Deans successfully acted for local and international clients in several trade mark infringement disputes. Jonathan Silver, Niall O'Toole, Christopher Jobson and Mark Blanksby are names to note in the UAE, while construction disputes expert Laura Warren is a key contact in Doha along with corporate finance and energy projects specialist David Salt.

Dentons has a strong Middle East network of eight offices in seven jurisdictions. Highlights included advising Oman Oil Refineries and Petroleum Industries Company on the $3.6bn financing of the Liwa plastics project and capital markets expert Alex Roussos acting for Boubyan Bank on the world's first tier 1 public sukuk issuance that is fully compliant with Basel III. Senior consultant and construction specialist Peter Shaw assisted a leading regional construction contractor with a series of high-value arbitrations, while the energy team acted for Phanes Group on the Middle East's largest rooftop solar power project. Middle East managing partner Paul Jarvis is a key contact along with project finance specialists Safwan Moubaydeen, Andrew Figgins, Jon Nash and Udayan Mukherjee.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has a prominent M&A and joint venture practice in the region. It acted for First Gulf Bank on its merger with National Bank of Abu Dhabi, resulting in the creation of the largest bank in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; assisted Emirates National Oil Company with its £4bn acquisition and de-listing of Dragon Oil; and advised Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba on its joint venture with Meraas Holding. In the UAE, Michael Hilton, Rob Cant and MENA region managing partner Pervez Akhtar are the key names to note for corporate and private equity, while global investigation specialist Jonathan Rawlings and construction disputes specialist Erin Miller Rankin have 'a client-focused approach'. Haris Meyer Hanif recently handled several financings of assets, acquisitions and operational needs. In Saudi Arabia, Fares Al-Hejailan is highly recommended for M&A, regulatory issues and capital markets.

Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla has a particularly strong presence in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, with a fast-growing UAE practice. Following its merger with Habib Al Mulla in 2013, it is the only international firm to have full rights of audience before all UAE and Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) courts. The group excels in cross-border corporate and M&A matters, including private equity transactions and joint ventures. Basel Barakat is acting for Saudi Binladin Group on several big-ticket project finance transactions, including the amendment and extension of the SAR3.5bn multi-option Islamic and trade finance facilities to assist with the construction of the King Abdullah Finance District. The 'extremely responsive' Bilal Kahlon handled several sukuk issuance mandates for Almarai Company and NCB Capital Company. Project and Islamic finance specialists Ian Siddell and Julie Alexander, corporate partner George Sayen and Dubai-based banking partner Mazen Boustany are also key figures.

DLA Piper Middle East LLP has a strong and growing presence in the region, as illustrated by the hiring of Paul Latto from Clifford Chance LLP in association with Abuhimed Alsheikh Alhagbani Law Firm (AS&H), Ben Gillespie from Addleshaw Goddard and Ramsey Jurdi from Chadbourne & Parke (Dubai) LLC. The team is excellent in technology, media and telecoms work, where Paul Allen advised Etihad Airways on the $700m global outsourcing and transformation of its IT infrastructure. Other highlights included acting for Saudi Electricity Company on its $3bn joint venture with Saudi Aramco for the development of the Fadhili gas-powered cogeneration facility. Peter Somekh, Trevor Butcher, Debbie Barbour and Tom O'Grady are key contacts in the UAE, while Eyad Reda is the name to note in Saudi Arabia.

Herbert Smith Freehills LLP reopened its Riyadh office in February 2016, establishing an association with The Law Office of Nasser Al-Hamdan and also recruiting Anthony Ellis and Euan Pinkerton, respectively joining from DLA Piper Middle East LLP and The Law Firm of AlSalloum and AlToaimi in association with White & Case LLP. Zubair Mir leads the investment funds team, whose recent cross-border mandates include advising Quadria Capital on the establishment of a $400m closed-end private equity fund set up to invest in healthcare sector assets in India and Southeast Asia. One the M&A side, Paul Scarr advised Blackstone on its buyout of Serco's business processing outsourcing business. The highly regarded Craig Shepherd is 'a very safe pair of hands'; he gives 'astute legal advice' and has 'great awareness of a client's broader commercial needs'. Doha-based Joanna Addison focuses on energy and infrastructure projects. Finance specialist Nadim Khan joined Jones Day.

