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THE LEGAL 500 > EVENTS > DOHA ROUND TABLE

DOHA ROUND TABLE

The role of the in-house lawyer in Qatar – roundtable discussion 11 April 2017

Countries in the Middle East are still facing economic instability and a tough labour market, in large part due to the decline in oil prices. While GDP growth in the GCC is expected to be a respectable 2.3% this year, companies are attempting to cut costs and diversify their products. What impact has this had on in-house legal teams and what are general counsel predicting will change in the future?

To discuss the business and legal effects of macroeconomic trends on the local market, The Legal 500 and Sharq Law Firm gathered together a group of senior counsel representing some of the most important companies in Qatar.

Lawyers need target practice

During the roundtable discussion, there was an overwhelming sense that economic challenges in the region are starting to effect the way that in-house legal teams go about their jobs and report their results. The majority of the GCs stated that they were being asked to set and meet key performance indicators (KPIs) with a renewed vigour. This is hardly surprising given the economic climate: legal teams, like all business functions, are being asked to deliver efficiency and, increasingly, help generate revenue. Interestingly, GCs reported that the KPIs their teams are using often focus on litigation as a means of extracting value from their contracts and tenders. Acting like other business units has allowed legal teams in Qatar to truly demonstrate their value, and a number of GCs in the discussion were able to point to tangible results that have allowed them to significantly add to their company’s bottom line.

What’s on the horizon?

It was clear throughout this discussion that the legal market in Qatar is undergoing rapid transformation. For example, changes to data protection regulation and arbitration legislation have begun and are expected to intensify in the coming months. While this is likely to create a lot of legal work, a number of international law firms are withdrawing from Qatar in the face of strong competition from domestic firms and a shift in their Middle East strategies.

As more work is being done in-house, legal teams are having to adapt to new areas of expertise as well as adhering with the changes that are made at a government level. The in-house teams have seen their remit expand to cover risk management, regulatory compliance, policy change and reputation management – as one GC said “we definitely don’t just look at contracts any more”. In particular, compliance has become a crucial part of the role of the in-house lawyer in Qatar, demanding an increasing amount of their time in an attempt to avoid cost of non-compliance and ensure the reputation of the company is maintained.

How will lawyers tackle these changes?

It is obvious that the classic problem of doing more work with less resource has become an everyday event for Qatari in-house teams. In order to efficiently handle the influx of diverse and complex work, GCs have given great attention to three important areas: external law firm relationships; talent management; and adoption of technology.

The GCs in the room noted that their teams are often asked to work on matters they have little experience of, and that it would be beneficial if their external counsel were able to provide training in certain areas. One GC suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that law firms might be able to provide training and extra resource to the many regulators who are struggling to cope with the volume of work generated by the new regulations.

The question of how to find and retain high quality in-house legal talent also provoked lively debate. There was a general feeling that the Qatari legal teams of the future will see bilingual, locally-trained subject-matter specialists replacing many of the expat, generalist lawyers that dominate today. As the complexity of work taken into corporate legal departments increases, and as Qatari companies look to recruit and do business internationally, there will be a necessity for in-house lawyers to be experts in their subjects in order to provide on-the-spot counsel.

The third area highlighted for essential improvement was legal technology. New technology is already finding its way into the Qatari market, and this trend was expected to continue, helping legal departments and their law firms tackle future challenges. Many expected to see standardised contracts introduced in the near future, along with improved efficiency in dispute resolution, reinforcement of data protection and greater technological help fighting the rise of cybercrime.

Attendees

Ahmed Mohamed Doha Bank

Zakhia Elchaer Elan Group

Kenneth Awoonor-Renner Gulf Bridge International

Andrew Walsh Labreagh Real Estate Company

Marie-Therese Auger Qatar District Cooling Co.

Michael Mitchell Qatar Foundation

Zain Al Abdin Sharar Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Centre

Timmy Trihartama Qatar Petroleum

Stephen Hibbert Qatar Railways Company

Ehab Elsonbaty QIA

Feras Alkasab Sidra Medical and Research Center

Matthew Osborne Vodafone Qatar

Carla Hanna Ghanim Bin Saad Al Saad & Sons Group Holdings

Charbel Abou Charaf White & Case

Nasser Al-Taweel Qatar Financial Centre

Abdel Raouf Sharq Law Firm

Rashid Al Saad Sharq Law Firm

Dominic Williams The Legal 500

Gurpartap Basra The Legal 500

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