The Intersection of Growth: Law Firms, International Expansion, and Sovereign Wealth Funds

Saudi Arabia’s evolving legal landscape is attracting a surge of international law firms as they capitalise on recent reforms and the growing presence of sovereign wealth funds, with prominent names in the legal sector seizing opportunities to establish a direct presence in the Kingdom. Similarly, the Bar Council of India, recently declared a groundbreaking decision to allow foreign legal firms to establish themselves in India. This blog explores the trend of law firms continuing to expand in the international legal arena. It will also observe the significant role played by sovereign wealth funds in fuelling growth in the legal market in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia & India Reforms

Reforms to the Saudi Code of Law Practice have opened doors for international law firms to establish their own offices in Saudi Arabia, eliminating the requirement for alliances with local firms to advise on Saudi law. Esteemed firms such as Latham & Watkins, Herbert Smith Freehills, and Clifford Chance are strategically leveraging these regulatory changes by establishing new structures, seizing the increasing demand in the Kingdom for high-quality international legal services. These firms now offer a comprehensive range of legal services to clients operating in the Kingdom, directly contributing to the growth of the Saudi legal market.

India has also garnered attention from major international law firms, including DLA Piper, Herbert Smith Freehills, and Baker McKenzie, which are considering establishing offices in India following recent rule changes that open up the country’s vast legal market to foreign access. In March, the Bar Council of India announced that foreign legal firms would be permitted to set up in India for the first time, allowing them to provide advice on international aspects of mergers and acquisitions, act as arbitrators, and more. While the new rules present significant opportunities, they do not grant foreign lawyers the ability to advise on local law or appear in Indian courts. This development has sparked both excitement and concerns within the legal community.

Sovereign Wealth Funds Drive Economic Growth and Investment & Balancing Expansion with Ethical Considerations

Saudi Arabia’s vision for economic diversification and development has been significantly bolstered by the active participation of sovereign wealth funds. Among them, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) has emerged as a key driver of investment and advancement. With strategic investments across various sectors, including technology, infrastructure, and entertainment, sovereign wealth funds have created a fertile ground for law firms to expand their operations. Recognising the potential, firms such as Latham & Watkins and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer have established specialised legal services to cater to the needs of sovereign wealth funds and their investment projects. Taylor Wessing has also developed its presence in the region and launched an intellectual property practice, after hiring a partner to its Dubai office. However, as law firms expand into Saudi Arabia, they face ethical considerations amidst the Kingdom’s human rights record and approach to social issues. Upholding liberal values and responsible business practices, firms like Hogan Lovells and Linklaters have implemented policies to ensure they engage with the right clients and mandates. Thorough due diligence is conducted to align with their ESG commitments, carefully navigating the ethical landscape while seizing the business opportunities presented by the Saudi Arabian market.

In summary, the legal landscape in Saudi Arabia and India is experiencing a surge of international law firms, capitalising on recent reforms and the influence of sovereign wealth funds. These firms are strategically expanding to cater to growing demands in both countries, while also addressing ethical considerations. As they navigate these dynamic markets, responsible business practices and a commitment to liberal values will be essential for a successful and sustainable presence.