Solicitors governing body: Bar Association of the Republic of Azerbaijan
IFLR1000 ranking categories for this jurisdiction:
Energy and infrastructure (published June) – Oil and gas
Financial and corporate (published October) – Financial and corporate
The Republic of Azerbaijan sits at the centre of the world. Sited on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the Caucasian nation finds itself at the intersection of East and West and counts Russia and Iran as its northern and southern neighbours.
It also sits on top of one of the large hydrocarbon reserves on the planet, with some two-thirds of the country thought to be viable for extraction. It is little surprise, then, that much of the nation’s economy – including the legal market – is focused on the oil and gas industry. Indeed, up to 90% of its exports are thought to relate to that market.
Since gaining independence in 1991 the country has managed to develop its substantial reserves into a robust economy, with the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (Socar) partnering with Western organisations in commercial operations to exploit them.
There are no nationality restrictions on the practice of law, other than that the founders of a practice have to be Azerbaijani-qualified lawyers, and so within the market there is a strong mix of local and international firms operation in the same space.
The structure of the domestic market is much as you’d expect to see in a resource-rich expanding market. There is little in the way of complex financing work as most projects will be either directly funded by the state or by the major corporations operating here. Most of the large-scale projects will be incorporated with a holding company in another jurisdiction, usually formed under English law, so much of the practice of the domestic offices involves advising on local and municipal matters alongside either their partner offices or an international firm without a presence on the ground. There is a fair amount of regulatory and disputes work as well, not to mention transactional deals, so a strong knowledge of the local law and business environment is key to success here, according to clients.
As a major exporting country Azerbaijan has a lot of strong links regionally. A member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, it maintains solid links with its Central Asian neighbours. With pipelines being built to Europe, Turkey has become an increasingly important partner, while the major oil and gas players that operate in-country means the market itself is a pretty mixed bag.
Lawyers on the ground will tend to have a fairly broad knowledge base, given the overall size and diversity of the market, and will mostly be noted for their local expertise. All the major firms are based in and operate from the nation’s capital, Baku.
Jonathan Moore – Journalist EMEA
Set up in January 2018, following the closure of Baku’s Baker McKenzie office, Altay Mustafayev Law & Tax has worked on several mandates passed on by the closed local office of the international firm.
Deal highlights include work on the sale of AXA Mbask, the acquisition of a company in Azerbaijan by Oceaneering International and on Siemens Austria’s exit from its joint venture with the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and Nobel Oil. Elsewhere, the firm also advised VisionFund AzerCredit on the first voluntary bankruptcy case in the jurisdiction.
Bank Respublika, Christian Dior Couture and Citibank are key clients of the firm.
BDO Azerbaijan is the domestic legal branch of the BDO network. The firm’s Baku office is best known for providing general corporate advice.
Recent work includes mandates acting for an international development bank and for a large port on the Caspian Sea.
BHM Baku Law Centre is recognised for financial and corporate work and recently has been active across sectors including agriculture, banking, construction and natural resources.
In a notable deal, the firm acted on the financial restructuring of Ismayilli Sharab, a wine producer in the jurisdiction. A further highlight during the research period was representing Uzavto Baku on a merger.
The firm underwent a change at the top, with corporate and projects lawyer Mehman Sultanov replacing Anar Baghirov as BHM Baku Law Centre’s managing director, after he departed to join the Azerbaijan Bar Council.
The firm rises to tier two in the financial and corporate rankings.
The Azerbaijan F1 Grand Prix, Pasha Bank and Zenith Aran Oil are among the firm’s key clients.
“Employees of the firm are very accurate and very responsive.” – Banking
“Lead negotiations and provide consultations at a high level, and render high-level judicial services on sale and purchase agreements, lending, leasing, and franchising.” - Banking
“A credible company. They succeed in winning all cases transferred to them. They are very customer-centric and it can be noted as their strength.” – Banking, restructuring and insolvency
“Professional, with a good team of lawyers.” – Banking, restructuring and insolvency
BM Morrison Partners is recognised as one of the leading projects firms in Azerbaijan, experienced in energy and mining. The firm also has a strong financial and corporate offering, which regularly acts for international financial institutions.
In the banking space, the firm notably worked on the establishment of the first Azerbaijani private credit bureau for Creditinfo International. Among other highlights were advising Bank Standard on its liquidation and bankruptcy proceeding, and representing the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), as lender, on a secured synthetic loan to manufacturer Metak. In a capital markets mandate, the firm provided the Azerbaijani law review of the prospectus, as Zenith Energy launched an IPO on the LSE.
During the research period, the firm was involved in large, cross-border project development ventures including on a gold ore mining agreement, the development of a petrochemical plant in Sumqayit, and for a developer on a free zone issue.
The firm rises to tier one in the project development rankings in recognition of its recent work in the area.
Notable clients of the firm include the Azerbaijani Ministry of Finance, China Investment Corporation and CVC Capital Partners.
“We really appreciate the lawyers' and partners' professional approach to their matters and their ability to meet deadlines. They always study the issue thoroughly and provide extensive responses and clear advice on the next steps. We can also highlight the high quality nature of the documents prepared by the firm.” – Banking
“The overall level of service is high, they always meet deadlines and provide professional services. The service fee is quite reasonable.” – Banking, M&A
“Very responsive and provides sensible advice.” – Project finance
The Baku office of Dentons is one of the leading names in Azerbaijan’s legal market across the board. The firm has significant experience working on cross-border deals in the region.
