Saudi Arabia grants first foreign licences to three law firms

The UK Law Soc Gazette reports

HEADER IMAGE: Mohammed Al-Shukairy, Clifford Chance regional managing partner, Middle East, and Dr Fahad Abuhimed, managing partner of AS&H, at the International Conference on Justice

Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith Freehills and Latham & Watkins have become the first foreign law firms to be granted licences to practise law in Saudi Arabia.

Most foreign firms have been acting in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) through associations. However, following amendments to the Saudi Code of Law Practice, firms must now apply for a licence from the Saudi Ministry of Justice.

Law Society guidance states that the new law aims to encourage firms to set up in the Kingdom so that legal work is engineered within KSA rather than outside the country, enable high-profile deals to stay within KSA and increase opportunities for KSA lawyers.

Two partners representing the foreign law firms must live in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, at least 50% of the lawyers must be KSA nationals, work related to Saudi law cannot be passed to other offices and no more than 30% of fee income can go outside the Kingdom. Licences must be renewed every five years.

Firms have two options to structure their operations: a professional company in joint venture with registered KSA lawyers as co-shareholders; or a branch office.

Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith Freehills and Latham & Watkins were presented with their licences at the International Conference on Justice in Riyadh yesterday, Arab News reported.

On the same day, Clifford Chance and Abuhimed Alsheikh Alhagbani announced their joint venture, which will be known as AS&H Clifford Chance.

Dr Fahad Abuhimed, AS&H Clifford Chance managing partner, said: ‘This exciting new joint venture further cements the unique relationship that Clifford Chance and AS&H have enjoyed for the last six years in the Kingdom, and which has created an unrivalled legal powerhouse in Saudi Arabia.’

Herbert Smith Freehills, which has been providing clients with a full-service offering in the Kingdom through an associated firm, is establishing an office in Riyadh.

Stuart Paterson, HSF managing partner in the Middle East, said: ‘The Middle East region is strategically important to our clients and the firm. We are delighted to be one of the first firms to receive a foreign law firm licence in the Kingdom, which enables us to better serve our clients in the region and globally. We look forward to working with Joza Al-Rasheed as the managing partner of our Riyadh office.’

Al-Rasheed said: ‘I am humbled and delighted that Herbert Smith Freehills is one of the first law firms in the Kingdom to receive its licence. I look forward to delivering the top-quality legal services that our existing and future clients require in the Kingdom.’