Monday, March 30, 2009

What now for local legal firms with Middle East operations?

What is the fate of legal firm which have recently made inroads into the Middle East market in search of a slice of the pie within the Islamic finance business?
The main factors persuading firms to leap toward the Middle East are the proximity to the large client base and the region's importance for new industry developments, says the Asia Legal Business magazine.
It noted that Islamic finance practices of firms within East Asia have been eyeing the Gulf as a growth strategy for some time and asked if recent global financial events will put their ambitions on hold.
As Asian authorities have intensified their pursuit of a larger slice of the Islamic finance market, the region's law firms have followed suit — some of them even establishing offices in the Gulf region, it noted.
"The Middle East will recover from the economic downturn faster than other parts of the world, and this alone provides enough incentive for forward-thinking law firms to relocate or expand," said Farid Hussain, partner heading the Dubai office of Zaid Ibrahim & Co.
"Here, the business communities' exposure to and knowledge of Islamic finance is growing, so this will also create demand for work," he told the magazine.
Last year, it noted Zaid Ibrahim & Co became the first law firm within Asia approved to operate in the region's leading finance hub, the Dubai International Financial Centre.
In the article entitled 'Islamic finance: Gulf strategies vary in uncertain times', the magazine reports that another firm keen on expanding to the Middle East, but taking a steadier approach, is Azmi & Associates.
"We will do so only after consolidating and enhancing our position here in Malaysia and within the South-East Asian region, something we intend to pursue in the next two years," the firm's managing partner, Azmi Mohd Ali was quoted saying.
Muthanna Abdullah
, managing partner of Lee Hishammuddin Allen & Gledhill was also quoted in the magazine as saying: "[Expansion] meets the need to be close to the Gulf clients — who require far more personal contact. It is their high liquidity which drives the Islamic finance market. Certainly, proximity to the Gulf is also needed to understand the developments of Islamic finance better."

(The Malaysian Reserve, Mar 30, 2009, p31)

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