A Celebration of Top Legal Talent in the Middle East

On Thursday, March 7 the 2024 Chambers Middle East Awards was held in the Ballroom of the Conrad Hotel in Dubai. Read more about the event and it's winners.

Published on 10 May 2024
Written by Ollie Dimsdale
Ollie Dimsdale

The biggest and most successful event yet

This is an annual celebration of the leading legal talent in the region, and the event is by now well established in law firms’ calendars. The Conrad Hotel is the venue where we have hosted all three of our physical awards events to date – the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath necessitating that we move the event online for 2021 and 2022 – and I want to express my thanks to the hotel and event staff for running such a smooth and successful event.  

On the night, the Chambers team was joined by more than 300 attendees, making the 2024 event the biggest and most successful yet. A particular highlight was the standing ovation which followed Nayla Comair-Obeid’s acceptance speech for her Lifetime Achievement award. To see such respect and admiration written on the faces of every individual in the room was genuinely moving, not to mention an immense validation for our decision to confer this most auspicious award. 

Ibrahim Mubaydeen, managing partner of Allen & Overy’s office in Abu Dhabi, was the second recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award at the 2024 ceremony. Unfortunately, Mubaydeen was unable to attend the event in person, but I feel sure his presence on stage would have elicited an equally impressive response from the audience in the room.  

It was humbling to be welcomed so warmly back to Dubai, and to be joined on the awards night itself by so many talented individuals. Each attendee represented the cream of the legal profession in their respective countries and practice areas. Research manager Laurence Mussett and I were pleased to be able to speak to many of those nominated for awards, and to hear their passion and enthusiasm for their profession first-hand. We eagerly look forward to the next event in 2025. 

Chambers Middle East Awards: Other Notable Winners

The Awards ceremony saw Laurence and I hand out over 40 awards to prominent law firms and individuals in the legal sector. As I stated on the night in my opening address, choosing the winners was a difficult task, and narrowing things down even as far as the shortlists was almost equally challenging. It should certainly be noted that there was – and is – an extensive number of incredibly accomplished practices active across the Middle East which were not represented at this year’s ceremony. It is entirely possible that next year’s shortlists will have an entirely different configuration of law firms.  

In addition to the announcement of the Lifetime Achievement awards, other highlights from the evening included Trowers & Hamlins’ win in the category of Bahrain Corporate & Finance Law Firm of the Year: International. This is an award that Trowers has won every year since the establishment of the Chambers Middle East Awards in 2019. Partner Brian Howard and consultant Dominic O’Neil accepted the award on behalf of the firm. 

Another notable repeat winner was Confluent Law Group, which has been a consistent winner of the award for Iraq Law Firm of the Year since the awards’ inception. Confluent is particularly well known for its handling of oil and gas work, including project development matters, and works regularly with many of the world’s leading law firms in the capacity of local counsel. 

The 2024 event also saw several awards being handed out for the very first time. One of these was the Yemen Law Firm of the Year award, which went to leading Yemeni law firm Alaghbari & Partners, which in Chambers Global 2024 celebrates its tenth year in Chambers’ Yemen rankings

Other first-time awards included UAE Restructuring & Insolvency Law Firm of the Year and UAE Investment Funds Law Firm of the Year. These awards went to DLA Piper and Morgan Lewis respectively, setting a high bar for future winners to live up to. In Chambers Global 2024, Morgan Lewis achieved the impressive feat of doubling its number of ranked lawyers for Middle East-Wide Investment Funds, with very high praise from its client referees. DLA Piper, meanwhile, is one of two law firms to achieve top-band recognition in the inaugural ranking table for UAE Restructuring & Insolvency (the other being Clifford Chance). DLA is noteworthy for its substantial team of lawyers in this practice area and its many years of experience handling some of the most significant insolvency matters in the Middle East. 

State of the Market: the Middle East, the UAE and Saudi Arabia

As has been the case on our previous trips to Dubai, Laurence and I took the opportunity during our visit to meet with as many law firms as possible. Dubai itself remains as popular a destination as ever, playing host to numerous other conferences and conventions in the run-up to Ramadan. Laurence and I held meetings with a variety of organisations, ranging from global full-service powerhouses to elite specialist law firms focusing on areas as diverse as intellectual property, oil and gas, and domestic Emirati court litigation.   

It has been a consistent theme in our most recent Chambers research that the major Middle Eastern economies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been largely protected from issues such as the cost of living crisis which have impacted other parts of the world. This has, in turn, resulted in a booming market for M&A transactions at a time when global deal revenue is at a low. Simultaneously, both Saudi and the UAE have continued to press ahead with comprehensive programmes of legislative and regulatory reform, supporting a diversification of their economies, investment in renewable energy and bringing their respective regulatory regimes into line with international best practices.  

The lawyers we met with were upbeat about the shape of the market and what lies ahead. Saudi Arabia came up in almost all our conversations, with lawyers highlighting the immense levels of investment currently transforming the country, in line with the government’s Vision 2030 initiative. It is clear from these conversations, and the numerous items of correspondence I have received since my return, that Saudi is going to remain a key topic of conversation going forward, and it is interesting to consider what impact this might have on Chambers’ future rankings.  

