Interview with: Dr. Christian Ule, Rechtsanwalt
Karim Adel Law Office
Dr. Christian Ule explains how the firm has developed and expanded its international client base in recent years.
What do you see as the main points that differentiate Karim Adel Law Office from your competitors?
- Our main objective is to be a very responsive law firm. We usually reply to a written query within 24 hours. Our clients appreciate that we are always available for them, by phone, even though most of the time we need to call them back later in the day.
- We establish and maintain very close and personal contact with our clients. From the beginning of a new mandate, we aim at understanding the client’s business in general and its commercial objectives for the Egyptian market.
- Our professional advice is always “solution-oriented”, we try to avoid conflict, especially litigation. Some Egyptian lawyers tend to make things very complicated and confusing, which is frustrating not only for our client but for both parties who are negotiating and trying to get a deal done.
- We always work on a “four eyes” principle before we send our legal opinions or contract drafts.
- One responsible partner is always in charge of a client and remains the main contact for any queries the client may have.
- Our hourly fees are competitive in the market, and we bill on a 6-minute interval which is the international standard. The client gets a detailed invoice at the end of each month for better control of our work with a fair billing modus.
- We are lawyers with a “consultant twist” as a client put it once. If needed, we help our foreign clients with other business opportunities that are linked to their core competencies based on the strategic mapping of Egypt.
- Under certain conditions, our work is covered by a professional indemnity insurance from Germany with worldwide coverage.
- We cover all areas of law and a lot of industries. Major clients are multinational corporations, small and medium-sized companies (in German: Der Mittelstand) – and even foreign quick commerce start-ups – from a broad variety of industries, including agricultural technology, construction, energy & environment, food & beverage, healthcare, IT, infrastructure, logistics & transportation, machinery & plant engineering, manufacturing, and retail. Our clients are mainly from Germany, due to my qualification as a German lawyer, followed by the U.S., Spain, Italy, Austria, and even Russia.
- In the corridors of our office, you hear lawyers speak German, Spanish and French besides the main working languages English and Arabic.
- I am a German lawyer in an Egyptian law firm and admitted to practice law in two foreign jurisdictions: Germany (since 1995) and DIFC Courts, Dubai (since 2012). This is unique in Egypt. I grew up in Egypt but studied and worked in the US, Germany, and the UAE before returning to Egypt in 2015. My professional and cultural background helps a lot when foreign clients seek our advice because I am familiar with “both worlds”. Where I reach limits, my Egyptian partner Karim Adel, who practices law since 1990, supports me. We always work as a team.
- Through our network at MIDEAST Law, over the past decades, we have built profound regional experience in other Arab states, such as the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, and Bahrain as a lot of our clients are active in the MENA region.
- We are exclusive members of three internationals lawyers’ alliances respectively networks for Egypt: German Professional Services Alliance (GPSA), Cologne, Germany, which is an alliance of independent, internationally operating audit and consulting firms; Cross Border Business Lawyers (CBBL), based in Baden-Baden, Germany, the only worldwide network of German-speaking law firms with member law firms in sixty countries in Europe, Asia, North, and South America; and Legalmondo, based in Verona, Italy, which is a platform of international legal services, present in forty-nine countries with 130 independent lawyers, specialized in international contracts, cross-border investments, IP protection, litigation and in advising companies with international operations.
- I am a member of the German Lawyers Association and an associated member of the American Bar Association (ABA), International Law Section, and I participate each year at the annual meetings in New York respectively in Washington, D.C. These alliances and active professional memberships keep us connected to the international lawyer’s community and we constantly update our knowledge on legal issues on an international level.
- It is worth mentioning that Karim Adel Law Office, which exists since 1939, is associated with ULE & STEINER SLP, a European law with offices in Frankfurt and Sevilla, which is the managing law firm of the MIDEAST | Law International Legal Practice with more than 60 lawyers, tax advisors and chartered accountants in sixteen Arab jurisdictions.
Which practices do you see growing in the next 12 months? What are the drivers behind that?
- In our firm, the Corporate, Commercial and M&A Practice, Contract Law Practice, Arbitration Practice, well as our practice for Public Procurement continue to grow.
- The drivers behind that are a stable, centralistic driven economy, attracting steadily increasing foreign investments in Egypt with favourable legal conditions for foreign investors, the continuous and extensive growth of the energy sector, giving a new impulse to the economy, and infrastructure projects all over the country for transportation and logistics such as tunnels, bridges, high-speed railway systems, new cities, and container and dry ports. The manufacturing and construction sector as well as the increasing potential to export goods “Made in Egypt” attract our clients to enter or expand in Egypt. Our clients, who are encouraged to invest in the Mediterranean area and are well-positioned to compete in the North African market, are leaders in their industry sectors and are setting up trading or manufacturing companies or acquiring and merging with existing businesses in Egypt. Demand for services, among others, for employee leasing, quality control, and conformity assessment is increasing.
