Bridging the Gulf

The Bar Council trips to the Gulf help open up doors that are not available to individual practitioners or chambers, writes Peter Lodder QC.

It has never been more important to find and develop new markets for the Bar. The Business Development Mission to Oman, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar – which took place between 3 and 9 December 2010 – came less than a month after the Government published its Green Paper, Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales. We did not need this incentive, but it added to the significance that those who came from practice areas more readily associated with international work, were joined on this trip by criminal practitioners.

The visit was planned by the Bar Council to assist the participants to discover new opportunities, and was sponsored in part by the UK Trade and Industry Department (“UKTI”), who made some grants available.

The purpose of the trip

In each of the States which we visited, the Bar Council Officers visited Government Departments, central banks, universities and local individuals known to be sympathetic to the English Bar. These visits are an important part of the process for opening doors which might otherwise be closed to individual chambers or practitioners. A number of networking receptions were co-hosted with UK ambassadors, who invited a large number of influential potential clients to our events. We presented seminars which covered the latest developments in arbitration, wealth management and regulation. I lectured on the ramifications of the Bribery Act 2010: a topic which attracted considerable interest. Following each seminar we hosted receptions, and in one case a dinner, at which our guests (local lawyers, businessmen, bankers and Government officials) were able to discuss the seminars and we were able to investigate the possibilities for future work.

A stepping stone

These are not situations where briefs are instantly forthcoming. Relationships have to be nurtured. There was great interest in how often the Bar Council had visited before (this was the third visit to the region generally) and when the next visit would take place (hoped to be in April/May 2011). It is clear that the interest is increasing and it is significant that we were asked by the various Ministries of Justice about providing training for local judges and lawyers. This is recognised to be a useful stepping stone to commercial contact. Just as these Ministries are controlled by the ruling families, so are many of the major companies. Respect for the high standards of English barristers coupled with such an endorsement by the Government tends to lead in the right direction.

A successful visit

Our group was led by the 2010 Bar Chairman, Nick Green QC, and myself. It included a wide range of practice areas and practitioners; there were quite a few junior members of the Bar. This proved to be a great asset as we were able to give a comprehensive view of the Bar and its services. Testament to this success was the number of e-mails received before we had even returned to the UK.

Since our return we have sent replies with a focus on the people and practice areas which look most promising to follow up. We will build on these contacts for the International Bar Association meeting in Dubai in November 2011.

Nothing is guaranteed in any marketing exercise. But this was a well organised initiative, which enjoyed wide approval amongst our guests and gave every appearance of being successful. All who participated felt it was time and money well spent and plans are in train for the next visit. Will you be joining them?

Peter Lodder QC is Bar Chairman.
Shysta Habib, barrister, Kenworthy’s Chambers.

 

Off the starting block

How do you drum up work in the Middle East? Shysta Habib on what she gained from the trip.

I saw the Business Development Mission to the Gulf as a chance to learn how to start and develop an international practice by sharing expertise with those practitioners who had already entered that market.

Background

I was Called in 2002 and although my practice is largely in civil litigation, I want to expand into international work – in particular commercial immigration and Islamic finance. Unfortunately I did not know where to start. In 2009 I travelled to Saudi Arabia for a pilgrimage and also to Pakistan, where I have family and where I met members of the local judiciary. The Business Development Mission to the Gulf was therefore very opportune.

The role of UKTI

The trip was sponsored in part by UKTI whose office in Manchester (where I practise) helped me financially to some extent. They can also arrange meetings with potential local clients through their Overseas Market Introduction Service, although they do charge for that, at a rate which varies according to the amount of time taken to research and arrange suitable meetings.

Advantages of the trip

As it happened, I already had contacts in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and I was able to arrange meetings for myself with local lawyers and businesses, as well as attending the Bar Council events. There is a strong British presence in the Gulf, and amongst the guests at the various receptions were local managing directors and heads of business of British banks and accountancy firms, and English solicitors. It was quickly clear from my discussions with the bankers that there was a real market for barristers who specialise in Islamic finance and Sharia Law. I was invited to consider carrying out a placement in the Islamic finance department at one of the leading banks in Qatar. In this I had the advantage that I speak Arabic. Back in England, I am now investigating doing an MSc in Islamic finance, which is offered at universities here. The other delegates who specialise in Islamic law were encouraging. A particular advantage was advice on how to establish a team of barristers to specialise in Islamic finance. In November 2011 there will be an International Bar Association Conference in Dubai. The Bar Council may be able to assist me to attend and to speak. Throughout, Nick Green QC, Peter Lodder QC and other senior practitioners were extremely supportive and approachable. One of the other benefits of the trip was the contacts I have made with those who are so much more senior and to whom I now feel able to speak to for guidance and assistance.

Young Bar participation

I now understand how important it is for junior barristers to participate in these Bar Council visits; the young Bar should not hold back as it is important that junior barristers take part as well. Internationally there are huge opportunities. Islamic finance is just one area. There are also opportunities in arbitration and mediation work in construction, general commercial work, shipping, IT and energy. As Nick Green QC recently said, “To some the idea of travelling to China to drum up work might seem remote but in reality it is not.” As I found out, that applies just as well to the Middle East and to any other international market.

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