news is delighted to reveal the highly anticipated results of our fifth IFN Law Poll — in which we see some of the best known firms build on past success while some surprise entrants also emerge with newer players forging their own reputations in the industry. Read on to learn this year’s results and discover who the industry believes are at the top of their game in 2013…
A winning formula
Despite some stiff competition, this year was indisputably dominated by Allen & Overy, who achieved success in four out of the 16 categories including Best Overall Law Firm, Best Law Firm in Banking & Capital Markets, Best Law Firm for Insolvency & Restructuring and Best Law Firm for Mergers & Acquisitions. In addition, the firm also came runners up in a further four sectors including Asset & Fund Management Law, Corporate & Commercial Law, Private Equity and Takaful & re-Takaful. Its breadth of success demonstrates both the firm’s far-reaching and comprehensive expertise and its reputation for innovation and cross-border integration, culminating in its achievement of the top accolade in 2013 for the third year running.
The firm has recently advised on a number of ground-breaking transactions including the Global Investment House restructuring, the International Islamic Liquidity Management Corporation (IILM) short-term Sukuk program, the Sadara project Sukuk in Saudi Arabia, the Dubai Islamic Bank Tier 1 Sukuk and a novel Islamic Sukuk structure for Emirates Airlines involving rights to travel.
Anzal Mohammed (caricature right), a partner at Allen & Overy and the head of both the firm’s international capital markets practice in the Middle East and the global Islamic finance practice, joined the firm as a trainee in London in 1997 and has worked in Dubai since 2006 developing the firm’s international capital markets practice in the Middle East. He points out the breadth of the firm’s global practice, which spans the Middle East, London, Hong Kong and Singapore and covers practice areas including capital markets, project finance, banking, structured finance, funds and taxation. “Looking forward, we are working with a number of sovereigns at present on their debut Islamic transactions, more restructurings and project financings, Shariah compliant corporate hybrid deals and working with debut issuers in Europe and Asia,” he told Islamic Finance news.
Another firm which saw considerable success this year was Norton Rose Fulbright, which operates an extensive global Islamic finance practice advising on transactions across Europe, the US, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Voted by its peers as Best Law Firm for Corporate & Commercial Law, Best Cross-Border Law Firm and Best Law Firm for Takaful & re-Takaful, as well as runner-up in the Tax category, Norton Rose Fulbright this year flexed their global muscle and demonstrated unrivalled proficiency in corporate and tax matters. The firm was a new entry in all of these categories, and has made impressive progress this year in developing its international Islamic practice.
Mohammed Paracha (caricature far right), the head of the firm’s Islamic finance practice in the Middle East, has been with the firm since 1999 and specializes in Islamic financial and banking transactions within a broad range of asset classes and industry sectors. Known internationally through his work on the Bank of England’s Committee on Islamic Finance, he has led some of Norton Rose Fulbright’s most high profile recent deals, including advising TAV Havalimanlari Holding, Saudi Oger and Al Rajhi Holdings (the TIBAH Consortium) on the financing and construction of the US$1.2 billion expansion of Madinah Airport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. “This was the first full PPP (Public Private Partnership) project in Saudi Arabia and one of the largest infrastructure projects in the Middle East in 2012,” he commented.
Asset management excellence
SJ Berwin, another new winner for 2013, took the award for Best Law Firm for Asset & Fund Management. The firm has deep roots in private equity and asset management, and has advised clients throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia on a range of Islamic finance, private equity and real estate transactions. Its Middle East office has established itself as a key international player over the past few years, and its Islamic investment funds team has developed into a market leader for investment fund products.
With a specialist team led from Dubai, the firm has an impressive list of clients in the Islamic finance industry including the MENA Infrastructure Fund, Instrata Capital, TVM Capital, Evans Randall, Qatar First Investment Bank (Qatar First Bank), and CIFG Makeen. Bilkis Ismael, an international tax expert and Islamic finance specialist, specializes in the structuring and formation of funds and investment schemes for institutional and private investors. A proficient tax lawyer and a member of the Legal Task Force of the MENA Private Equity Association, with experience as a barrister at HMRC in the UK and as a tax consultant with KPMG before moving to SJ Berwin, Bilkis also provides an inspirational example for women seeking to enter the Islamic legal industry.
