Solicitors governing body: Bahrain Bar Society
Competition authority: Ministry of Industry and Commerce
Financial regulator: Central Bank of Bahrain
IFLR1000 ranking categories in this jurisdiction:
Financial and corporate (published October) - Banking, M&A, Project finance
Essentially, Bahrain has two legal markets - the local and the international. Unlike some jurisdictions in the Middle East, the Gulf state has no foreign ownership requirements for law firms so it is not essential for international advisors to assimilate with a local sponsor or employ partners who are Bahraini nationals. This means the two types of firm remain relatively autonomous, working together on transactions but competing for different roles on mandates, one advising on international (usually US or English) law, the other on Bahraini.
Among the international firms present in the country, the most dominant are those with the longest tenures: Baker & McKenzie, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Trowers & Hamlins. Foreign firms tend to maintain a relatively small permanent presence in Bahrain and often employ fluid teams, where partners are focussed on several jurisdictions in the Gulf or wider region. This structure makes perfect sense for a country like Bahrain where the level of activity does not necessitate having a large dedicated team on the ground at all times. It is also a natural model to use as the vast majority of the significant deals with a Bahrain element are cross-border.
The contingent of domestic firms active on the market’s more significant deals is fairly consistent. Three firms typically compete for the local roles on larger deals: Hassan Radhi & Associates, Haya Rashed Al Khalifa and Zu'bi & Partners. A far smaller firm and younger firm, Jalila Sayed Attorneys & Legal Consultants, is the preferred local counsel of some foreign firms.
A recent new addition to Bahrain’s legal market was regional firm Al Tamimi & Co, which established a branch in Manama in 2014.
Banking and finance is the mainstay for firms focussing on transactional work in Bahrain. Manama has one of the Middle East’s oldest financial centres, established as the country sought to diversify the economy away from a dependence on oil. In part, it was the development of this sector that attracted international firms to Bahrain and, despite the increased competition from other hubs in Dubai and Doha, the local banks remain active. Projects – utilities, natural resources and infrastructure - are other reliable source of instructions for firms. Capital markets work does generate mandates, but is generally limited to sovereign issues or those of financial institutions.
Ben Naylor - Journalist - EMEA
Regional firm Al Tamimi & Co’s Bahrain branch is recognised for local law finance work. The firm’s recent work highlights included advising on projects financings, and term and syndicated loans with mostly lender side roles.
Mashreq Bank and Batelco are two of the firm’s clients.
Baker McKenzie’s Manama branch has one of the leading international finance practices in the country. The team is experienced in conventional and Islamic lending and financing, including bond and sukuk issues and project finance.
In the current research period banking and finance work dominates the firm’s deal highlights. The firm worked on a variety of banking and finance mandates for lenders or creditors, including protect financings for mining and energy projects, debt restructurings, and general corporate lending.
There were two senior staffing changes at the firm in the research period. Partner Mohamed Hassan left the firm and Mohsin Iqbal was recruited from Latham & Watkins, joining as partner. Both lawyers focus on banking and finance.
Arab Banking Corporation is one of a number of banks in the region which the firm regularly advises.
"Very professional, prompt on time delivery, valuable guidance, and timely assistance." - Banking, project finance
"Bahrain office provides clear-cut constructive advice." - Banking, project finance
Charles Russell Speechlys is recognised for corporate transactional advice and this is the area the firm has mostly been active in recently. The highlights included several M&A transactions, with public deals in the banking sector and a sell side role on a private equity acquisition.
"We have used Charles Russell Speechleys a number of times and have always received a proactive service with sound commercial advice, under some pressing deadlines." - Banking, restructuring
"I dealt with Rupert Copeman-Hill on a disposal. Rupert was knowledgeable, responsive and generally a pleasure to deal with on what was at times a demanding and fiddly transaction. His assistant, Benjamin O'Brien-McQueenie was also very capable." - M&A
The Bahrain branch of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is one of the most experienced projects advisers in the country, having worked for the government on a variety of infrastructure developments over an extended period of time. The government and its various departments and ministries are the firm’s main clients and ensure it is generally busy.
The firm’s recent work highlights have been concentrated in the projects area, where it had roles of the state or state-owned entities on energy, social housing, utilities and transport projects among others.
Domestic firm Zu'bi & Partners is one of most experienced local advisors for financial and corporate transactional advice. Banking, finance, capital markets, and M&A are all areas where the firm has expertise.
The firm’s recent portfolio of deals is dominated by lending and finance work. The firm has represented the state and state-owned entities on bond and sukuk issues, and represented banks on regulatory capital issues, Islamic finance restructurings, and bank-to-bank loans.
The Ministry of Finance and the national government are both longstanding and recurring clients of the firm.