Could you please give us an introduction to the company and how it is positioned compared to its counterparts?
DLA Piper is one of the world’s largest law firms in terms of revenue and people. It has evolved from a primarily UK base and now has offices all over Europe and the U.S., as well as in GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries including Kuwait in collaboration with NEN.
This means we have sector expertise across the board. This is what we try to highlight to our clients. The expertise is always available locally, but when it’s a particular specialist’s field we can draw on experience from the U.S., UK, and Europe.
Our main focus is on quality and delivery to clients.
Since you mentioned the expertise in every sector, in particular for the Kuwait base, which are the sectors you are involved with?
We are involved in retail, investments, power, banking, and finance. We cover every sector that is relevant in Kuwait.
This is where our local practice has come into its own. We have enhanced our already excellent local practice (NEN) by providing our clients with value-added services and, through our partnership with DLA Piper, are able to offer a combination of the highest international standards delivered in a local context.
Law firms in Kuwait are mostly a one-man show. When you work for institutional clients, you need to expand the service offering and provide the type of special services that such clients require. We have tried replicating the model of an international law firm, drawing on the experience I have gained over the years with them.
As a local firm in Kuwait, we need to understand the way people think. Kuwaitis will bring to our attention many types of issues, reflecting the diverse nature of the economy, which require a range of innovative solutions because of their long history in commerce. The majority of our lawyers are general practitioners with appropriate background in industry experience who are able to provide the client with a general overview of each particular situation. We also have the benefit of leveraging our firm’s Global Trade and Government Affairs practice to support not only clients in Kuwait but also Kuwaiti sovereign and commercial entities internationally. We have to expand our services to serve the international clients coming to Kuwait.
Let us speak about the business environment…
From my experience, international clients coming to Kuwait do not necessarily have full confidence in the legal system. We started before our neighbors in terms of developing a legal system conducive to business. Kuwait has a real democracy and we have a good judicial system. This has given us a competitive advantage over others; we believe that a sound legal framework is a key component of both the development of commerce and social change.
Peter Somekh: Kuwait has a highly developed judicial system. We work with a broad spectrum of foreign investors, all of whom are attracted to the business environment and opportunities afforded by Kuwait. On occasion, investors are not confident in their ability to recover investments in a timely way should something go wrong. It is quite difficult to take enforceable security precautions in Kuwait, as is the case in other GCC countries. Though Kuwait is not lagging behind GCC countries, the business environment could be further enhanced with the development of readily searchable company registers, which would provide information relating to matters such as security.
In order to make Kuwait more attractive to foreign investors, the development of an infrastructure that makes information accessible can only be beneficial.
Does the government believe in foreign investment in Kuwait? From my experience with previous governments, when oil prices are high, attracting foreign investment tends not to be a priority. But today I know Dr. Meshaal [Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah] from the KDIPA [Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority], for example, is actively seeking to promote to change and convince the key people in the country. We need this also as a political insurance for us, to establish foreign investors.
In order to receive foreign investors, we need to be able to provide adequate infrastructure and create an investor-friendly environment. We need to open our minds, not just our borders. Public-sector workers must appreciate that they are providing a vital service.
Peter Somekh: Kuwait needs to ensure that the political framework supports a swifter and more dynamic approach to executing development projects. We often hear ambitious plans that fail to come to fruition. There needs to be confidence that projects will get off the ground.
What are the particularities of Kuwait law?
When I look at the legal system and laws in Kuwait, one can readily understand all the underlying principles. The fundamental issue here is not necessarily the law. I think you can have the most sophisticated laws in the world but if you do not have the appropriate infrastructure to back them you will face challenges.
What would you say are the positive developments in the last years in terms of law?
Recent developments, including the implementation of a new companies law in 2012 and legislation enhancing corporate governance and, in certain instances, facilitating greater foreign ownership have materially enhanced Kuwait’s reputation as an investor-friendly region.
Peter Somekh: Recent legislative developments have undoubtedly made Kuwait a more attractive investment region. Attracting foreign investment has the benefit of introducing more rigor and discipline in relation to corporate governance practices. It follows that irrespective of how much revenue a country is capable of generating, it is important to attract foreign investment. We are excited about Kuwait and we are fully committed to the market and will continue to invest.
We need to ensure that the best international standards are in place. Foreign partners are required in order to assist us in applying best practices. This is not only about money but also about an added intangible value, about principles. In the end. it all links to education, attitude, and the empowerment of the younger generations of Kuwaitis.
Thank you very much for meeting with us today!