Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I started practicing law in 1994 in Kuwait. I stumbled into Islamic finance by sheer coincidence while working on the financing of the Equate Project – the first ever Shariah compliant financing tranche in a project financing. Building on that experience, I joined King & Spalding’s New York office in 1999. The firm was looking to strengthen its Islamic Finance and Investment Practice Group and my Islamic finance experience in Kuwait qualified me for this position. I worked under the supervision of one of the best Islamic finance lawyers – the head of our Islamic Finance and Investment Practice Group, my mentor and now partner Isam Salah – for almost 4 years and then was asked by the firm to relocate to London to assist in the opening of the firm’s first international office. We opened our London office in January 2003 and I made partner in March 2005. Earlier this year, I was asked to relocate to our newly opened Dubai office to assist in the building of our Middle East offices.
What does your role involve?
My role involves advising Shariah compliant investment banks, funds and investors in connection with the acquisition and financing of various assets in Europe and the Middle East on a Shariah compliant basis.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
I’ve been blessed with clients that believe Islamic finance is possible in any jurisdiction. These clients have invested heavily in Europe. As a result, my team and I have worked on numerous first time transactions in several jurisdictions including England, Scotland, Sweden, The Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, The Czech Republic, Turkey, Russia and Luxembourg. I consider it an honor and an achievement to have played a role in expanding the industry into new jurisdictions. Every time we close a deal in a new jurisdiction the structure we use becomes the model that others use.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
We provide legal services to our clients. We deliver the best results when we understand the clients’ objectives in a particular transaction and work with their management directly to meet such objectives and close the transaction.
What are the strengths of your business?
The strength of our business, as a law firm and as a practice group, is having a competent and committed team. Our Islamic Finance and Investment Practice Group handles complex structured Shariah compliant finance deals. Without the commitment and hard work of the team of lawyers and paralegals working on the transaction, we would not be able to deliver the result the client expects of us and meet their increasingly tight deadlines.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
Again, the main asset of a law firm is its talented lawyers. In 1995, the firm took the step of establishing a separate Islamic Finance and Investment Practice Group, making us perhaps the first law firm to establish a practice group dedicated to this specialized field. Since then, we have been successful in developing the legal architecture needed by our clients to break new ground in Islamic finance and investment. In 2004, King & Spalding was recognized by Euromoney as “Best Legal Advisors in Islamic Finance,” the first such award presented by the magazine. We have nearly 20 lawyers in New York, London, Dubai, Riyadh and Atlanta who devote almost all their time to Shariah-compliant finance and investment transactions. Over 30 corporate, real estate, finance, energy and tax lawyers who are regularly involved in these transactions support this core. We have depth in this practice area — in 2006, more than 200 of our lawyers were involved in Middle East and Shariah compliant finance and investment transactions handled by our firm.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
Finding and hiring new qualified and competent lawyers that have experience in Shariah-compliant financings or at least have the basic understanding and/or are willing to learn. In order for our practice group to continue growing at the rate it has been growing over the past five years, we need to recruit more lawyers in all of our offices, namely: New York, Atlanta, London, Dubai and Riyadh.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry, maybe in the next five years?
Currently the Islamic finance industry is in its infancy and is growing rapidly. I expect Islamic finance and investment products to be main stream in five years and doubt if any investment bank (including conventional ones) can afford not to have Shariah compliant products.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
I would like to see the industry players resist trying to mimic conventional finance and financial products and instead focus on developing Shariah compliant financing and financial products that offer an alternative investment to investors. Basically, going back to the basic principle of high-risk high return.
With more than 800 lawyers and offices in Atlanta, Houston, Dubai, London, New York, Riyadh, and Washington D.C., King & Spalding provides the highest caliber legal counsel to clients from the United States and abroad. King & Spalding currently represents more than 250 public companies, including more than half of the Fortune 100. The firm also represents hundreds of clients with new ventures and mid-sized companies in emerging industries.