Force of nature
Vinson & Elkins, one of the best-known firms in the industry, this year took the award for Best Law Firm for Energy & Natural Resources as well as coming second for Structured Finance. The firm has a commitment to the energy industry spanning almost a century, with a regional Middle East practice that covers oil and gas, LNG, petrochemical, power, renewable and alternative energy, climate change, water, minerals and mining.
Islamic Finance news recognizes Vinson & Elkins’ outstanding achievements in the influential and rapidly-growing natural resources sector, and applauds its achievements in developing and encouraging Islamic structures within the energy industry.
The firm has also embarked upon a process of expansion over the past few years, poaching a number of key staff from rival law firms including Norton Rose Fulbright, Allen & Overy and Herbert Smith as it ramps up its project finance and infrastructure practice in the Middle East, and we look forward to exciting things from them in the coming year as it develops a new team and continues to push the boundaries of innovation.
Ayman Khaleq (caricature top left), previously the managing director of Vinson & Elkins’ Middle East practice, is one of the best-known lawyers in the sector. Recently appointed by the IMF as an expert in debt capital markets and a regular contributor to Islamic Finance news, Ayman stands out as one of the most consistently valuable resources in the Islamic finance industry and has been one of the key contributors to Vinson & Elkins’ success.
With over 15 years of experience advising foreign investors in the Middle East as well as working with regional governments on privatization and deregulation matters, he is one of the leading global experts on Islamic structured finance and investment products as well as private equity, real estate and the innovation of Shariah compliant infrastructure for international clients.
news wishes Ayman all the best with his new role, and we look forward to Morgan, Lewis & Bockius’ contribution to the already thriving legal landscape of the Middle East.
The top award for Best Law Firm for Structured Finance went to Zaid Ibrahim & Co (ZICO), Malaysia’s largest law firm and one of the only non-GCC firms to make the list in 2013. With this year’s success following on from its 2012 win for Insolvency & Resructuring, ZICO has built an impressive regional reputation with participation in some of Asia’s most prominent private and public sector deals.
Madzlan Mohamad Hussain (caricature bottom right), a partner and the head of the Islamic financial services practice for the firm, is one of Malaysia’s most influential Islamic lawyers with engagements including advising the Malaysian government on its Islamic finance prudential framework; and advising financial institutions on the legal and regulatory compliance for their Islamic finance operations. Between 2004-10 he worked with the IFSB to develop the prudential framework for corporate governance practices for all segments of Islamic financial services, and was instrumental in spearheading the IFSB’s initiatives in addressing legal issues in Islamic finance. He is currently helping Islamic financial institutions and Takaful firms to comply with the new Malaysian Islamic Financial Services Act 2013, as well as advising a number of central banks on introducing Islamic banking law.
A global perspective
Maples and Calder was voted the Best Law Firm for Offshore Finance for the second year running, reflecting its expertise as the world’s leading offshore law firm. The first offshore law firm to open an office in the Middle East, Maples and Calder has developed a reputation for innovation and cross-border integration: including advising on the largest Sukuk to date, the first UK Sukuk issuance, the first Sukuk to be listed in the Cayman Islands and on the Dubai Stock Exchange, and the largest Shariah compliant private equity fund on record.
Tahir Jawed (caricature right), the managing partner of Maples and Calder, joined the firm in 2000 in the Cayman Islands and moved to Dubai in 2005 to establish the Dubai office. Recent notable transactions include the securitization of Salik receivables in Dubai and the YAAS Sukuk transaction in Kuwait, which won the Islamic Finance
news Sukuk deal of the year, 2012.
In a neck and neck race, King & Spalding nabbed the award for Best Private Equity Law Firm from Allen & Overy – stealing the crown from the 2012 winner Simmons & Simmons. King & Spalding are advisors to sponsors of private equity funds valued in excess of US$5 billion and domiciled in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, Jersey and other offshore jurisdictions for equity investments in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the US. The firm has a strong US presence, and has acted as acquisition and finance counsel on over 25 Shariah compliant private equity acquisitions, making it a global leader in the sector. With its size and strength of expertise enabling to cover multiple global markets, King & Spalding is an acknowledged trailblazer for international Islamic investment transactions.
The firm has been covering Islamic finance transactions since the early 1980s and in 1995 was the first law firm to establish a dedicated Islamic finance and investment practice. One of the largest players in the Islamic legal sector, the group has over 30 Islamic finance professionals covering transactions in the Middle East, Europe and the US. Jawad Ali (caricature bottom left), the managing partner of its Middle East offices and the deputy global head of its Islamic finance practice, has been with the firm for 14 years; starting in New York before moving to London and then Dubai. Focusing on Islamic real estate, private equity, M&A and investment fund transactions, he acts as an international counsel as well as working in dispute resolution. “I am currently working on three large real estate development matters, one in the US, one in the UK and one in Saudi Arabia,” he told Islamic Finance
news. “I am also working on two large telecom M&A matters, both in Asia, as well as a Turkish mining deal.”
