Andrew Wright, Managing director, legal, Dubai International Capital LLC.
With around US$13 billion of assets under management, Dubai International Capital LLC’s focus on a mix of emerging markets transactions, public and private equity from its Dubai base is paying dividends in the region’s fast-growing market.
Established in 2004, this subsidiary of Dubai Holding is able to take advantage of the high level of investment from governments and individuals, and surrounding countries in order to diversify its parent company’s portfolio. This commitment to diversification is evident in the kind of funds developed by the company: despite the UAE’s obvious association with real estate development, Dubai International Capital leaves real estate development and investments to its sister companies under the Dubai Holding umbrella. Dubai is perfectly placed to act as a bridge between developed and emerging markets, and the company boasts investments located in Europe, North America, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia-Pacific, including investments in market leading companies in engineering, hotel chains, commodity manufacturers and country-specific funds.
Andrew Wright came to Dubai International Capital as managing director, legal in 2005 after 10 years of private practice experience at White & Case LLP and Vinson & Elkins LLP. He qualified as a solicitor in 1998, with a diploma in Legal Practice from the Guildford College of Law and a Law degree from the University of Leeds under his belt. Already practising in the region when he got the call from Dubai International Capital, he saw the job as "an opportunity to create something unique and special at a young investment company with high-quality professionals and unlimited resources". Attracted by the prospect of creating a legal department, he wanted a "new and dynamic" slant to his career.
Faced with emergency weekend calls from New York at two o’clock in the morning, he admits he did not expect his working hours to increase with his new position. "This really is a 24-7 job", he says. "Although I can plan my day around my team, the rest of the company relies heavily on the legal department." He cites coordinating the volume of work at the same time as managing his team as the greatest challenge, but he sees all this as part of working towards a common goal.
This, and "a consistency of the client-building relationship between the legal function and the investment team", constitute his greatest sources of satisfaction. "It’s great to be able to sit down and brainstorm, implement processes and structures and see the investment through over a few years", he says. This long-term relationship and the ability to see an investment through over time also gives him the ability to manage the client’s expectations more easily. "It can really release the pressure when you can tell the client honestly what you can and can’t do within the time frame", he says. This contrasts with his experience in private practice, where he says the pressure of billable hours can create unrealistic demands at times.
In Wright’s opinion, external counsel is "an essential safety net" for the in-house team. International firms are, he feels, "well placed to serve the UAE", combining expertise on the ground with international scope. The large transactions from UAE bodies into international financial institutions, coupled with the large amount of energy projects and outbound investments are, he feels, proving a "huge draw" to international firms. Mirroring his client relationships, Wright prefers to play the long game when dealing with outside counsel. "In order to build good relationships, we want law firms to see the long-term benefits", he says. "We want value for money and efficient transactions, and the best way to achieve this is through familiarity".
Role: Managing director, legal
Company: Dubai International Capital LLC
Sector: Private equity
Number of employees: 125 (six in legal)
Preferred law firms: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, Linklaters LLP, Ashurst LLP, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, Morrison & Foerster LLP
Where were you previously employed?
White & Case LLP (from 1996 to 2000) and Vinson & Elkins LLP (between 2000 and 2005).
How big is Dubai International Capital’s legal department?
We have six professionals.
What percentage of your work is performed by in-house lawyers?
Most of our transactions are sizeable cross-border investments, and so from a risk perspective it is important that we involve expert external counsel to advise on specific jurisdictions and also prepare documentation, so a high proportion of our work is outsourced and coordinated by the in-house team.
What are the advantages of doing work in-house?
The success of our legal department is based on ensuring that business relationships are formed between the in-house team and the investment professionals, and that these relationships can be maintained over many transactions, allowing the two teams to work efficiently and effectively.
What advice would you give someone moving to an in-house role from private practice?
Most lawyers moving in-house appear to underestimate the challenges that they will face in the role. The in-house environment is very different to private practice and throws up many more challenges and issues (both in a legal and commercial context) than most lawyers will have faced in their private practice experience.
How is life as an in-house counsel different from that of a private sector adviser?
One of the key attractions is the ability to work on transactions and investments from beginning to end, seeing first-hand the fruits of your labour and at the same time building strong and lasting relationships with the same client in the in-house investment team.
What qualities make a good in-house lawyer?
An in-house lawyer needs to have a strong understanding of corporate and commercial laws, but equally needs to have a decent understanding of the business, and in particular the commercial drivers behind that business. Having strong inter-personal skills is also an important part of ensuring that the in-house lawyer integrates well with the in-house team, both on the legal and on the commercial side.
What qualities make a good private practice lawyer?
Being knowledgeable, responsive and having a sensible commercial approach to billing.
When will you enlist the advice of external advisers?
Primarily on larger transactions, where specialist legal expertise is required, and additional resources (eg, due diligence and document preparation) are necessary.
Do you see yourself hiring the firm primarily, or the individual?
Primarily the individual, but it’s important that the individual has the necessary support infrastructure around him or her. With most of the firms we work with there is no question that the support structure is available and is of high quality, so that helps us focus on identifying key individuals that work well with the legal and commercial team.
Do you have a regular external corporate firm?
We aim to have at least two firms in each of our main territories (North America, Europe and Asia) that we work closely with to build long-term relationships. For conflict and capacity reasons, it is vital that we have more than one regular external corporate firm in these territories.
When dealing outside your home jurisdictions, how do you find counsel?
The majority of our work is undertaken outside our home jurisdiction. We complete an annual review of law firms that we have worked with or come across in the prior year and seek key information from them (relating to expertise, network, team members, fee rates, etc) for each relevant territory, which helps us identify in advance the firms we want to work with.
What common behaviour from an external adviser or their firm do you find least acceptable?
Inappropriate delegation of work, or failing to deliver quality work on time and to a pre-agreed budget.
If you could change one thing about the "average" external adviser, what would it be?
Changing the focus from billing targets to assisting the business to achieve its goals in a manner that is profitable for both the law firm and the business.
What makes the UAE "a good place to do business"?
It provides an excellent domicile to undertake business and transactions in the UAE, elsewhere in the Middle East and also into the subcontinent. With rising oil prices, economic prosperity in the region has remained high and it should remain that way for the foreseeable future.