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UK-based law firm DWF, which is beginning to expand globally, has opened its first office in Dubai. The premises, its first outside the UK and Ireland, will cater to the firm's many clients in the insurance sector, whom it advises on construction insurance, project indemnity, contracts and other forms of law.
Chris Ryan, Managing Director at DWF Dubai, says the firm was motivated to set up in the emirate by its clients' need for a local legal presence. ''We've done a lot of business with our clients here, but we've done it remotely or by visiting for a week,'' he explains.
''We've since had a strong hint that we should set up an office here.''
Now established at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), Ryan has already enjoyed the benefits of being based on the ground in the country. He says the regulatory hurdles in the UAE, which can be ''formidable'', are easier to resolve when he is based locally rather than flying in to the country for a matter of days. In addition, living in Dubai gives him a better feel for the local legal environment.
Clients in the insurance sector account for roughly half of DWF's yearly turnover, and there is plenty to keep those clients busy in this region. DWF is heavily involved in construction insurance, which builders must arrange if they are to receive bank financing for the projects under way in the GCC. In addition, the firm advises on project indemnity, which insures design and engineering consultants for the work they do before a spade is put in the ground.
The work doesn't finish when the builders go home either. In the UAE, design consultants are liable for problems with a building for up to ten years after it is completed. ''You want to insure against that risk,'' Ryan says.
DWF also helps to resolve the many disputes that can arise between employers and subcontractors. It is also involved in some new areas of insurance, for instance around cyber attacks.
''Retailers hold a lot of personal data and have got into bad habits about what they do with it,'' says Ryan. ''There's an insurance market developing around providing [coverage for] data security breaches.''
In the UAE, another developing area concerns environmental liabilities. If construction firms interfere with groundwater or dump waste into watercourses, they could incur liabilities from the government. Meanwhile, a firm that wants to develop in an area that has been the site of previous industrial activity might need insurance against exposure to poisonous substances that may be underground.
With its expertise in the construction and insurance sectors, DWF is capable of taking on many specialist projects. Ryan says it is important to concentrate on what the firm does best.
''We're not trying to be all things to all people.''
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Source: George Mitton, Special to Property Weekly