Mr. Voge, who heads the finance practice, can recite when each of the firm’s investment banking clients opened offices in the Middle East. And he knows how many law firms have established outposts there too: 20 since 2005.
“This is the Silicon Valley, if you will, of the world,” Mr. Voge said. “It’s just beginning to take off, where clients have an increasing need for sophisticated legal advice on the ground.”
Latham & Watkins plans to open three offices in the Middle East by the end of the first quarter. A competitor, Dewey & LeBoeuf, said in January that it had opened an office in Dubai. And Clifford Chance, a London law firm that has been in Dubai since 1975, plans to open an office in Abu Dhabi in late April.
The rush to the cash-rich Persian Gulf is easy to explain: Law firms are following the money.
“Where there are investment banks, you will find lawyers,” said Graham Lovett, Clifford Chance’s managing partner for the gulf. “I am pretty certain that some firms arrived here and don’t know why they were not here already.”
Consider Latham & Watkins. The Qatar Investment Authority, one of its clients, has been asking the firm to open a local branch for five years.
Latham is coming off a banner year. It took in more than $2 billion in gross revenue in 2007, a first for a United States law firm, driven by its international focus.
About 20 percent of Latham’s business comes from its finance practice, and Latham interviewed 14 financial institution clients, among them Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse, before making the plunge in the Middle East.
“They all view the gulf region as becoming an increasing player in the global economy,” Mr. Voge said.
Some of Wall Street’s top law firms, however, have not yet joined the race to the gulf. Davis Polk & Wardwell, for example, has no plans to open a Middle East office.
“Of our peer group of American firms, there has not been a rush, and I’m not sure there is going to be one,” said Thomas J. Reid, a partner with Davis Polk’s London office. India is Davis Polk’s top international priority right now.
Shearman & Sterling, by contrast, has maintained an office in Abu Dhabi since 1975, mainly driven by its project finance practice. But capital markets are becoming increasingly important.