Linklaters hires partner from Saudi firm for Riyadh office launch

Magic Circle UK firm secures third Middle East base and ends alliance as new licensing regime continues to shake up Saudi legal market

Linklaters has hired a partner from Saudi Arabian firm Khoshaim & Associates (K&A) to open an office in Riyadh as it becomes the latest international practice to win a licence to set up shop in the Kingdom.

Amro Bakhaidar, who specialises in equity capital markets and public M&A transactions, will lead the office alongside two existing Linklaters partners who had previously split their time between Riyadh and Linklaters’ Dubai office: corporate specialist Waleed Rasromani and banking expert Omar El Sayed.

Until now, most international firms had practised in Saudi Arabia through an association with a local firm; in Linklaters' case this was with Zamakhchary & Co, though the association, which was formed in 2017, has now come to an end.  

The launch will give the UK magic circle firm its third base in the region – where it also has an office in Abu Dhabi – and follows changes to the rules governing how international law firms operate in the Kingdom. 

The move continues a flurry of law firm activity in Saudi Arabia, which is experiencing an influx of international firms and a shake-up of the previous network of alliances thanks to the new licensing regime, which allows firms to open on their own account.

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Bakhaidar has joined Linklaters after a little more than three years at K&A, which was Allen & Overy's Saudi associate firm from 2012 until late 2020 when they ended the arrangement citing the chance to work with a wider range of firms.

The former Clifford Chance local associate brings experience across corporate and capital markets transactions including IPOs, rights issues, public M&A, securities issuances, private placements and investment funds to his new firm. His clients cover industries including energy, shipping, banking, insurance, real estate, petrochemical and pharmaceuticals. 

Meantime Rasromani, who leads Linklaters' Saudi Arabia corporate practice, advises on public and private transactions with a focus on the energy and infrastructure sectors. He advised Linde on the establishment of an industrial gases joint venture in the Kingdom with Sipchem and Advanced Petrochemical on a joint venture with SK Gas to build a $1.8bn propane dehydrogenation and polypropylene plant in the Saudi city of Jubail.

El Sayed focuses on syndicated loans and Islamic financings in the Gulf region, as well acquisition financings, margin loans, private equity financings, real estate financings, regulatory capital financings and the financial restructuring of government and corporate entity assets. At Linklaters he has worked on matters including advising the arrangers in relation to a $16bn dual conventional and Islamic financing for Saudi Arabia and acting for Saudi Electricity Company on its $2.15bn conventional syndicated financing. 

Jonathan Fried, Linklaters Middle East managing partner, said: “We would like to thank the Ministry of Justice of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for approving our licence application. The licence, combined with our decade-long experience, will allow us to continue to deploy our capabilities and expertise across multiple practice areas and sectors in support of our clients in the Kingdom.”

The changes to the Saudi Code of Law Practice, which come into force in June, are intended to increase earnings and opportunities for Saudi lawyers. International firms wishing to offer Saudi law advice are required to set up their office as a joint venture (JV) with registered Saudi lawyers, who must own at least 25% of the local LLP. International firms can also establish wholly owned branch offices so long as they don't practise local law.

The new rules also require firms to meet other obligations, including that at least half of their lawyers in the country must be Saudi 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.

Clifford Chance was among the first firms to be granted a licence earlier this month alongside Herbert Smith Freehills and Latham & Watkins, all of whom will operate JVs. Greenberg Traurig and Addleshaw Goddard have also announced they will operate JVs pending regulatory approval. 

Linklaters, which has long advised on major deals in the Saudi market and has an established offering in the Saudi PPP space, will operate in joint venture with Bakhaidar. 

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