Blake Cassels and Graydon LLP will soon become the first Canadian law firm to set up offices in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In addition, it will open another outlet in Bahrain.
Heading up the Persian Gulf initiative will be Blakes’ newest partner Saud Al-Ammari and Calgary-based partner Dan Fournier.
Al-Ammari had previously served for 10 years as special counsel and later general attorney for Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company and the world's largest oil producer.
He says his decision to choose to partner with a Canadian firm was less about location and more about complimentary skills and vision.
“It is really more about the fit than the geography,” says Al-Ammari. “I’ve worked with North American and European firms and I’ve always been impressed with the quality of work that Canadian lawyers provide.
“So when I came to Canada I saw first-hand the expertise, the vision of Blakes, and started talking with them. And we found out our joint expertise, skills, and business contacts complement one another.”
Al-Ammari studied law in the United States and received his LLM from Harvard Law School. He is licensed to practise law in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and he is a member of the Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., bars.
Fournier has been with Blakes for 25 years and is the senior energy and finance partner in the firm’s Calgary office. In addition to his role as chairman of the Persian Gulf initiative, he will continue to be available to advise on financings both domestically and abroad.
Blakes will initially have five lawyers in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia and an additional three lawyers in Bahrain. Both offices will open in the fall. The range of services will initially focus on energy law, branching out into areas of infrastructure, and Islamic law financing.
“I don’t think we are going to be all things to all people,” says Fournier.
The genesis of the partnership between Blakes and Al-Ammari was through a mutual client and friend, says Fournier. After the initial meetings and discussions on what the Saudi-based lawyer was seeking to establish, the firm began the process of creating the offices. In all, the process took about 10 months.
“The current plan is to have Blakes lawyers on the ground in both offices,” says Fournier. “Both offices will also have a mixture of western-trained Saudi and Bahraini lawyers and also some local lawyers who will assist in advising us on local matters and Saudi matters that will require a local expertise.
“So it is going to be a bit of a mix, but clearly the Blakes influence and Saud [Al-Ammari]’s influence will be dominant in both offices.”
Al-Ammari says the foreign law office phenomenon in Saudi Arabia is not new, with affiliations and partnerships already being established with U.K. and U.S. law firms. He pointed to the vast potential for investments in Canada through financial vehicles including sovereign wealth funds, and the Saudi oilfields.
“These two areas have become increasingly important to our global economy,” he says. “These vast financial resources would allow stakeholders in the Gulf to make substantial investments abroad in North America, Canada included.”