CAIRO: One of the largest international law firms Baker & McKenzie is commemorating its 60th anniversary this year. Half of that time they have spent building a successful practice in the Middle East.
“We have been here for so long, while some firms are just starting to open up in the region, said John Conroy, the chairman of the Executive Committee. On Tuesday night the law firm gathered a diverse group of clients and partners at the Four Seasons Nile Plaza in Cairo to celebrate their long history of successful partnerships in the Middle East.
In 1979 Taher Helmy, then a partner at the Chicago office, received a license to practice law in Riyadh and co-founded the office there with Samir Hamza. Seven years later they opened an office in Cairo.
“We established Helmy, Hamza & Partners at an important time for Egypt when the transition to market economy had just started, said Helmy at the reception. “Egypt needed very highly skilled economists, but also lawyers, to push the reforms through, he added. Along with a number of different private clients, the Cairo office has often represented the government in privatization initiatives.
In a little more than a year, Helmy, Hamza & Partners will also celebrate an anniversary: a quarter century of existence. Reflecting back on this time, Helmy said, “When we started 25 years ago, the legal work was rather simple, not sophisticated at all. Now what we do here in Cairo is comparable to leading financial centers in the world like New York and London.
Conroy also stressed the growing importance of the Middle East in the international economy. “The Middle East not only has gas, oil and natural resources to fuel growth, but now it has become even a global source of investment capital, he said. He pointed out that Baker & McKenzie is expanding its presence in the Middle East with a new office in Abu Dhabi which will be formally opened next Sunday.
The global financial crisis, however, has affected the legal industry in the region, especially with inbound investment in the Gulf area slowing down. On the whole, Conroy said that Baker & McKenzie has been able to weather the downturn due to its global reach. He emphasized that countries like Brazil and China have been quite stable, suffering almost no slowdown from the crisis.
He and his colleagues are positive about the near future. The crisis has, indeed, diminished opportunities in certain sectors, but with the reaction of the global community, new ones are coming up. Corporate compliance work, for example, has increased significantly, as governments are extending regulations and scrutiny of big corporations.
Observing the rising international concerns over global warming, Baker & McKenzie has started a climate change practice, becoming one of the first international law firms to do so. The firm is also looking into growing markets like Africa and Central Asia.
“We are optimistic that we will see more opportunities in the upcoming economic upturn, Conroy concluded.