Charles Russell has established a presence in Saudi Arabia after signing an association agreement with local firm Al-Soaib.

Al-Soaib has two offices in the Kingdom, in Riyadh and Al Khobar. Charles Russell has a relatively large team in Manama - consisting of 20 lawyers - and is particularly strong in real estate. It launched in Doha last year.

The two firms have a longstanding relationship, having previously worked on a mix of transactional and contentious local and cross border work together. Head of Charles Russell’s Bahrain office, Patrick Gearon, said opening in Saudi was the next logical step for the firm’s Middle East expansion.

With a raft of multi-billion development projects planned and underway, Saudi Arabia is currently one of the most active and lucrative legal markets in the Middle East. For the region, the market is relatively under exposed to international firms thanks to the country’s strict foreign ownership restrictions which mean non-resident advisors must typically secure a Saudi sponsor to practice in the country. One notable exception was Clifford Chance, which became the first firm to establish a mixed Saudi and foreign partnership after it received regulatory approval to do so last year.

Several leading international firms have entered into Saudi associations recently. Most notably, Linklaters moved into the Kingdom at the end of 2012, securing an association with Abdulaziz Al Gasim, formerly Allen & Overy’s sponsor. In the last 18 months, both Ashurst and King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin have also launched in Saudi, and Shearman & Sterling has been looking for a suitable local partner for some time.