King & Spalding LLP has 'one of the best resourced real estate teams in the region', which includes the 'extremely knowledgeable' Stephen Kelly, who 'practically explains legal issues in a way that engages lawyers and non-lawyers alike'. The firm also has emerged as a leader in investment funds and capital markets, drawing on the expertise of highly regarded practitioners such as James Stull, Nabil Issa and Rizwan Kanji. Kanji acted for Islamic Development Bank on the establishment of a $25bn sukuk programme, which was triple listed on the London Stock Exchange, Nasdaq Dubai and Bursa Malaysia. Leroy Levy advised on a number of shari'ah-compliant project financings, while Jawad Ali and Simon Rahimzada advised Arcapita on its acquisition of luxury residential buildings from Mubadala Pramerica. Construction specialist Adrian Cole is 'excellent in arbitration and in his understanding of the industry'.

Latham & Watkins LLP combines 'strong service levels and sound industry knowledge', with its global footprint 'enabling it to efficiently handle cross-border finance and sukuk issuance mandates'. Nomaan Raja advised Standard Chartered Private Equity on its equity investment in Souq.com and is also assisting government entities with multibillion-dollar sukuk and bond issuance transactions. Dubai office managing partner Villiers Terblanche is advising Harbin Electric on the development and construction of the 1,200MW Hassyan clean coal power plant. The Riyadh team includes corporate partners Omar Elsayed and Sami Al-Louzi, as well as capital markets specialist Harj Rai.

Linklaters' main pillars of work are conventional and Islamic finance, cross-border corporate mandates and DCM. Although the firm only has offices in the UAE, it acted on a range of impressive transactions across the region. In recent work, the 'knowledgeable and commercially minded' Jonathan Fried assisted the arrangers and dealers with the establishment of a $2bn trust certificate issuance programme by Ezdan Sukuk Company and Kieron Zaman advised a bank as lender of multibillion-dollar conventional and Islamic acquisition finance facilities to a major private company. Islamic finance specialist Neil Miller, project finance expert Sarosh Mewawalla as well as corporate partners David Martin and Scott Campbell are also recommended.

Norton Rose Fulbright is 'a recognised leader for project finance'. The team – which includes Islamic finance experts Mohammed Paracha and Gregory Man – advised The Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector on the establishment of a dual London and Nasdaq Dubai listed Reg S/Rule 144A-compliant sukuk issuance programme and also acted for a lender on a multi-tranche real estate acquisition financing. Manama-based Joanne Emerson Taqi continues to handle some of the largest real estate and construction mandates in the region. Abu Dhabi-based banking and projects specialist Paul Mansouri advised Fotowatio Renewable Ventures on its successful bid for the construction, development and financing of a 50MW solar power plant in Jordan. Patrick Bourke has experience in regulatory matters, commercial litigation and construction disputes. Corporate lawyer Jane Clayton and TMT specialist Dino Wilkinson are also standout partners.

White & Case LLP has exceptional experience in projects work and also enhanced its DCM capabilities with the hire of Debashis Dey from Clifford Chance, who recently worked alongside the London and Washington DC offices on a series of Eurobond and trust certificate issuances. Riyadh-based Doug Peel and Abu Dhabi-based Antoine Cousin advised key client Saudi Aramco on the financing and development of the $8bn expansion of an existing petrochemicals complex, while the banking team assisted the oil giant with a $10bn revolving credit facility. Corporate partners Michiel Visser and Abdulwahid Alulama are recommended along with construction and engineering projects specialist Michael Turrini. Margaret Cole moved to Pinsent Masons LLP, while Campbell Steedman and Shibeer Ahmed joined Winston & Strawn LLP.