In banking, the firm notably acted on corporate financings such as advising Goldman Sachs on a loan to the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic’s Turkish subsidiary. Elsewhere, the firm also picked up work advising a Turkish mobile communications network on the sale of its interests in Azerbaijan.
Notable oil and gas work included advising Total in connection with the Absheron offshore project, one of the three largest oil and gas projects in Azerbaijan. Other project work included lead roles in the reconstruction of Flag Square in Baku and on the construction of railways in Georgia.
In one prominent change during the research period, counsel Farhad Hajizade opted to move in-house to become the Chief Legal Counsel at Lighthouse Geo.
The firm rises to tier one in the financial and corporate rankings, following the consolidation of its services in the area.
Other international clients of the firm include Colgate-Palmolive, Goldman Sachs and the Islamic Development Bank.
“Overall the impression is that the counsels are well-equipped with knowledge and expertise.” – Banking
Ekvita is broadly experienced in commercial and oil and gas work, representing several international oilfield service companies on business in Azerbaijan. Infrastructure and Islamic finance are also practice areas where the firm has expertise.
A highlight M&A deal saw the firm advise on the establishment of Mercury Trading, a joint venture between Azerbaijani, Russian and Qatari stakeholders. In the same practice area, the firm also represented an individual buyer in the sale and purchase of 100% of AXA Mbask’s shares.
In the research period, the firm has acted on an assortment of issues in oil and gas. A notable task involved representing Japanese company Inpex in complying with Azerbaijani laws during its survey, exploration, purchase and sale of oil in the country. In other project development work, the firm has been involved in transport and real estate projects, notably representing Azerbaijani Railways in a range of issues on its assets and property. Ekvita’s close association with Statoil prompted it to become the firm to provide legal support on the establishment of two new offices in the region.
The firm rises to tier two in the project development rankings.
Baker Hughes, Petronas and Toyota are among the firm’s prominent clients.
GRATA International has a wide network with further offices across Central Asia in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, a China desk and partnerships with firms across Central and Eastern Europe. Operating in Azerbaijan since 2003, Grata International has primarily worked on general corporate support for the establishment of legal entities and on the assistance of multi-jurisdictional M&A deals.
Like its Central Asian neighbours, the firm’s Baku branch takes an integrated ‘one-stop-shop’ approach to its services. Key sectors for the firm include aviation, financial services and pharmaceuticals.
The China Development Bank, Figensoft and Pfizer are among the firm’s notable clients.
Formed in 2017, LAN Law Chambers is a full-service domestic firm.
Among other work during the research period, the firm negotiated sale and purchase agreements alongside international firms.
“The law firm displayed professionalism in providing legal consultation in the area of telecoms and technology.” – Banking
“The partners from LAN Law Chambers provided fruitful advice on a shareholders' agreement we intended to sign at the time, and certain provisions of Labor Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan.” – M&A
MGB Law Offices is best known for its banking and M&A work, and experienced in project financing and debt restructuring.
The firm notably acted for GTLK in relation to the acquisition of a Boeing aircraft by the Regional Cargo Aircraft Operator. A further aviation deal saw the firm represent Penerbangan Malaysia Berhad on the subleasing of two B747 freighter aircraft to Silk Way West Airlines in Azerbaijan.
Notable oil and gas work included acting for Hydratight in relation to corporate and contractual matters and requirements of Azerbaijani production sharing agreements, and for British company, Millers Oil, in connection with the establishment of its operations in Azerbaijan.
In one change during the research period, Kamil Valiyev, formerly of Baker McKenzie, joined the firm as a partner. Having previously worked as the Head of International Projects within the Legal Department at the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), he is recognised as one of the leading names for oil and gas project work in the country.
Other clients of the firm include the Emerson Electric Company and the German Investment Corporation, a fund for developing nations.
“Good attention to detail and very responsive. The advice was of a very high standard for a jurisdiction such as Azerbaijan.” – Banking
“Prompt responses to requests, and accurate replies.” – M&A
“The firm provided very high level consultancy for our ongoing oil and gas project. Their strengths are its very professional knowledge and experience in legal aspects of the international petroleum industry, its very attentive relations with clients, and its timely responses.” – Project development
Omni Law Firm is one of the leading firms in the market and this year acted on a raft of impressive deals. The firm is best known for capital markets work, a rarity in the jurisdiction.
Within the financial and corporate space, a clear highlight for the team was working on the capital increases of AccessBank and VTB Azerbaijan, despite the challenging economic circumstances in the country.
The firm assisted several international financial institutions on the financial restructuring of Demirbank, including the provision of advice on debt-to-equity conversion and bankruptcy related matters
In M&A, the firm worked on the acquisition of a majority stake in Azercell, the largest mobile operator in the jurisdiction.
The firm remained active in the oil and gas space, notably acting for the South Gas Corridor and the Ministry of Finance in a number of debt-raising transactions, including on the financing of the Azerbaijani share of the Shah Deniz gas field.
A significant staffing change during the research period was the departure of partner Elchin Mammadov, who left to go into private practice before joining PwC Legal.
In addition to the above, the firm has recently advised entities including local corporates such as the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and Azerbaijan Airlines, as well as global banks including Raiffeisen and Sberbank.