Solicitors governing body: Kuwait Bar Association
Competition authority: The Competition Protection Board (CPB)
Financial regulator: Central Bank of Kuwait
IFLR1000 ranking categories:
Financial and corporate (published October) - Financial and corporate
Generally regarded as one of the more egalitarian countries in the Gulf, Kuwait is a constitutional emirate. It has a semi-democratic, parliamentary government. Head of state, the Emir, chooses the prime minister, who decides, with the Emir’s approval, which 16 MPs will form the cabinet. These 16, along with 50 elected officials, are the country’s legislature, The National Assembly. Under law, political parties are banned in Kuwait so blocs, often divided by tribal and sectarian affiliations, typically form in parliamentary voting.
The country has a civil law legal system, influenced by the Egyptian and French models. Islam is the official religion and shariah law is the main, but not only, source of legislation. In recent years, some MPs have pushed for amendments to the constitution so shariah law is its sole source.
As Kuwait sought to diversify the economy away from its dependence on oil and gas revenues, it has, since the early 2000s, taken a fairly liberal view on foreign investment. Tax breaks of up to ten years and the low cost of labour are some of the incentives. In certain sectors the government is seeking to develop, 100% ownership of Kuwaiti businesses by foreigners is permitted. The legal profession does not fall into this category.
International firms operating in Kuwait may only do so if working in association with a domestic firm. Lawyers of Arab nationality, with at least 10 years’ experience, are eligible to register to practice in Kuwait but only Kuwaiti nationals can qualify to advise on domestic law. Non-Arab foreign lawyers practice in Kuwait as consultants on international law, although, according the International Bar Association, this practice is unregulated.
With Kuwait’s relatively strict provisions on the practice of foreign firms and lawyers, the number of international firms present in the country is, not surprisingly, low. DLA Piper and regional firm Al Tamimi & Co are the only international firms with offices in the country and last year DLA’s office head left to launch his own practice. In 2013, there were double the amount of international firms. That year, however, both Dentons and Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle decided to close.
In truth, for the big international outfits, the size of the market, which has had its economic difficulties in the last five years, is more of a deterrent than the restrictions on law firms. The magic circle and white shoe firms are active in Kuwait however, generally choosing to serve clients through offices in the UAE or Saudi Arabia.
The local legal market for high-end commercial work is small. Two domestic firms, ASAR - Al Ruwayeh & Partners and Bader Saud Al-Bader & Partners, tend to dominate the mandates, although Al Tamimi is involved in significant finance work.
Currently, Kuwait is generating plenty of instructions for lawyers in in the project area as the government looks to develop a range of social infrastructure. The government has an extensive multi-billion PPP (public-private partnership) programme in place with around $155 billion allocated for infrastructure projects in the next five years.
Ben Naylor - EMEA Editor
Abdullah Kh Al-Ayoub & Associates represents corporate clients and financial institutions in the Middle East, Europe and North America. The firm was active in oil and gas, international trade and maritime law over the research period. All the transactions are confidential.
Kuwait’s most experienced firm for all areas of high-end transactional work, ASAR - Al Ruwayeh & Partners also has the most depth of resources domestically of any firm on the market.
In the research period the firm’s work encompassed a mix of Islamic finance deals for lenders (both corporate and project financings), issuer side roles on bond issues, and a number of power and utilities PPP projects, working for the state. Highlights included roles for Kuwait on its 2017 sovereign bond issues.
Key clients of the firm include Gulf Bank, KIPCO, the Government of Kuwait and the National Bank of Kuwait.
"One of the few firms in Kuwait that is able to achieve the necessary standard of work that is required from MNCs or fast growing companies." - M&A
"He is an excellent lawyer, a genuinely nice guy, and a problem solver. Ezekiel knows his way around problems and helps ensure that the necessary team is in place to tackle nearly all issues we've had."
Meysan Partners is recognised for M&A and capital markets, both areas where the firm is experienced in high-end work.
Recent work highlights for the firm include some notable public M&A and capital markets deals. In the capital markets area it advised the joint lead managers on Warba Bank’s tier one capital sukuk and is representing Integrated Holding on its proposed IPO. Among the firms M&A highlights are roles advising Zain when it sold a stake in the business to Omantel.
Honeywell, NBK Capital, Zain Telecom, and Ahli United Bank are among the firm’s key clients.
Taher Group Law Firm acts on matters across the financial and corporate spectrum advising domestic and international companies. The firm represented, in particular, real estate and constructions clients in company formation, joint ventures and corporate transactions during the research period. All the transactional details are confidential.
"Strong relationships with the client. Accurate responses. Quality procedures. Deep knowledge of the laws and practices." – M&A
"Strong firm with responsive and efficient services." – Banking, M&A
"I would say that the firm has been delivering quality services over a period of time and ensure they are stable. The best services I obtain is from the international department which is very prompt, understands my company's needs and delivers the best on a timely basis. Their follow up is very much consistently streamlined thus ensuring my full satisfaction." – M&A
"Extremely professional team and provide advice within the time limit. Know the details and depth of all the applicable laws and give quick advice and solutions." – M&A
"Detailed understanding of client. Personalised client relationship. Going out of the way to assist clients. Always have time for clients. Prompt feedback." – Restructuring
Yaqoub Yousef Al-Munayae - Al Tamimi & Co, the Kuwait branch of regional firm Al Tamimi & Co, is recognised for conventional and Islamic finance work.
In the research period the firm’s most significant mandates have been lender side syndicated corporate, export-credit, and project financings which were in several cases for either oil and gas companies or power projects.