This Interview with Mohammed Al Dahbashi appears in the Legal 500.
What do you see as the main points that differentiate Al Dahbashi Gray from your competitors?
The world is shrinking, and UAE law firms need to evolve and adapt. Clients, rightfully, expect to receive commercial advice, tailored to the relevant region(s), mindful of international factors, and delivered with speed, accuracy and professionalism. Speaking other languages and having a London office is a start, but we believe that our merger last year (of MAD Advocates and Kingsgrove Partners) has enabled us to take our UAE law firm even further. By successfully melding our extensive international and local experience (in the UAE and beyond), we provide our clients with a full local service, delivered to our exceptionally high international standards.
Which practices do you see growing in the next 12 months? What are the drivers behind that?
The UAE has been increasingly applying pressure on financial fraud, other white-collar crime and money laundering which will, in parallel, increase the work in this area. We have seen the demand for our services in this area increase dramatically in recent months, and my Co-Managing Partner, Peter Gray, and I are regularly asked to speak at international conferences on this very subject. The fact that we are a local UAE firm with such broad international experience in this area makes us stand out from the crowd.
Tax will of course be a growing practice in the coming years, because the GCC countries are all implementing new tax regimes. For example, VAT tax has now been introduced in the UAE and all companies now need to consider its implications. With so much experience of VAT in other jurisdictions, we are well-placed to allay fears and provide practical advice and assistance.
Disputes and debt collection issues continue to increase. There is no special formula to this – certain markets are in difficulty and businesses are struggling to collect payments from customers. We make sure that our dispute resolution advice is commercial, and our corporate team always encourages clients to implement dispute avoidance strategies.
Really interesting is the significant growth in requests from Middle Eastern/African governments for our advice and guidance. Our recent merger has brought together so much experience in this area, not just of our own lawyers, but from their extensive (and carefully curated) global network of trusted partners. Together with our strong academic and practical grasp of international best practice, we are well-placed to advise and assist.
What’s the main change you’ve made in the firm that will benefit clients?
Al Dahbashi Gray is committed to providing a responsive, international-standard, service to all clients. By providing our team with new systems and appropriate technology, we ensure that our newly-merged team is easily accessible at all times. When a lawyer anticipates that they will be going “offline”, there will always be a back-up lawyer to handle their matters. Responsiveness is key.
Separately, away from paying clients, we have made a significant commitment to pro bono work. While some international firms have joined that commitment, there is a long way for the rest to go in matching the commitment seen in the UK and US. We hope to lead the way in that and demonstrate that we can give back to the community in a real way.
Is technology changing the way you interact with your clients, and the services you can provide them?
Yes, and to a point it can be difficult to take a breath! We believe that its important to remove communication barriers with our clients, and we have to meet with them as they use Whatsapp instead of email and so on. That of course does not require much innovation on our part, but we try to show flexibility by using our clients’ preferred means of communicating. More importantly, we now have access to sensibly-priced document management systems, meaning we can use powerful tools to help in most litigation matters which were formerly restricted to only the larger cases.
As our use of technology has broadened, we have also implemented systems to ensure that our staff can enjoy all important down-time without affecting our clients and their businesses. There is a balance, and we hope we are achieving it.
Can you give us a practical example of how you have helped a client to add value to their business?
One example is a client who contacted me requesting 10 different types of commercial and corporate contracts that they thought they required for their new business. After listening carefully, my initial response was to take everything one step at a time and only focus on the contracts that they truly needed. We reduced the contracts to just three, which were then drafted in different stages. This minimalized their legal costs and in return helped them run a successful and profitable start-up business in their very first year. They were thankful because some lawyers would have added to the list of contracts in order to charge higher fees.
Another example is more general – relating to understanding the real market and not just what is written in books. When a client comes to us with a dispute, we always investigate commercial solutions rather than just going down the lengthy and expensive litigation route. Mindful of sensitivities involved in each situation, we always explore whether we should directly contact counterparties and look for an amicable settlement/resolution. With our broad experience, we can navigate clients through this process, but can also easily recognise when a counterparty is playing games, and so advise of the need to take a more aggressive route right the from start.
Are clients looking for stability and strategic direction from their law firms – where do you see the firm in three years’ time?
Clients usually approach law firms to stabilise their businesses, so going to an unstable firm will not really make sense. We are committed to growing the Al Dahbashi Gray team, both locally and internationally. We want to connect international clients and partners seamlessly with the region, and promote a better understanding of the Middle East internationally. I hope that includes more international offices – we are in talks with various potential partners in the region, but we are not rushing – if the fit is not right, we will wait. Where do I see the firm in three years? At the top, In Sha’Allah!