- Our clients, German and other European corporations, who are leaders in their industry sector, are highly recognized and welcome in Egypt by their customers and the Government. They are directly invited to tender for strategical projects in Egypt. They see Egypt as an attractive market to invest in, leaving the severe downturn of the economy in the years after the 2011 revolution behind. Today, Germany is exporting goods with a value of EUR 4.5 billion to Egypt followed by Italy. As a prominent example, Germany’s SIEMENS has built three power plants for USD 10 billion near the New Capital and just signed an MoU for building Egypt’s first High-Speed Rail System from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea worth USD 27 billion. The Benban Solar Park in Upper Egypt is one of the largest of its kind in the world producing 1.8 GW in an area of 1.7 square km and was built with German know-how. Other European companies were involved in the extension of the Suez Canal, building the New Capital, expansion of transport terminals including dry ports, supply and train the agricultural sector in Egypt with sophisticated machinery or simply produce goods with their brand for the Egyptian market and beyond. This broad range of foreign investment certainly is a driver for the growth of our practices because megaprojects attract many suppliers and sub-contractors from abroad.
- The Egyptian Government is planning a large route to Iraq via Jordan and a small route to Sudan and Libya. The infrastructure with the rest of Africa is still not good, but that will change, and Africa will reach an economic dimension, which will be important for foreign investors in Egypt.
- Today, 5% of Egypt’s 100 million population can afford to buy a Mercedes-Benz, in better times it is 7% of the population, which diplomats use as a parameter for Egypt’s purchasing power and this is comparable to Norway’s economic power. Egypt’s economy grew 2-3% during the COVID pandemic but has the potential to grow up to 7-8% per annum after this crisis. As a result, the retail sector for foreign goods is growing and foreign producers set up their distribution or trading companies in Egypt. Since recently, foreigners may participate up to 49% in Egyptian companies with an import license, and foreigners are now allowed to manage Egyptian service and manufacturing companies without the need of another Egyptian manager. This, among other investor-friendly conditions, also attracts foreign investors, which has an impact on the growth of our mentioned practices.
- Beyond the favourable macro-economic and legal market in Egypt, another main driver for the growth of our practices is our successful marketing strategy (new bi-lingual website, enhanced publishing articles, speaking at international conferences, social media) and our active networking with law firms around the world and international lawyer’s networks which I mentioned before, who refer clients to us.
- Disputes between foreign and Egyptian entities are increasingly settled by international and national arbitration as the international business community is increasingly aware of alternative dispute resolution and foreigners are advised by their legal counsels to choose arbitration in their contracts to resolve disputes instead of referring to long-lasting litigation before Egyptian courts.
What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that will benefit clients?
- We have actively trained young Egyptian lawyers to reach a high level of legal servicing. As a German-trained and practicing lawyer, I make our associates aware of what it means to provide quality work to international clients and what the client’s expectations for quality legal work are.
- We hired young lawyers with profound English language skills.
- We introduced international applicable compliance rules for quality control while providing legal services.
- We expanded our international reach through better IT services, such as video conference calls, and we are undergoing digitalization of the law firm by installing the latest software for archiving data, client relations, case follow-ups, as well as server and cloud infrastructure.
Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients and the services you can provide them?
- Yes, especially during the pandemic period of the past 12 months, which gave it another boost. Today we communicate intensively and almost daily with our clients through video conference calls. Even the lawyers in our firm, some of which have worked from home during the pandemic, communicate with each other using technology. IT enables us to be closer to our clients from around the world and personally discuss their needs and endeavours even if they are not in Egypt. Face-to-face video calls allow clients to get to know us easier, express their legal and socio-cultural concerns to us in a relaxed atmosphere and we can immediately reply to their questions and concerns. Face-to-face video calls have increasingly replaced personal meetings in our office. On the other hand, they facilitate personal communication with our clients abroad. We can even “e-meet” with a large number of participants belonging to a multinational client, who are all based in different countries at the same time, and discuss the joint strategy.
- Two years ago, we launched a new and modern website in English and German language giving our clients an insight into who we are and what we do.
Can you give us a practical example of how you have helped a client to add value to their business?
- All our mandates remain confidential, but what we can confirm is that thanks to the combination of German and Egyptian lawyers in our office, the value which we add to the clients’ business is to help the client understand the behaviour and reactions of their Egyptian counterpart or opponents better, analyse and explain the counterparts’ intentions and strategical thinking, especially when the counterpart is being represented by another Egyptian lawyer and our professional advice to the client on how to deal with their Egyptian counterparts or opponents most effectively by taking the right measures.
- Foreign clients do not always understand the “Egyptian way” of doing business or how businesspeople – and even lawyers – deal with legal issues. We help the foreign client to understand not only the legal market in comparison to their own – mainly European- jurisdiction but also the oriental business and negotiation culture in Egypt, which many “newcomers”, from corporations as well as SMEs, are not familiar with.
- We also add value to our clients through our vast network of non-legal consultants and experts in Egypt who can support our clients comprehensively in their business ventures and discussions with our clients, be it market entry, market expansion, or competition analysis.
Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms? Where do you see the firm in three years?
- Foreign clients are definitively looking for a stable political and economic environment in Egypt, which has a great influence on their decision to invest. All clients we advise want to invest long-term in Egypt. When asked to advise on what strategic direction their investments should focus on, we give them that advice, which is transparent and based on precedents, especially when dealing with the Government, available jurisprudence in Egypt, and the current legislation, opening the Egyptian market for foreign investments like the country has never seen before since the Republic of Egypt was declared. Since clients are not fully aware of these new opportunities which the Egyptian Parliament and the President of Egypt have granted to foreign investors in recent years, we can help clients plan their strategy better when entering the Egyptian market.
- For the next three years and beyond we work towards continuously having satisfied clients, who remain with us or return to us for advice and representation. That is what Karim Adel Law Office is about.