With healthy inbound and outbound investments, a robust economy and a business-minded climate, Dubai is increasingly becoming home for American law firms.
A number of firms opened offices in the United Arab Emirates business hub this year, while others beefed up their attorney ranks to meet growing client demand in the region.
Atlanta's King & Spalding and Houston's Bracewell & Giuliani opened doors in Dubai in January, and New York's Chadbourne & Parke secured its Dubai address in May. Reed Smith, which had an office in the nearby United Arab Emirates city Abu Dhabi as a result of its January merger with London's Richard Butler, also set up shop in Dubai this year.
Washington's Patton Boggs plans to open a project office in Dubai in November to assist a client with a real estate assignment that may last two years.
And firms such as Fulbright & Jaworski expanded in the Middle East by adding lawyers in the United Arab Emirates as well as bordering Saudi Arabia.
Dubai was not the only international city to feel the presence of U.S. law firms.
The number of lawyers in international offices has grown by more than 10 percent, from 13,728 in 2006 to 15,133 this year, according to the NLJ 250, The National Law Journal's annual survey of the nation's 250 biggest law firms.
Asia continued to attract U.S. firms and saw new offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, China, and other major hubs. And while no single European city dominated as far as new openings, U.S. firms continued to grow across the Atlantic, with new locations including London; Munich, Germany; and Brussels.
But Dubai is "the place at the moment in the Middle East," said David M. Stockwell, a partner who manages Bracewell & Giuliani's Dubai office.
The office has two to three lawyers but the attorney count will likely increase to five in coming months, said Stockwell, a Middle East resident for more than 40 years.
"[United Arab Emirates] is becoming a mini-London or mini-Switzerland, where money flows from much larger regions and also flows out to be invested in other places," Stockwell said.
Jack Greenwald, managing partner of Chadbourne & Parke's Dubai office, said he has seen growth in corporate contracts, dispute resolution, real estate, project finance, cross-border work and mergers and acquisitions.
"The change has been phenomenal," said Greenwald, who has been practicing in Dubai since 1986. "The market on the one hand is more competitive, but, on the other hand, the market is growing so much that we really need more lawyers ... More and more firms are becoming full-service firms here in Dubai."
Lawyers said that Dubai's business-oriented culture, wealth and safety, as well as its international vibe, make it an increasingly appealing place for legal work.
"It's an environment conducive to doing business, and that's what a law firm needs to be successful," said Michael Pollack, a partner in the New York office of Reed Smith who is the firm's director of strategic planning.
The firm has about 30 lawyers in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and eight attorneys in Dubai, he said.
There is work in both directions, Pollack said, as clients are undertaking projects in the Middle East while those who are based there are investing in other regions.
King & Spalding opened offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in January and most recently in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital. The firm is focusing on Islamic finance, energy, real estate, private equity and international arbitration and disputes, said Robert Hays, the firm's chairman.
"You have to have world-class expertise in practice areas that matter in that region," Hays said. "The people there are very sophisticated purchasers of legal services."
The Dubai office has doubled in staff since opening 10 months ago, to about five partners and seven associates, Hays said. The firm has been handling matters in the region for about 20 years and decided to open the office due to growing client demand, he said.
Fulbright & Jaworski is up to 10 lawyers in Dubai and is looking for larger space to meet recent growth, said Mark Bisch, a partner in the Dubai office. Having a presence in Dubai is crucial as it helps secure legal work in the city, as well as in nearby countries such as Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar, said John Vincent Lonsberg, a partner in the firm's Riyadh office.
"It's clearly a market that if you're active in the Middle East you need to be in," he said.
An August report by Hildebrandt International said foreign firms first expressed interest in the Gulf region in the 1970s and 1980s, and that a second wave into the legal market has occurred during the last two to three years.