Lawyers On Demand set to break into the Middle East with Dubai launch

Lawyers On Demand set to break into the Middle East with Dubai launch

Lawyers On Demand (LOD), Berwin Leighton Paisner‘s (BLP) freelance lawyers spin-off, is due to launch in the Middle East with a new Dubai office, breaking into an increasingly competitive legal market.

It is understood that the opening is on track for early autumn.

The launch will be overseen by Brett Menadue, new managing director for the Middle East operation, hired by LOD in May in anticipation of the launch.

Already based in Dubai, Menadue was formerly chief legal officer at Mara Global Technology and a previous director of legal and compliance at Nokia in Dubai.

Foreign investors in Dubai need a local sponsor in order to open a business outside of the free zones. BLP’s own office is based in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). However, regulatory, commercial and legal requirements for law firms to establish in the area differ from those for other types of businesses.

The freelance law service is based on three models: lawyers working on-site with clients under a secondment-style service, lawyers ‘on call’ in flexible secondments as and when required, and project-based ‘managed solutions’ – which include LOD teams assigned to specific projects.

The opening of LOD’s first Middle East office would mark significant growth by the consultant lawyer business over its first decade.

Founded in 2007 with 10 lawyers as one of BLP’s separate business, LOD’s UK turnover doubled in 2010. In 2012, LOD spun out from BLP to become an independent entity.

It now counts over 600 lawyers in eight offices: London, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney.

In the years since it became financially independent in 2012, LOD has grown, recording an 18% upsurge in turnover for the 2015/16 financial year, when revenues rose from £12.3m to £14.6m.

In 2016, the new law pioneer business also merged with Australia-based AdventBalance, a similar flexible lawyering service, with offices in Singapore and Hong Kong, which secured LOD a presence in Asia. AdventBalance was formed from a merger between Sydney’s Advent Lawyers and Perth’s Balance Legal. John Knox, former A&O head of business development founded Advent Lawyers.

Multinationals including Mastercard, Visa, AstraZeneca, DHL, FedEx and Microsoft now run their Africa businesses from Dubai. The DIFC has also cemented the emirate’s prominent position on the regional and global stage, and became home to 447 registered financial institutions in 2016.

Some law firms which have faced increasing difficulties in strictly conservative neighbouring Arab states, such as Abu Dhabi, have relocated to Dubai. Latham & Watkins, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), Simmons & Simmons and Hogan Lovells are among firms which have consolidated their UAE presence in Dubai.

Recent US firms to set up in Dubai include Mayer Brown, with its new Dubai office in June 2016, and Shearman & Sterling, which has operated in Dubai since 2015.

Covington & Burling opened its Dubai office in June this year, with the addition of Chadbourne & Parke’s project finance team.

Winston & Strawn opened a Dubai arm in November 2015. Its Middle East managing partner Campbell Steedman told Legal Business that despite having suffered significantly from the effects of the financial crisis and the subsequent plunge in oil prices, Dubai remains ‘a haven of regional political security and economic stability, and any new entrant to the legal market will be welcomed by the regulator authorities’.

‘The market is still quite traditional, and established practices and teams generally dominate. That does not mean there is no space for a new entrant, but it will be challenging as the market remains highly competitive,’ Steedman added.

This month, BLP posted mixed financial results for the year, but attributed its revenue growth to strong performances across the business. In particular, the firm highlighted LOD’s substantial growth over the year. The business’ most recent financial results reveal turnover rose 18% during 2015/16. BLP’s own revenues climbed 7%.

LOD’s Companies House filings in February this year indicated a £255,000 spend on new technology during 2016.

This article first appeared on The Lex 100‘s sister publication,Legal Business.