However volatile the Iraq may be, law firms with strong international, government contracts, and energy practices are patiently positioning themselves for eventual work in the war-torn but resource-rich nation.

With billions of dollars of reconstruction work to be done and the world’s second-largest oil reserves underground, Iraq beckons as a tantalizing — and treacherous — new market for businesses and their law firms.

Last week’s attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad underscores how volatile the country remains. Still, law firms with strong international, government contracts, and energy practices are patiently positioning themselves for eventual work in the war-torn but resource-rich nation.

Firms with strong energy practices, such as Haynes and Boone and Dorsey & Whitney, are vying for potential Iraq oil and gas work, while many others are eager to assist clients with reconstruction contracts awarded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the State Department.

Although lawyers recognize that it will be some time before substantial private investment — and lucrative work for law firms — materializes, they remain enthusiastic about the long-term prospects in Iraq.

Kenneth Reisenfeld, the practice co-chair and a D.C. partner in the Houston-based energy firm, says Haynes and Boone is fielding many inquiries about Iraq from its oil and gas clients.

Firm lawyers have spent much time learning about the possibilities for oil and gas work in Iraq to answer clients’ questions, Reisenfeld says, but to date, they haven’t been able to take much action.

If the country becomes more stable and hospitable to foreign investment, however, there is money to be made in its rebuilding. The Council on Foreign Relations estimates that it could cost between $100 billion and $500 billion over the next five to 10 years to rebuild Iraq and provide humanitarian relief to its people. The United States alone has appropriated 2.5 billion federal dollars in fiscal year 2003 for Iraq reconstruction.

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