DLA Piper eyes Saudi for growth

The law firm DLA Piper is opening a new office in Turkey and going ahead with growth plans in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, after laying off staff in Dubai.

The law firm DLA Piper is opening a new office in Turkey and going ahead with growth plans in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, after laying off staff in Dubai. The global firm, one of the fastest growing legal practices in the Gulf in recent years, was forced to cut staff in Dubai after demand slowed from key clients in the property and finance sectors. "When you go through a shock, like everybody else you have to retrench at some point," said Lord Clement-Jones, the co-chairman of DLA Piper, during a visit to Dubai.

"We invested heavily and now we have consolidated and had to let some people go. But where the growth is, we haven't stopped the pace at all." The firm recently made a high-profile hiring in Saudi Arabia, recruiting Eyad Reda, a former general counsel at the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), which is the state body overseeing the development of the kingdom's multibillion-dollar economic cities.

In Turkey, DLA Piper joined with a local firm to open its first office in the country. Lord Clement-Jones declined to name the firm, saying details of the deal were still being finalised. The firm is still experiencing strong demand for its lobbying and government relations services, which have become more important as governments and regulators take larger roles in their economies. In the Middle East, Africa and Asia, home to a larger proportion of government-led economies and increasingly influential sovereign wealth funds, demand is rising for more localised lobbying. Google, the world's largest internet company, is in the process of hiring a regional lobbyist for the Middle East who will communicate the company's position on technology and internet issues with governments, regulators and the public. The company is looking for an experienced Arab political professional to fill the role, it said.

"It is about everything from engaging in policy discussions with think tanks and industry groups to having a presence in debates taking place around the region," said Joanne Kubba, the regional manager for communications and public affairs at Google. "It's always good to have someone on the ground working on this type of thing." While the practice of lobbying politicians is a regulated industry in a number of countries, the informal and opaque political systems of the region require a different approach, Lord Clement-Jones said.

"Conventional lobbying doesn't really take place in most emerging markets," he said. "Here, you just have to make sure that people are meeting the right people, delivering the right messages. A lot of it isn't even lobbying, it is getting the right information to the right places." In the past, the firm has lobbied US politicians on behalf of Middle East governments, representing Turkish interests in a heated debate over recognition of the Armenian genocide, and working on behalf of the UAE in the lead-up to a vote on a nuclear power accord.

"There's this idea that lobbying is all about taking people to play golf," said Lord Clement-Jones, who was made a lifelong member of the UK's House of Lords in 1998. "It looks as though we have such an easy life. "But a lot of it is about advocacy; it's just showing what you are all about and what you can deliver. Call that lobbying if you like, but I call it good government relations, good communications."