The Emirati firm’s founder is a vocal proponent of arbitration in the region
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The largest independent law firm in the Middle East, Al Tamimi & Company was founded in Dubai in 1989 and now fields 330 lawyers in nine countries. It was one of the first in the region to target international arbitration, recruiting foreign-trained specialists to pass on their know-how. Now, the firm’s lawyers can handle every part of an arbitration, including steering an award through the courts in the region.
Founding partner Essam Al Tamimi is a well-known figure in the international arbitration community and a driving force behind the promotion of arbitration in the region. He helped spearhead the Arab Arbitration Forum and has been at the forefront of efforts to lobby the UAE authorities to reverse certain arbitration-unfriendly legal reforms (see “Recent events”).
On top of that, he is a present or past member of several regional and international institutions, including the ICC Court in Paris. He has served on the LCIA court and is a former president of the LCIA’s Arab Users’ Council.
The international arbitration practice was headed by ex-Clyde & Co lawyer Paul Turner until his retirement in 2017. Tom Snider, who replaced him, has particular expertise in Africa-related arbitrations and previously worked at Greenberg Traurig and WilmerHale.
Another name to know is senior associate John Gaffney in Abu Dhabi, who formerly worked at King & Spalding and has investment arbitration experience.
The firm has 17 offices across the Middle East, including in the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman and, more recently, Egypt. The key offices for international arbitration are Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha. The firm also has a referral arrangement with Singaporean firm Rajah & Tann.
Who uses it?
Recent clients from the UAE include the Majid Al Futtaim and Al Rostamani retail conglomerates, the National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank and Abu Dhabi Investment House. India’s Lucky Group and Swatch are also clients.
Clients from outside the UAE include Citibank, Thales, Veolia and Samsung. Standard Chartered Bank has been using the firm for local enforcement proceedings, as has French construction company CCI in its long-running efforts to collect on an award against a Sudanese ministry.
While the firm’s practice is centred on the Middle East, the team has worked on arbitrations seated in London, Paris, Geneva, Zurich, Singapore and Montreal.
Wins include US$11 million for a client in a dispute over the construction of a Dubai development; and €12 million for a Kuwait company in a telecoms dispute in the Ivory Coast.
A significant number of the firm’s cases settle. Good results include helping a European industrial machinery maker settle a US$100 million claim for less than €20 million; and the settlement of two disputes arising out of the delivery of supplies to Afghanistan.
The firm helped one of the UAE’s largest companies prevail in a DIAC claim against the owners and developers of the iconic Palm Island project, obtaining an order of specific performance.
Al Tamimi & Company has also achieved enforcement in the UAE of awards rendered in Singapore, Sweden and other European countries.
At his old firm, Greenberg Traurig, Snider helped Ethiopia defeat a US$1.4 billion ICC claim brought by Chinese energy company Petrotrans. While at WilmerHale, he helped Swiss watchmaker Swatch win US$450 million in an arbitration against US jeweller Tiffany in 2013.
Essam Al-Tamimi led the charge in convincing the Dubai authorities to reverse a ministerial resolution of September 2017 that had declared that only practitioners licensed to practise in the emirate could appear in Dubai-seated arbitrations. Critics had warned that the move threatened to undermine the UAE’s reputation as an arbitral hub.
He also lobbied the UAE government over amendments to the country’s penal code that allow arbitrators to be imprisoned for demonstrating bias or unfairness in the conduct of cases. The government has indicated it will amend the provision.
The firm successfully represented a Dubai-based investment company in two related arbitrations with Kuwaiti-based investors in relation to long-term leases in a Dubai industrial park involving claims of US$40 million. This resulted in the dismissal of all claims against the client and its counterclaims being fully upheld.
It continues to be involved in a number of UAE construction disputes. It defended a large Abu Dhabi developer in a US$109 million dispute and secured it a US$27 million award of damages. The firm successfully defended another UAE client in a US$90 million dispute over a failed development, also obtaining damages.
Pending cases include a US$270 million dispute over the delayed completion of two towers; an arbitration involving a shareholder dispute worth US$200 million; an arbitration over the extension of an internationally branded hotel; and two cases involving well-known Korean companies related to engineering projects in Qatar.
Outside construction, it has several pending matters relating to the banking sector. It is acting for three banks in a multiparty dispute over alleged fraudulent claims under an insurance policy; and a large Kuwaiti bank in a claim filed by a Bahraini bank that is being heard by three former English Court of Appeal judges.
The firm successfully contested the jurisdiction of a tribunal in South Africa in a dispute over a mining project in Guinea. It is also acting for a global sports channel in a dispute over the distribution of its products in Saudi Arabia.
Al Tamimi & Company played a key role in drafting the procedural rules for the Emirates Maritime Arbitration Centre.
Practice head Tom Snyder and associate Dalal Al Houti joined a task force aimed at establishing an international arbitration centre in Djibouti.
Partner Dean O’Leary left the firm in April 2017.