March 5, 2012 7:22 PM

Curtis Mallet Heads to Kuwait, Baker McKenzie Eyes India

Posted by Brian Baxter

A busy year so far for office openings by Am Law 200 firms got a bit busier Monday, as Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen Loewy and Quarles Brady readied themselves for new domestic launches, two other firms confirmed potential moves into emerging markets, and Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt Mosle said it will open an office in Kuwait.

Announced Monday, Curtis Mallet’s move into Kuwait coincides with the firm’s hiring of former SNR Denton partner David Pfeiffer, who has more than 16 years experience in the oil-rich country and is tasked with getting his new firm’s operations there up and running.

Pfeiffer joined SNR Denton legacy firm Denton Wilde Sapte in 2008 from Bryan Cave—where he served as managing partner of the firm’s Kuwait office—two years ahead of the 2010 merger that saw London-based Denton Wilde join forces with between Sonnenschein Nath Rosenthal. Pfeiffer left SNR Denton last fall as the firm overhauled its Middle East management and strategy.

Mashora Advocates Legal Consultants, a premier 25-lawyer Kuwaiti law firm previously affiliated with Bryan Cave, will now be associated with Curtis Mallet. The head of Mashora, Abdulrahman Al Humaidan, served as president of the Kuwait Lawyers Association from 1998 to 2006 and chaired the Kuwait Municipal Council from 2006 to 2009.

Curtis Mallet is known for its oil and gas expertise, most recently advising longtime client the Republic of Kazakhstan on a $1 billion deal for a stake in an international oil consortium. The firm, which also has Middle Eastern offices in Dubai and Oman, was the subject of a 2008 feature story in The American Lawyer about its resource-rich clients in far-flung corners of the globe.

In other news about Am Law 200 firms and their international outposts, global giant Baker McKenzie said it wants to establish an office in India if the country relaxes its restrictive rules on the local operations of foreign firms, according to Indian business newspaper The Economic Times.

Members of the firm’s India practice group have been advising top Indian companies on their global operations and investments for more than 50 years, Baker McKenzie global chairman Eduardo Leite told The Economic Times. São Paulo-based Leite, who took over Baker McKenzie’s top job almost two years ago, told the paper that regulatory hurdles barring foreign firms from opening offices or practicing law in India were preventing his firm from doing more for Indian companies.

Last month an Indian high court in Chennai ruled that foreign firms were able to advise Indian clients on international law and take part in international arbitration in the country, with the caveat that they leave immediately after doing so, according to sibling publication The Asian Lawyer.

Leite told The Economic Times that if India’s barriers to foreign firms continued to dwindle, Baker McKenzie would like to “reach an association with a local firm” in order to eventually establish a presence in the country. (Baker McKenzie has 70 offices worldwide, having recently opened in Istanbul. The firm is reportedly close to closing its San Diego location.)

While India’s legal market remains closed to foreign firms, South Korea’s is becoming more hospitable. The Am Law Daily reported last month that March 15 is the date when a free trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea takes effect, smoothing the way for U.S.-based firms to enter the country. (Magic Circle firm Clifford Chance became the first U.K. firm to submit an application to open in the country last month following the passage of a similar free trade agreement between the European Union and South Korea, according to The Asian Lawyer.)

As we have previously reported, several Am Law 100 firms, including Cleary Gottlieb Steen Hamilton, McDermott Will Emery, Paul Hastings, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter Hampton, and Simpson Thacher Bartlett have already announced plans to open in South Korea, as Asia becomes an increasingly popular destination for foreign firms.

Ropes Gray reiterated to The Wall Street Journal Monday its plans to open an office in Seoul to service such clients as Daewoo, Hyundai Motors, LG, and Samsung. William Kim, a corporate partner in the firm’s New York office and the chair of its Korea practice, will head up the firm’s prospective Seoul office.

Closer to home, Quarles Brady announced Monday that it had hired DLA Piper franchise litigation partners John Dienelt and Scott McIntosh to open an office in Washington, D.C. Quarles, a Milwaukee-based Am Law 200 firm, says it has added six attorneys to its 20-lawyer franchise and distribution industry team over the past two years.

And last week, Fragomen Del Rey that it would open an Atlanta office later this month. The New York–based Am Law 200 corporate immigration firm hired immigration partners Daryl Buffenstein and Bo Cooper from the Atlanta and Washington, D.C., offices of Berry, Appleman Leiden. Joining Buffenstein in Fragomen’s new Atlanta office are Berry Appleman partners Deborah Marlowe and Kyle Sherman.

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