Its law firm mania this month in Dubai. As Baker McKenzie, the largest international law firm by revenue, announced it was merging with Habib Al Mulla, Hogan Lovells said it was consolidating its UAE operations and shifting all operations to Dubai. Meanwhile, Washington, DC-based Patton Boggs — arguably the largest lobbying law firm in the US — revealed it was expanding its operations in the Middle East with a new office in the emirate as well.
Patton Boggs, which is almost 50 years old this year and among the top 100 law firms in the US, has been operating in the Middle East since its inception in the 1960s, growing its operations in tandem with the economic growth of the Gulf region and wider Arab world. One of its founders went on to become the vice chairman of the American University of Cairo.
The firm was active in Iran from 1967 until the fall of the Shah and helped the Hospital Corporation of America in building hospitals in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s and early 1980s. It also began operating in Oman in the 1980s working on negotiation agreements with the US military and then began representing large US companies that were expanding into the UAE. The firm has represented the government of Abu Dhabi in various capacities, including the private office of HH Sheikh Zayed, the late president of the UAE, until 2004.
“We have been the quiet advisors on some of the most important things that have happened in the region over the past 50 years,” says managing partner Edward Newberry, who has been with the firm for 22 years.
Litigation accounts for some 40 percent of the firm’s revenue and is followed by regulatory related cases concerned with antitrust, energy, food and drug government contracts, healthcare, tax, telecommunications and transportation. The law firm also handles dispute resolution, which includes international arbitration.
“One of the things we do better than any firm in the world is the intersection in the US of law and government,” says Newberry. “In infrastructure development we are one of the top firms in the world. We handle some of the largest mass tort cases in the world. We also are among some of the best firms in insurance and reinsurance litigation and that’s a big part of our practice.”
The firm was involved in famous cases like the $20bn collapse of Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) which became defunct in 1991 and caused thousands of people in the 78 countries in which the bank operated to lose their savings amidst accusations of fraud.
“We were called in to represent the government of Abu Dhabi. We handled the liquidation and dispute resolution for the government regarding the collapse of BCCI. It was a global effort, it was very complicated and involved many jurisdictions,” says Newberry. “Undoubtedly, BCCI was among the most complicated cases that any firm in the world has handled. It involved jurisdictions throughout the world which meant that implicated legal systems throughout the world.”
Patton Boggs has 33 lawyers in the Middle East operating out of Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi and an affiliate office in Riyadh. However, out of the 500 lawyers that work at the firm, about 80 of them support its Middle East practice.
“We view ourselves as the trusted advisors to the important interests in the region, whether they be government or private individual or corporation interests,” says Newberry. “It means having infrastructure capabilities and the ability to support the development of infrastructure projects like the Doha International Airport but it also means having the ability to resolve the many disputes that a big project like that will generate…We will continue to invest extensively in building our infrastructure practice... throughout the region as the region develops.”
The firm represents sovereign wealth funds and also led the work on agreements between Cornell Medical School, Georgetown University, Carnegie Mellon Business School and Texas A&M engineering school as part of the establishment of Education City in Qatar. It also carried out the legal work establishing the pan-Arab Al Jazeera news channel and the framework for the establishment of the Al Udeid airbase in Qatar. Patton Boggs has also negotiated agreements with the US on behalf of Qatar to establish US Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters there.
The firm has advised Middle Eastern governments on bilateral and multilateral treaty negotiations with the US government, the UN, the IMF, the WTO, GATT, the ILO, the IMO, and other international organisations. Right now in Qatar, Patton Boggs is leading the construction development and dispute resolution for the new Doha international airport — Hamad International — which has been delayed.
Though rival firm Baker McKenzie recently derived much of its revenue from Latin America whereas its business in the Middle East was flat, Newberry believes the Middle East region can generate a lot of revenue for the firm. Though it let go of 65 staff members last month as its revenue fell 6.5 percent, Newberry is bullish on 2013.
The firm is looking at projected revenue of $300m for the year with the Middle East accounting for as much as fifteen percent of that.
“I think that could easily grow by about five to seven percent this year and if the economy picks up and becomes stronger that number could grow by ten to fifteen percent as we add lawyers and big projects,” says Newberry about the firm’s overall growth.
“We have seen steady growth in our practice in all of our offices in the Middle East over time, and while there is a lot more opportunity in the region there are a lot more competitors,” says Newberry. “I see great growth in the region as well, not just in the markets we’re in.”
Patton Boggs took on the Libyan opposition as part of its pro bono work when the opposition were set against the rule of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. The firm sees opportunities arising in Iraq and in Egypt and sees the Dubai office as “a launching pad” to sub-Saharan Africa. The firm is presently involved in big projects in Cameroon, Ghana, South Sudan and Angola.
In June 2010, the firm acquired the Breaux Lott Leadership Group, a lobbying firm led by former US senators John Breaux and Trent Lott, according to The American Lawyer, bringing on clients that included Chevron Corporation, Citigroup, and FedEx Corp, which add on to existing relationships with AT&T Services Inc, Bloomberg LP, and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, according to the magazine.
Unlike the merger between Baker McKenzie and Habib Al Mulla, however, Patton Boggs is unlikely to tie up with anyone for the moment, says Newberry.
“Right now we have a very selective and elite client base and we serve that client base extremely well. We’re not out to be the biggest... we’re simply out to be the best,” he says.
Arbitration between countries is a niche area that receives little publicity. Patton Boggs has helped resolve matters in this realm and is looking to increase that portion of its business. Sovereign-related cases the firm has been involved in include border disputes between Oman and Yemen in the late 1980s or the restructuring of the Caspian pipeline consortium between Russia, Kazakhstan and Oman in the mid-1990s.
“It’s a significant practice, one we are actively seeking to expand and one that is active in the Middle East,” says Newberry.
The firm has a team of lawyers that handles major international arbitrations, both between governments and arbitrations between a private party and governments.
“Traditional methods of dispute resolution have become extraordinarily expensive and time consuming and as a result there is great pressure among everyone to find alternative means of dispute resolution that are equally reliable to the court system but not so costly and onerous,” says Newberry. “Arbitration is one of those options. We are observing a substantial rise in international arbitration and I don’t think that will subside. It has the potential to become a very significant portion of our revenue base over time.”
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