Dr Habib Al Mulla: Born to win

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If anyone deserves to put their feet up, it has to be Dr Habib Al Mulla. Over the course of nearly 30 years, he has built his law firm, Habib Al Mulla, into one of the finest, most sought-after and successful in the Gulf. No case too difficult, no challenge too great and no shortage of high-profile victories.

Smart, sharp and shrewd, the UAE’s top legal eagle was also the architect of the legal framework establishing the Dubai International Financial Centre, and was the founding chairman of the DFSA.

So, time to relax? “Oh no, no! That’s not me, no way. If anything, I am about to become far more aggressively involved in this business,” he says.

That is good news not just for the legal profession but for his newly found partners: last week Dr Al Mulla completed an impressive deal that will, from 1 July, see his firm merge with global giant Baker & McKenzie. The new entity, Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla, has high hopes of carving out a huge extra chunk of business in the region, especially in Dubai.

And you can see why: Baker & McKenzie has more than 4,000 lawyers and 72 offices in 45 countries, raking in $2.313bn  in the year to 30 June 2012. Al Mulla’s team is just 40 lawyers strong, but is amongst the most specialised and respected in the Arab world. Dispute resolution, corporate and commercial law, banking, real estate and construction have all been part of the Habib Al Mulla DNA over the last three decades.

Put the two together, and the mix of international access and scale with local expertise looks like a win-win situation.

“When you look at the Gulf today, it is experiencing a phenomenal growth and we expect that growth to continue. This needs the kind of legal services we can offer after the merger, with international ability and local knowledge,” says Dr Al Mulla.

He adds: “We have been working with Baker & McKenzie  for quite a few years now and we thought that with everything going on in Dubai, with Dubai coming back, it is a good opportunity to bring these two companies’ clients together under one roof with single accountability. It has been a very thorough decision but at the end of the day I think this merger brings far more advantages than some of the independence I may lose. And our clients, they are the ones who really will benefit.”

Baker & McKenzie has already been active in the Gulf and MENA region of over 30 years, beginning with an office in Riyadh in 1979. With offices also in Cairo, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, Doha and Casablanca, the company has notched up 30 partners and 130 associates across the region.

But the obvious missing link has always been Dubai. Eduardo Leite, chairman of Baker & McKenzie’s Executive Committee, tells Arabian Business that Dubai has long been on the radar.

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