Ashurst LLP is a recognised leader in the energy and infrastructure space in the region. It acts for multinational companies and financial institutions such as Serco, the IFC, Gulf Capital and HSBC. Dubai-based Joss Dare has a solid record in the transport sector, where he is assisting Arriyadh Development Authority with the procurement of an operator for the planned Riyadh metro. Dare and project finance specialist David Charlier are advising Kuwait Authority for Partnership Projects on the structuring and procurement of the Kabd waste-to-energy PPP project. Renad Younes is highlighted as showing 'knowledge of the LNG sector and careful consideration of clients' needs'. Dyfan Owen specialises in energy, resources and infrastructure project disputes.

Baker Botts L.L.P.'s work in the Middle East mirrors the firm's global strength in the energy, defence and security sectors, where it handles various matters such as joint ventures and negotiations with regional government entities. Recent highlights include advising a construction company on a divestment and acting for a leading energy and natural resources company on a high-value upstream project. Mark Bisch is assisting a real estate developer with corporate governance issues and contractor agreements. The practice is headed by John Lonsberg and includes TMT specialist Abdullah Mutawi, commercial litigator and arbitration expert Philip Punwar, corporate partners Stephen Matthews and Shadi Haroon, as well as Lucas Pitts, who is 'creative and thoughtful in his advice'.

Dechert LLP has a prominent standing in the investment funds market, which has been augmented by the hire of the 'very solid' Phillip Sacks, formerly of King & Spalding LLP, who is 'highly respected by peers and clients'. The team has extensive knowledge of structuring, operating and regulating funds under a mix of Middle Eastern, European, US and offshore legislation. Recent highlights include advising a private equity investment house on its acquisition – and the related financing – of a school, as well as assisting an asset investment firm with the establishment of a series of shari'ah-compliant fund structures to invest in real estate globally. Christopher Gardner, who splits his time between Dubai and London, advised SDI Capital on the establishment of a $150m trade finance fund in the DIFC. The group continued to enhance its corporate practice by hiring Hamish Walton from King & Wood Mallesons in November 2016. Gavin Watson and Chris Sioufi are co-managing partners.

Nasser Ali Khasawneh's team at Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP has a substantial projects and energy platform in the Middle East; it is acting on some of the most prominent energy projects, including wind and solar, in Jordan. Iyad Zawaideh advised National Electric Power Company on the repowering of the Hussein thermal power plant, while Abu Dhabi-based Tim Armsby acted for it on the negotiations of a gas sale and purchase agreement with the Jordanian Egyptian Fajr Company. UAE managing partner Ben Bruton has 'in-depth knowledge of arbitration' and is 'a pleasure to work with'. The team established a compliance, fraud and investigations practice with the relocation of Rebecca Copley from the Nottingham office.

Hogan Lovells (Middle East) LLP significantly enhanced its energy, dispute resolution, corporate and finance practices when it hired Andrew Tarbuck, Charles Fuller and Anthony Pallett) from Latham & Watkins LLP, Nabeel Ikram from Dechert LLP and Sohail Barkatali from Chadbourne & Parke (Dubai) LLC. Highlights included advising the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector on the inaugural CFA150bn sovereign sukuk issuance by the government of Ivory Coast and assisting the mandated lead arrangers with the financing of the Sohar independent water project in Oman. 'Islamic finance guru' Rahail Ali heads the firm's practice in the region, which includes infrastructure specialist Christopher Cross. The firm ended its association in Saudi Arabia, thus exiting the market.

Pinsent Masons LLP's traditional strength is in construction law and the team, led by the highly regarded Sachin Kerur, acts on a high proportion of the major projects across the region. Michelle Nelson often represents clients in multi-party arbitrations and related court actions, while Doha-based Peter Blackmore specialises in construction and engineering procurement. Corporate partners Alison Hubbard and Osama Hassan are also recommended. Clients include Dubai Islamic Bank, Emirates National Oil Company, Fujitsu and Kier Group.