A few interesting themes emerged from our conversations with law firms during our time in Dubai. Some of these are summarised below. 

Oil & Gas and Renewable Energy

As reported by Al Jazeera, oil prices have remained stable over recent months, despite increased tensions stemming from the Israel-Hamas conflict. This, among other factors, has provided Middle Eastern economies such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia with the strong flow of liquidity that has enabled it to withstand the global M&A downturn.  

The sources we spoke to were quick to point out that Middle Eastern governments remain committed to oil and gas, providing a rich source of work for lawyers who specialise in this field. However, sources also told us that there is a willingness and enthusiasm among the sector’s key players to invest and plan for the day when the Middle East fully transitions to renewable energy sources. Put simply, energy transition is not a taboo subject – and as one source reminded us, the investments made by Middle Eastern O&G heavyweights into renewable energy are actually greater than the GDP of many entire countries.  

To illustrate the point, a brief summary of some of the region’s most notable solar projects can be found on the webpage for the World Future Energy Summit, here

As time goes on we will doubtless see more and more developments and breakthroughs in the field of renewable energy, which we look forward to reflecting in the Chambers rankings for Middle East-Wide Projects & Energy.

Artificial Intelligence

More than one person we spoke to back in March raised the question of artificial intelligence – specifically, whether Chambers uses any AI tools in the analysis of submissions or the writing of editorial. (The answer to both these questions, incidentally, is a firm ‘no.’) However, the fact that this was independently brought up by multiple sources underscores that AI is certainly front of mind in the global legal sector at the current time. There is an increasingly rich body of work relating to this topic elsewhere on the Chambers website. Of particular note is this recent article written by Daniel Thacker, and this complementary one by Tanya Leila Shaar. Chambers Global has also responded to the ongoing debate surrounding AI by producing its first ranking table specifically devoted to the subject. That is available here

We have no current plans to launch a dedicated AI ranking table within our Middle East coverage. However, advice on AI-related issues is becoming a much greater feature of the work we see on submissions for UAE TMT, in addition to more ‘traditional’ matters within this field, such as assisting with technology licensing agreements and advising tech companies on M&A deals.  

The Move Towards Specialisation

One other theme that emerged during our conversations was the increasing prevalence of specialist, boutique law firms in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the wider region. These range from practices focusing on oil and gas matters, as alluded to in the section above, through to areas as diverse as construction disputes and intellectual property.  

As mentioned above, business within the UAE are mandating their lawyers on an ever-more sophisticated array of work, requiring law firms to adapt accordingly. Part of this adaptation involves full-service law firms offering a more varied range of services to their clients by investing in legal professionals with expertise in niche areas of work. This includes financial services regulatory, which has been award its own unique ranking table for the first time in Chambers Global 2024.  

The other side of this adaptation is the move towards a leaner, more specialised model of legal practice. 

Both approaches are equally valid, and both types of law firm are fully deserving of a Chambers ranking. Yet keeping pace with the changes and developments within the market will the big challenge for the Chambers research team moving forward.

Chambers Middle East: Plans for the Future

The 2024 awards took place just as research for Chambers Global 2025 was getting under way. Since then, our research analysts have been busy conducting interviews for a number of sections across Africa and the Middle East, including the UAE Regulatory: Financial Services and UAE TMT sections mentioned above. These are two areas which are integral to our future plans, with the aim very much being to expand the existing Regulatory: Financial Services coverage from a spotlight ranking into a fully banded ranking table. At the same time, and based on our conversations with market participants, we have identified the potential to create two new tables derived from the existing rankings for UAE TMT. Reflecting the growing market for media, entertainment and sports advice, we plan to separate this element of TMT into its own section, simultaneously creating a new table for IT, Telecoms & Data.  

Further changes are afoot in the Saudi Arabia research. We have introduced a new section for Public Policy & Regulatory Affairs, as well as opening up for submissions in the areas of Competition and TMT. These developments follow the recent introduction of the Saudi Arabia Employment rankings, and are indicative of the ways in which Saudi Arabia is gradually transforming into a more sophisticated legal environment. Law firms interested in submitting for Public Policy & Regulatory Affairs may be interested in reviewing the current practice area definition for this section on the Chambers website. 

The results of these new areas of research remain to be seen, but if they are received as well as we hope they will be, there may be the potential to introduce complementary categories in the 2025 Middle East Awards. Laurence, myself and the rest of the Chambers team eagerly look forward to next year’s ceremony and we hope to see you there! 

Upcoming Chambers Submission Deadlines: Middle East, Africa and Caribbean Sections

For any law firms reading this article, the Chambers research team would like to post this reminder that we have submission deadlines coming up on April 17 and May 30, which apply to several of our Middle East sections. 

The April 17 deadline applies to UAE Banking & Finance, UAE Capital Markets, UAE Construction, UAE Dispute Resolution (including Dispute Resolution: Domestic) and UAE Real Estate, as well as the corresponding Middle East-Wide sections.  

This deadline is relevant for several other sections in Israel, South Africa, Nigeria and Africa-Wide. For the full list of sections with this deadline, please visit our online research schedule, where you will also be able to view the sections in these jurisdictions with the May 30 submission deadline. 


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