Experiences in the Middle East: part II

Martin Davies is a Partner in Mishcon Private. He lived and worked in the Middle East over many years and now regularly visits the region. Martin advises leading families and companies in all aspects of international private capital, including significant corporate transactions and projects, substantial real estate and hotel transactions, and dispute resolution. Strategic planning for high net worth families and their companies is a key part of Martin’s practice.

Read Part I here.

My Middle East practice led to a need to support clients worldwide.  I therefore co-founded and was elected Chairman of a global legal network in 1989 which ended up with around 120 members in over 100 jurisdictions (it is still going but I stepped down a few years ago). I’m very proud of the way the network evolved beyond a ‘directory’. Membership fees were deliberately low, but there was a requirement that every member firm must attend at least three meetings a year anywhere in the world, represented at senior partner level. This involved me chairing 12-15 meetings a year in all corners of the globe.

I had a lot of fun amidst the demanding hours and hard work and travelling from Peru to Pittsburgh, Auckland to Reykjavik and Xiamen to Vancouver and many more besides. That experience over 25 years has taught me how to deal with different cultures and expectations. I realised that referring matters to particular firms that I know and trust will not end in disappointment for the client and that integrity and personality on the part of lawyers are as important as technical ability in protecting clients’ interests.

There is no substitute for spending time on the ground in the Gulf or any territory when you are trying to build a reputation or practice. As I tell young lawyers thinking of moving to the region, it is very important to be a lawyer in the broadest sense of the word: be blotting paper, soak up everything around you and do not limit your appetite for subject matter.

Clients are interested in the lawyer as an individual and their problem solving mind-set. It will be assumed that the legal expertise is in place behind them. There are many good technical lawyers out there, so differentiating yourself and your firm is very important. This is at the heart of what Mishcon de Reya does: the firm is genuinely alive to clients’ needs.

The moment you think that you know everything about a client (or think that you should) you are ‘dead in the water’! Never be complacent, no matter how well you get on with a client or how long you have known them.

When I was living in Riyadh, my client, the Minister of Youth and Sport, was preparing to go to the Barcelona World Cup in his official capacity. I went to get some papers signed at the airport before he left. That night on Saudi Arabian TV, I could be seen walking one-on-one with the Minister to his 747 in the middle of the tarmac with the other senior princes following a discreet distance behind us to ‘see him off’ (a local custom). As the only one wearing a suit, it must have looked like I was his close protection officer.

I am often approached by British, European and American corporates who are either seeking to do business in the Middle East or, having done so already, have a problem. My role is to steer them in the right direction and to know the right questions to ask as well as recommend a structure suitable for their investment. This applies in multi-jurisdictional matters worldwide where I am often asked to ‘quarter-back’ transactions or provide multi-jurisdictional strategic advice, appointing and co-ordinating other overseas advisers.

In the best sense, I like to get under the skin of my clients. Never feel that you have to have a ‘transaction’ to discuss: just talk to the client or prospective client preferably in person on their home ground.  Successful clients are successful because they have taken the time to talk to people and to listen. This is very much a Mishcon trait too. As a firm we know our way around the Middle East and the wider international scene. Showing interest and an understanding of either their region or their affairs is well-received and generally contributes to the added value we can offer clients.