Bennett Jones, a law firm that specialises in sectors such as energy and technology, was founded almost 90 years ago and is headquartered in Calgary, Canada. Hugh MacKinnon, the firm's chairman and chief executive, discusses why the business is pushing into the Emirates.
Back in the day, what were the firm's core strengths?
It was started by RB Bennett - before he became prime minister of Canada - in the 1920s. It kind of grew up with Alberta as Canada's leading energy firm. It road the wave of oil and gas. Now it's the largest Alberta-based law firm.
The firm has since expanded to Edmonton and Toronto, plus it opened offices in Beijing and Dubai last year. What drew the firm to the Emirates?
A dynamic business environment. It's one of the few places right now [where], regardless of the economy, there are some core strengths there. We think they've done a good job for making the UAE a centre for Menasa (Middle East, North Africa and South Asia). As we look to other places like India and South Asia, and other parts of the Gulf, it's a natural place for business to locate. We see our clients locating there.
How long did the process take to set up in Dubai?
From the time we started thinking about it to the execution was probably a few years but that's not to say they [Dubai International Financial Centre] held us up. That was us doing our own deliberations, waiting for the 2008 crisis to subside.
Was there anything you took advantage of due to the crisis?
The costs are lower but the business is not as vibrant. We're looking at the long term.
The economy has started to splutter once again globally. How do you foresee a second recession affecting business in the UAE?
Part of it is to hedge our own risk by diversification, so being in a place that's the centre for a quarter of the world's population will help us diversify our own risk profile.
What are your plans for a new office in Abu Dhabi?
We are just finalising the details to have people on the ground. We have space, the primary consent of the authority and just waiting to finalise some things before we have full operations.
Have you been hiring Canadians or people from Menasa for your offices in the Emirates?
Both. We sent three Canadian senior partners from the firm. We hired one Canadian who's been there [in the UAE] with a British firm … and some people from the region: a Jordanian, a Pakistani and a guy from Dubai. A mixture.
Has it been a challenge finding talent?
No harder than any other time. When you're trying to hire senior lawyers from other firms you want to get the right people, and people who are a fit into the business culture of the firm, and it hasn't been more difficult than any other place.
* Neil Parmar