Egyptian Unrest Causes British Firm to Flee Cairo
Four months after The Am Law Daily checked in on Am Law 100 and other leading foreign firms with offices in tumultuous Cairo, one British firm has decided that Egypt’s ongoing civil unrest is too much to bear.
Trowers & Hamlins, a midtier, London-based firm with roughly 350 lawyers, announced in a press release that it shuttered its Cairo office on Dec. 31 because of concerns about the country’s long-term future.
“Following careful consideration, we have taken the strategic decision to pull back from Egypt,” said the statement issued by the firm’s senior partner, Jennie Gubbins. “In early 2013 the ongoing unrest in Egypt caused us to close our office temporarily as a precaution to ensure the safety of all our staff. Although the situation has improved somewhat since the January 2011 revolution, the longer-term outlook for the country remains uncertain.”
This summer Egypt’s democratically elected Islamist government was overthrown in a military coup, leading to mass protests and pitched battles in the country’s capital of Cairo between the security services and supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood.
In October, Egypt’s coup leaders hired The Glover Park Group—a firm with close ties to Israel—to advocate for their interests in Washington, D.C., as the Obama administration responded to the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi by cutting economic aid to the country.
That same month, Trowers & Hamlins advised the Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo Group of Companies, a conglomerate based in the Persian Gulf, on its acquisition of the Egyptian and Lebanese units of struggling British travel advisory firm Thomas Cook Group, according to U.K. publication Legal Week. Rival legal newspaper The Lawyer reported last month that a difficult geopolitical situation in the Middle East had contributed to shortfalls in the firm’s financial performance. Trowers & Hamlins let go of four fee earners and three secretaries last May, according to news reports.
Trowers & Hamlins opened its Cairo office in 1999 and it merged in January 2011 with local Egyptian firm the Nour Law Office. Sara Hinton, a dual British and Egyptian national who served as managing partner of the firm’s Cairo office, has joined local Egyptian shop Ibrachy & Partners along with a number of fee earners, according to the statement issued by Trowers & Hamlins announcing the closure of its Egyptian arm. The British firm said it will maintain a referral relationship with Ibrachy & Partners.
“We wish Sara, and the staff who will join her, all the best for the future and hope that stability will return to Egypt quickly,” said Gubbins in the firm’s release. “Our other offices across the Middle East are unaffected and continue to thrive.”
Other Am Law 100 firms that maintain offices in Cairo—mostly through affiliations with local firms—include Baker & McKenzie, Crowell & Moring and DLA Piper. Norton Rose Fulbright and Shearman & Sterling have also stated publicly that a potential Cairo office could be in their future, but a spokesman for the latter firm, which completed its merger with Fulbright & Jaworski last summer, says it remains focused at the moment on expanding in Latin America. A Shearman spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether its Cairo plans are still on the horizon given the uncertain political climate in Egypt.
The country’s military regime recently banned the Muslim Brotherhood and labeled it a terrorist group. Most of the group’s leaders who have not been imprisoned—some of whom are on hunger strikes—have gone underground. The trial of ousted Muslim Brotherhood–backed President Mohammed Morsi has been adjourned until February.