Saudi Arabia lures big law firms to a lucrative new legal market

In a significant development for the global legal landscape, two major US law firms, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and Morgan Lewis, are set to open offices in Saudi Arabia. This move comes in the wake of changes in the country’s regulations governing the practice of foreign lawyers.

Quinn Emanuel announced on Thursday that it had secured a license to operate in the country. On the same day, Morgan Lewis confirmed through a spokesperson that it was preparing to open an office in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia has been a key focus for Quinn Emanuel, which boasts a team of 1,000 lawyers. The firm’s founder, John Quinn, stated that the country’s efforts to diversify its economy and encourage international investment have made it an attractive destination for legal services.

Both Quinn Emanuel and Morgan Lewis, which lists more than 2,000 lawyers and other employees on its website, already have offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Since October 1, at least six other US and international law firms, including Kirkland & Ellis; Squire Patton Boggs; and Greenberg Traurig, have announced their expansion into Saudi Arabia or have been granted a license to work in the country.

Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy, has been implementing its Vision 2030 reform plan for several years. This ambitious package of economic and social policies aims to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil exports. It includes plans to double the size and population of Riyadh, its capital city, through investments totaling $800 billion.

Last year, Saudi Arabia began allowing foreign law firms to operate in the country independently, removing a requirement that they work through affiliated Saudi law offices. This change has opened up new opportunities for international law firms to establish a direct presence in the country.

Quinn Emanuel has had a presence in Saudi Arabia through its affiliation with Alrubayyi & Attorneys since 2022. The head of that office, Nasser Alrubayyi, also serves as the co-chair of Quinn Emanuel’s Middle East and North Africa practice.

These developments signal a significant shift in the global legal landscape and highlight the growing importance of Saudi Arabia as a hub for international legal services. They also underscore the potential opportunities for law firms willing to navigate the changing regulatory environment in the country.