Disputing the title
This year the title of Best Law Firm for Litigation and Dispute Resolution was snatched from King & Spalding by Al Tamimi & Co, a Dubai-based firm at the forefront of the Islamic dispute resolution and a driving force in regional banking litigation and enforcement.
The team is led by managing partner Husam Hourani, who has over 17 years’ experience in the field and is a member of both the NASDAQ Dubai Listing Committee and the DIFCA Legislative Committee. One of the most knowledgeable lawyers in the industry and with a wealth of local knowledge and experience, Husam combines exceptional understanding of both the Islamic and conventional fields in order to provide unique expertise to a wide range of clients across the industry.
In the rapidly growing area of infrastructure finance, Latham & Watkins have cemented its success in the sector by winning Best Law Firm for Project & Infrastructure Finance for the third year running. Craig Nethercott, a partner in the project finance group based in London and Dubai as well as the global head of Islamic finance, focuses on project finance and development in the energy and infrastructure sector and believes that this is a crucial area of growth for the Islamic industry.
“The Sukuk and bond market in the Middle East continues to grow and we have been very active on a range of Sukuk and bond issuances throughout the credit spectrum. We recently completed a significant polysilicon Islamic project financing in Saudi Arabia and we are excited about the prospects for Islamic financing in the renewables sector in the coming years,” he told Islamic Finance
news. “The telecoms sector in the region is also seeing significant investment in infrastructure and it is exciting to see the export credit agencies showing a willingness to participate in these transactions based upon Islamic structures.”
In another key area for Islamic financial law, this year Allen & Gledhill stole the award for Best Law Firm for Real & Estate & Property from 2012 winners Al Tamimi & Co, with Clifford Chance snapping at its heels in one of the most hotly contested categories. Yeo Wico, a partner with Allan & Gledhill in Singapore with over two decades of corporate experience, has led the Islamic finance practice on some of the biggest property Sukuk deals in the industry. Wico has been instrumental in developing innovative and influential structures that have changed the face of Islamic real estate transactions: including the first Sukuk issuance in Singapore, the first Sukuk program, the first statutory board issuance of Sukuk and the first Sukuk to cross SG$1 billion (US$790.5 million).
In March 2013 the firm also won the Islamic Finance
news Equity Deal of the Year and Real Estate Deal of the Year for its work on the Sabana REIT SG$80 million (US$63.2 million) 4.5% convertible Sukuk, one of the most innovative structures ever seen in the Shariah compliant space; which used a combination of Murabahah, Wakalah and Ijarah in a landmark transaction which was the first Sukuk ever convertible into units in a REIT, the first convertible Sukuk issuance in Singapore and the first Sukuk issued based on Jurong Town Corporation properties. The firm also recently advised CIMB Bank and Sabana on the establishment of a SG$500 million (US$395.2 million) multicurrency Islamic trust certificates program.
As Singapore gears itself up to move further into the Islamic finance space, Allan & Gledhill has positioned itself perfectly to take advantage of the state’s transformation and looks set to build on its past success to become an influential player in the wider global market.
Clifford Chance, on the other hand, is a firm which needs no introduction. With a practice covering Islamic capital markets, M&A, real estate, funds and Takaful, this year the group continued its 2012 success with the award for Best Law Firm for Tax.
One of the largest international law firms and with a long-established and highly respected Islamic practice headed by partner Qudeer Latif (caricature), Clifford Chance is not only one of the pillars of the Islamic finance legal industry but one of its greatest driving forces. Over the past two years the firm has launched a major push in its Islamic practice; expanding into new sectors and markets and opening offices in Doha, Casablanca and Istanbul. In March this year it received approval from the Saudi Ministry of Commerce and Industry to set up a mixed Saudi and foreign lawyer partnership, which is expected to launch in January 2014, making it the first international law firm to formally establish itself in Saudi Arabia.
Congratulations to all
news would like to extend its sincerest congratulations to all this year’s winners, and our thanks to all who took part in making this the most comprehensive, independent and unbiased survey in the industry.
This article was first published in the July issue of IFN Supplements.