With one-fifth of the world’s oil reserves under Saudi Arabia’s desert sands, it might seem unnecessary to ask what exactly attracts international law firms to the kingdom — a bit like asking Donald Trump’s third wife just what it was that she saw in the billionaire property magnate. But compared to the neighboring emirate of Dubai, which has seen an influx of U.S. and U.K. firms, Riyadh has proved far tougher for foreign lawyers to crack, despite the Saudi government’s avowed commitment to privatization and foreign investment. So by Saudi Arabian standards, Norton Rose’s recent arrival — in conjunction with White & Case’s decision to beef up its Riyadh outpost and Allen & Overy’s launch of a Saudi office in May — constitutes something of a foreign invasion.

In November, Norton Rose, the U.K. firm with revenue of around $430 million, announced that it was forming an association with The Abdulaziz Al-Assaf Law Firm, a 12-lawyer, Riyadh-based firm that until the second half of this year had been an ally of Squire Sanders. (The U.S. firm describes the split as amicable, and Squire’s European practice head Mark Cusick promises a new Saudi association for Squire Sanders in the new year. “It will be bigger and better suited to what we need,” he says.) Norton Rose also said that recent recruit Kaamil Ansar, a senior U.S.�qualified project finance and corporate lawyer who joined the firm from Ansar Abbasi in London, would be the firm’s man on the ground in Riyadh.

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