GC MAGAZINE > Interview > Nasser Al Taweel
INTERVIEW: Nasser Al Taweel,
Chief Legal Officer, Qatar Financial Centre Authority (QFCA)
Chief legal officer for the Qatar Financial Centre Authority, 28-year-old Nasser Al Taweel, talks to GC about his legal journey and building a successful in-house team.
G C I N T E R V I E W
GC: Why did you become a lawyer, and eventually go in-house?
Nasser Al Taweel (NAT): I have always been fascinated by the legal profession as some of my family members were/are working in the field. I think their example provided me with the inspiration to study Law. I started my journey in 2006 when I travelled to England to study my law degree at the University of Leeds, graduating in 2009.
After completing my law degree, I started my career by working as part of the in-house legal team at Shell here in Qatar. During this time I was fortunate enough to be seconded to work in Shell’s offices in The Hague and London. Once I had completed my training period with Shell’s in-house team, I was able to qualify as a solicitor. A short time after qualifying I was approached by the QFCA to take up my current role.
GC: You see people training in-house more and more nowadays, but it’s still relatively rare. Did you consider going to work for a law firm in the first instance, or did you always want to work in-house?
NAT: While private practice is very interesting, I have found that one of the advantages of working in-house is the opportunity to be both a businessman and a lawyer. While knowing the law is obviously a table stake for any lawyer, I really enjoy knowing and understanding the business − how it works and what makes it tick, knowing the key commercial ‘drivers’ for a deal and how to evaluate risks and opportunities. I think you are exposed to a lot more of this if you work in-house.
GC: Some people aspire to transition from a legal role within a company to a more general leadership role. Is that something that would potentially appeal to you, or do you see yourself purely as a lawyer?
NAT: To be honest, I enjoy my job as a lawyer more than anything else – I love interpreting laws and providing legal advice, thinking about different legal challenges that the business faces and trying to find the optimal solutions for them. I am nonetheless open to any new challenges.
I strongly believe that in-house lawyers should work to create a dynamic where their counsel is sought on both strategic and day-to-day business matters, not just in emergencies. There are always opportunities to demonstrate the practical value that lawyers can add to an organisation and the better we get at doing this, the more they will involve us in the decision-making, not just in the implementation of decisions that have already been taken. However, as a lawyer, you need to be prepared to tell people what they don’t want to hear, or to simply say ‘no’, and we should be comfortable with doing this.
GC: Could you tell me about the work that the Qatar Financial Centre Authority (QFCA) does?
NAT: The Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) is a platform where companies can be incorporated and businesses established in Qatar. It is also a very effective vehicle for attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) and consists of three main bodies: the Qatar Financial Centre Authority (QFCA), where I work; the Qatar Financial Centre Regulatory Authority (QFCRA); and the Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Centre (QICDRC).
The QFCA is the strategic, commercial and legislative arm of the QFC, whereas the QFCRA is the regulator of certain authorised businesses including banks and insurance companies.
The QFC has its own unique legal system that is based on common law principles. It also has its own law and various regulations and rules, such as those regarding establishing various legal entities, employment and immigration – meaning that many of the laws that apply to companies incorporated in the State don’t apply to companies that are incorporated in the QFC.
One of the aspects of the QFC that I am most proud of is the QICDRC. The QICDRC incorporates the QFC Civil and Commercial Court and the Regulatory Tribunal, which have each appointed world-renowned judges from all over the world to hear and adjudicate a wide variety of disputes. The decisions of the QICDRC are also enforceable in the State, providing further comfort to those wishing to establish their business in Qatar.
GC: What’s the advantage of that for companies?
NAT: All our regulations and rules are drafted and published in English. In addition, common law principles are understood by companies and businesses from many different jurisdictions, making the QFC’s legal framework more accessible to companies wishing to invest in Qatar. Non-locals can also own up to 100% of the interest in QFC entities.
A major feature of the QFC is the transparency of its legislative process. We have a vested interest in making sure that QFC companies are given an opportunity to provide input on any new regulations. As a result, all new QFCA regulations and rules are published for public consultation, where comments and input are invited before they are enacted. This gives QFC companies the ability to play a significant role in shaping the laws that apply to them. The QFC also has its own immigration department where all visa and immigration-related matters are handled.
The QFC has also established its own Employment Standards Office (ESO) to handle disputes between QFC companies and their employees. The ESO is an independent body, distinct from the QFCA and the QFCRA and is dedicated to resolving employment matters faced by QFC companies and employees. It is akin to the employment standards offices that you find in many countries.
GC: How does the legal team support the QFC?
NAT: One of the main roles of the QFCA’s legal department is advising on the formulation and enactment of QFC legislation including providing advice on the policies behind such legislation. Once legislation is enacted, we play a key role in raising awareness about it and providing practical advice on its application and interpretation.
We also provide a wide variety of legal advice to different departments within the QFCA including to the business development team, the licensing and companies’ registration offices, in addition to human resources and marketing. We also assist with all legal aspects of the QFCA’s procurement function.
GC: How would you describe the culture of the legal team and how have you gone about creating that culture?
NAT: For me, the importance of harmony among team members is another important key to the overall success of the department. In my view, if you lose that essential ingredient, you lose the sense of team spirit, and that results in low motivation levels which, in turn, impacts productivity. While it’s fairly easy to cut costs to improve a bottom line, that’s often a short-term solution.
I began by thinking about how, despite our limited resources, we could increase our productivity and also how we could distinguish ourselves as a unique legal department. I wanted to build a team that would work together and support each other – where individual members don’t work in isolation. Selecting the right people, who have the right attitude, is critical. Capabilities can be increased and competencies can be improved, but unhelpful attitudes are much more difficult to change.
GC: Do you have a particular strategy for recruiting the right people?
NAT: We have our internal recruitment processes, which are quite rigorous, and while our interviews cover work history and experience, they also include questions about teamwork, problem solving and how a candidate would handle a particularly difficult situation. All of these questions are what I would call the conventional questions.
One very important step in our recruitment process is the opportunity for candidates to meet with every member of our team. I then seek feedback from the team to try to gauge whether the candidate would be a helpful addition, despite their qualifications or experience.
I also strongly believe in maintaining diversity within the team – diversity in terms of background and gender. I have witnessed first-hand the tangible value that diverse perspectives and experiences add to any work environment and, as a manager in an organisation with a very diverse work force, it’s something that I really appreciate.
GC: How has the learning curve been during your transition from legal counsel at Shell to CLO at the QFC Authority?
NAT: I will admit that it has been a very steep learning curve. The transition from being a member of a team who is responsible for their own work, to somebody who is a leader of a team has been a real challenge. The responsibility for managing performance, including having to make tough discussions is always difficult. However, the relationship of trust that I have with my team has helped me to do this – after all, they know that I have their best interest at heart.