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Posted by: Laurence Simons 26/07/13

Chris Williams, Managing Partner of the Dubai office of Bracewell & Giuliani LLP.
Chris Williams is a partner in Bracewell & Giuliani’s Business and Regulatory Group. His practice focuses on corporate mergers and acquisitions, private equity and company and commercial work throughout the Middle East.

What was your professional motivation to move to Dubai?

Throughout my professional life, I have had a genuine interest in building and developing.  To my mind, these interests dovetail neatly with the overall outlook and approach of Dubai and the wider Middle East and of clients active in the region too. 
From a lawyer’s perspective, I had hoped that Dubai would provide me a more varied mix of work and a greater opportunity to be closer to clients and their businesses than had been the case in London.  In my five years’ of practice in Dubai and the wider Middle East region, I have not been disappointed on these fronts.   

What do you feel are the challenges faced by law firms here in the UAE?

The UAE legal market has entered a stage of maturity which consequently means that the challenges for law firms here in the UAE mimic those elsewhere in the world.  Therefore, continued global economic uncertainty remains a principal driver and how firm’s deal with the same from both a practice and personnel perspective is something that we continue to see play out in front of us. 
I believe that the UAE market has entered a “new normal”, which means that firms need to look carefully at their positioning in the market, work harder with their client relationships and be nimble and lean in respect of opportunities as they present themselves.  Consequently, all law firms will be looking carefully at hiring lawyers (at partner and associate level) who can support the same.

Is it your intention to open another office in the UAE, if so where and why?

The firm is constantly looking at ways in which it can better service its clients and whilst there are no immediate plans to expand further into the UAE, the firm evaluates opportunities on a regular basis.  

The question everyone is asking at the moment: why are law firms in Dubai targeting western qualified lawyers in particular?

More so now than even before the economic crisis of 2008, Dubai is the hub for international business, not just in the Middle East region but as a jumping off point into Africa, the sub-continent and further east.  Consequently, law firms have a demand for western qualified lawyers to support work flowing from this “hub status”, particularly where such work involves English law governed financing and corporate transactional work.  Furthermore, there is a growing demand for well-trained lawyers providing strong client service.

What would your advice be to lawyers who want to enter the UAE market for the first time?

I strongly believe that the ability to adapt is crucial as is having a breadth of practice and being commercial and pragmatic in your approach.  Building relationships with clients and other professional advisors will certainly benefit you in the long term.
It is also very important for common law trained lawyers to understand that the UAE and its neighbours in the GCC are civil law jurisdictions and as a result many of the common law constructs that corporate and finance lawyers (in particular) are familiar with, do not apply in a civil law context.  Consequently, it is important to get to grips with the key local laws early on in your time in the region as the same will impact on your practice.