Allen & Overy marks Saudi launch ahead of Shearman merger

Magic Circle firm secures third Middle East base as dozens of law firms eye business linked to Saudi wealth

Allen & Overy (A&O) has bolstered its Middle East presence with the launch of an office in Riyadh, becoming the latest international law firm to look to Saudi Arabia as it becomes increasingly significant for clients.  

The new office – the firm’s third in the region after Dubai and Abu Dhabi – comes ahead of its merger with Shearman & Sterling on 1 May, which will create a law firm with nearly 4,000 lawyers globally and revenue in the region of $3.5bn.  

The firm previously operated in Saudi Arabia through an association with local firm Khoshaim & Associates (K&A) but ended the arrangement in 2020, citing a decision “to work with a broader range of law firms in the Kingdom” to meet growing client demand.

Its on-the-ground Riyadh team includes corporate and commercial partner Hosam Ibn Ghaith and Haris Meyer Hanif, who rejoined A&O earlier this year after more than a decade as Freshfields’ head of finance for MENA.  

Following the merger they will be joined by Shearman’s Riyadh team, led by M&A and capital markets specialist Dr. Sultan Almasoud. The team also includes M&A partner Mohsin Suleman and an associate.

“Our office in Riyadh is a natural extension of our long-standing presence in the Middle East,” said A&O senior partner Wim Dejonghe. “This investment reflects our confidence in the growth potential in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and we are proud to partner with Hosam Ibn Ghaith and Haris Meyer Hanif, both leading lawyers who are well-known to many of our key clients in the region, and soon with Dr. Sultan Almasoud and his team.”

Ibn Ghaith joined the firm last November after six years as general counsel for Hassana Investment Company, the investment manager of Saudi Arabia’s social security and pension fund. Before that he practised at K&A and A&O’s earlier Saudi associate firm, Abdulaziz AlGasim Law Firm.  

Ibn Ghaith has spent almost 15 years advising Saudi and multinational companies and government institutions on complex, high-value transactions in Saudi Arabia. Work highlights include advising Dussur, the Saudi government’s industrial investments company, on a joint venture with General Electric to build gas turbines in the Kingdom and acting for the Saudi Arabian Football Federation on its landmark broadcasting deal with the MBC Group.

Meantime Meyer Hanif is recognised as a leading restructuring and insolvency lawyer in the region and also specialises in leveraged and acquisition financings and private capital transactions across the Middle East and Africa. He is expected to work alongside Dubai-based partner Adam Banks to establish a bench of restructuring and capital solutions specialists covering the Middle East.

The launch makes A&O the latest international law firm to establish its own presence in Saudi Arabia following changes to the Kingdom’s Code of Law Practice that came into effect last summer and meant they no longer had to operate in association with a local firm.  

At least 30 international firms have opened offices in the Kingdom in the past nine months or have applied to do so, Bloomberg reported. Many – like Clifford Chance, Linklaters and Latham & Watkins, had previously had local associations, though others, including Addleshaw Goddard, Greenberg Traurig and CMS, entered the market for the first time.  

Kirkland & Ellis, the world’s largest law firm by revenue, also said last October it had hired partners from Latham and White & Case to open an office in Riyadh that will serve as its headquarters for the Middle East. 

Saudi Arabia’s evolving legal market comes against a background of moves to diversify its oil-rich economy. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 modernisation plan is backed by a $700bn sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, which is heavily invested in Japanese technology company SoftBanks’ Vision Fund. It also has significant stakes in ride-hailing apps, video gaming companies and electric-car makers. 

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