IN A REGION dominated by the larger international firms, Sydney firm Colin Biggers & Paisley (CBP) has got its foot in the Dubai door, with partner Alex Ostermayer now based permanently in Dubai.
Ostermayer is working out the office of the firm’s joint venture partner, local Dubai firm Lutfi & Co, which established itself in the region in 1982.
CBP’s managing partner, Dunstan de Souza, explained that the firm has had an association with Lutfi for 12 years, but they’ve now decided to elevate this relationship by having Ostermayer on the ground in Dubai full-time. Another of the firm’s partners, Greg Skehan, also visits the office regularly.
According to de Souza, one of CBP’s main areas of work in Dubai is assisting foreign businesses to set up shop in the region.
“We’ve helped a number of businesses set up there — from architectural practices, to recruitment companies to construction companies, to insurance companies. It’s not that difficult for businesses to set up, it’s just that you have to know what you’re doing. It’s an enormous market — there’s tremendous opportunity, and if you have access to local knowledge and local contracts, the process [of setting up] can be made a lot smoother,” he said.
The firm’s other main areas of practice are property and construction, and more recently, insurance, and according to de Souza there’s no shortage of activity. “As you know, Dubai is booming in terms of construction. They’re almost all big deals. Where there might be five skyscrapers, if that, going up in Sydney, there’d be 100 going up in Dubai,” he said.
However in terms of it’s market for legal services, he believes Dubai has become tough for Australian firms to crack.
“It’s a saturated market in one sense because all the UK firms are very much set up there in a big way. I think is would be very difficult for most foreign firms to set up in Dubai now. It’s a difficult market with high salaries and not very high charge-out rates.”
He added that licensing and visa requirements can act as additional impediments. “It’s like any country — they have their own rules and we just have to follow them. You can’t just put your shingle up and say ‘we’re here and use us’. That’s just not how it works,” he said.
In de Souza’s view, the firm’s long-standing association with Lutfi has given it a considerable advantage over other firms in terms of navigating these impediments.
“We’re very lucky because we’ve got the relationship with a local firm. Because of a particular set of circumstances we have the ability to make a business there that works for us, and more importantly, works for the clients who use us,” he said.
“We do a lot of work through the local office, but we can do a lot of work is done out of Sydney as well. The time difference works really well for us. If we receive instructions today, we can do it pretty much straight away, and get it turned around overnight and back to Dubai.”
According to de Souza, the firm has received very positive feedback from clients. “It’s because of the local knowledge and local contacts mixed with the Australian way of doing business. The Australian way of making sure the job gets done and being outcomes focused,” he said. “There are culturally different ways of doing things around the world and I think, particularly for Australian businesses in the Middle East, it’s very useful having an Australian do their work, yet still having access those local contacts and that local knowledge”.
As for the firm’s future in Dubai, he certainly sees potential for growth. “The clients will certainly determine that, but the expectation is that will grow. The expectation is that it will be an important part of our business in the future,” he said.