Eversheds is combining its Middle Eastern operations with a local group to form one of the biggest firms with a regional focus.
Eversheds in Middle East move
Eversheds, an international law firm based in the UK, is merging its Middle Eastern operations with a local group to create one of the biggest firms with a regional scope.
The firm, which has offices in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha, is combining with KSLG, a legal group with offices in Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Dubai.
The merged organisation will employ about 80 people, according to Nasser Ali Khasawneh, the managing partner of Khasawneh and Associates, KSLG's office in Dubai.
"The idea is to form an exceptionally strong regional practice, a one-stop law firm that can cover the Middle East," he said.
Interest among law firms in expansion in the Middle East has grown in recent years as the region's economies develop and complex international disputes crop up in greater numbers.
Legal work has also blossomed thanks to a growing number of bond sales, mergers and large projects that require legal advice and documentation.
The financial crisis has given a further boost to dispute resolution specialists and lawyers trained to deal with fraud and asset recovery cases.
"After what has happened in the past few years, the international law firms realised that dispute resolution is a big area to explore and a big revenue generator," said Imran Shafiq, a senior associate at Bin Shabib & Associates, which is based in Dubai but covers the region.
While global firms used to transfer cases to firms such as his, he said mergers such as that involving Eversheds and KSLG were breaking that pattern by giving international players direct access to local expertise.
"It's all about economics and it makes a lot of sense," he said. "One note of caution is that these guys have to be very careful in who they want to partner with because there's a huge difference in culture with a local firm compared to an international one."
Many international firms have offices across the Gulf and the wider Middle East, but Mr Khasawneh said the tie-up between Eversheds and KSLG was a first in at least one sense.
"I think it's the first of its kind in terms of an international firm merging with a regional firm with many offices," he said.
The new legal group would go by the name of Eversheds KSLG, he said, but KSLG's individual practices in various countries would not change their names aside from a reference to their new association with Eversheds.
The venture will face stiff competition from other legal giants with expanding operations in the region - the likes of DLA Piper, Clifford Chance, Norton Rose, Baker & McKenzie and Ashurst.
Local firms are also on a hiring spree.
Hadef & Partners, the UAE's biggest firm, recently added 10 lawyers, and the Dubai firm Al Tamimi & Company already casts a wide net across the region.
Mr Khasawneh said the Eversheds-KSLG marriage was ideal because of the geographical reach of the firms' offices and the two companies' complementary sets of expertise.
"Eversheds's approach and ours is similar," he said. "We are aiming to provide services for clients across various sectors and practice groups. It's really across the board that we would like to compete, and we are competing in all aspects of business law, from dispute resolution to commercial, real estate and labour law."
Contractual commitments have been signed for the merger to go ahead, but it is awaiting licensing approval in some jurisdictions.