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World’s biggest law firm sets up in Saudi Arabia

The King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh. Kirkland & Ellis are arriving in the kingdom just before it enacts the Civil Transactions Law Shutterstock
The King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh. Kirkland & Ellis are arriving in the kingdom just before it enacts the Civil Transactions Law
  • Kirkland & Ellis open regional HQ
  • New legislation to come into force
  • Kingdom offers ‘vast opportunities’

Law firm Kirkland & Ellis is to open its first Middle East office in Riyadh ahead of new legislation which aims to make it easier for businesses operating in the kingdom.

The office will serve as its regional headquarters.

Kirkland & Ellis is the world’s largest international law firm by revenue and completed nearly 800 merger and acquisition deals globally last year. 

Chairman Jon A Ballis said the new office will support international clients and a fast-growing roster of domestic Saudi clients as they “navigate the vast opportunities” in the country.

Saudi lawyers Noor Al-Fawzan and Manal Al-Musharaf have joined Kirkland as partners to launch the Riyadh base, alongside corporate partner Kamran Bajwa.

Al-Fawzan focuses on M&A, joint ventures and general corporate matters with a Saudi nexus while Al-Musharaf advises public and private issuers and investment banks on a range of capital markets transactions.

The move, which is part of the regional headquarters programme of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Investment, comes as the kingdom prepares to implement its new Civil Transactions Law.

This legislation, scheduled to come into force in December, aims to make it easier for businesses to operate.

Its 721 articles cover matters including contract formation, execution and termination as well as specific provisions tailored to contract types such as contracts of sale, leases, agency and construction. 

Experts have described the law as a “significant step forward” and a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s desire to attract investment and encourage more business activity as part of its wider Vision 2030 agenda.

The Civil Transactions Law is the latest piece of legislation in a wider package of reforms. A Personal Status Law and the Law of Evidence have already been announced, while a new Penal Code for Discretionary Sentences is also proposed.

Kirkland has been granted a foreign law licence by the Saudi Ministry of Justice and Ballis said many of its existing clients have already set up in the kingdom.

The company’s arrival in Saudi Arabia is the latest development in the country’s legal system, which saw significant changes in 2017.

These include the establishment of specialised commercial courts to handle business disputes and the creation of a new arbitration centre to help resolve disputes quickly and efficiently. 

The Saudi Cabinet approved the Civil Transactions Law in June.

“These reforms are expected to further improve the efficiency and predictability of the Saudi legal system,” Mark Raymont, a partner at Pinsent Masons in Dubai, said.

“The purpose of the new law is to make it easier for businesses to operate in Saudi Arabia, which in turn will help attract further foreign investment.”

Law firm Dentons said it will “go some way to remove uncertainty and speculation”. Shearman & Sterling described the new law as a “significant step forward in Saudi Arabia’s legal landscape”. 

The legislation will be retrospective and cover almost all previous contracts signed in Saudi Arabia with some exceptions.

Shearman & Sterling added that it will “promote increased certainty for businesses and provide a more stable operating environment”.