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Working in-house in the Middle East – Dubai roundtable 12 April 2017

The Middle East has been a changeable place in the recent past. There is no doubt that the market downturn has directly impacted the legal teams that service both domestic and international companies.

The Legal 500 and Al Tamimi & Company invited a group of experienced general counsel to discuss the changing market over lunch at Gaucho in Dubai.

Constant change

The decline in oil prices has created insecurity in the market and, according to the GCs in the room, the effects of this insecurity have already filtered down to in-house legal teams. Those in the room had been asked to manage their own PNL, find innovative ways to secure financing for their organisations (while avoiding global compliance issues), modify governance structures to take account of new bribery and corruption laws, and continuously monitor the changes in Middle East regulation that can be both rapid and sometimes not quite on-the-mark. At the same time, there was a sense that adverse conditions have helped GCs develop into new and more challenging roles. For example, the heightened risks mean GCs are more involved in M&A transactions than ever before, especially during a period of corporate consolidation in the region.

How to get budget for your team?

While the volume of work sent to in-house teams is increasing, the GCs present felt that budgets squeezes becoming tighter and that reductions in legal spend were perhaps too frequent. That said, there were a number of GCs in the room that successfully managed to demonstrate the potential for risk exposure through cost cutting, and ultimately ending up with more budget than previously. Much of this was down to hard calculation of figures and appealing to the business case for internal legal support. The group shared some particularly interesting examples of how to construct such a business case: demonstrating external legal spend vs hiring more in-house lawyers; benchmarking the number of lawyers by company revenue, and comparing to the industry standard; illustrating the cost of non-compliance and the likelihood of that breaches happening without sufficient support from the legal team; and removing legacy dispute cases to actually generate money for the company.

What role does the GC actually play now?

This type of c-suite communication made it clear that it is now necessary for a GC to be more than just a lawyer. Indeed, one GC went as far as to say that ‘the general counsel is just a business person with a legal background. They act as a solution provider for the CEO and the business’. The evolution of the general counsel role is set to continue, and at a rapid rate. GCs now have an active role to play in finding talent – with compliance professionals considered to be ‘like gold dust at the moment’ – adopting technology and guarding against new cyber risks.

Technology: its uses and its drawbacks

One GC told us that their department ‘had no budget for technology three years ago’, but that it is now expected that they will digitise as much as they can in order to be in line with other departments. Many of the GCs who joined us for lunch had looked to technology for a range of in-house matters, from compliance training, dealing with changing regulations, sharing knowledge, and tracking the benefits that their external counsel bring.

However, with all the benefits come some drawbacks. The integration of new technology with legacy systems is a constant challenge. This has been seen during acquisitions, joint ventures and also relatively straight forward matters like instructing a law firm.

There was also a feeling in the room that the rise of technology could actually put companies in the crosshairs for cyber-attacks and data leaks. The cyber security is becoming a real concern for GCs in Dubai and the wider Middle East. There has been a shocking increase in the number of digital attacks across the globe, but the Middle East has seen a disproportionately high number of cyber challenges. These have effected critical state infrastructure and government-owned companies, as well as offices of multinational companies. Securing their companies’ data is going to be a constant future challenge for GCs, as well as working with regulators to establish rules around new technology that has previously had no guidance.

Whichever way you look at the Middle East, there is no doubt that in-house lawyers will continue to be busy while their support the growth of their organisations.


Lorenzo Bruttomesso Orpic

Khaled Aswad Abu Dhabi National Chemicals Company (ChemaWEyaat)

David Anderson Al Futtaim Carillion

Mohamed El Roubi Amec Foster Wheeler

Kiran Scarr Dubai Multi Commodities Centre

Lubna Qassim Emirates NBD

Bruce McAlister GE Middle East, North Africa and Turkey

Olof Arnman Grey Wolf Oilfield Services

Dalia Al Sayeh Honeywell

Anuraag Malhotra Landmark Group

Joanne Fischlin Microsoft

Anwar El Khatib Oman Insurance Company

Georges El Hoyek PepsiCo

Markus Federle Samena Capital

Samer Qudah Al Tamimi & Company

Jody WaughAl Tamimi & Company

Samir Kantaria Al Tamimi & Company

Thomas Snider Al Tamimi & Company

Angela Maglieri Al Tamimi & Company

Dominic Williams The Legal 500

Gurpartap Basra The Legal 500

For more photos of the evening, please scroll down