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Charting Legal Horizons: David McCoy’s Journey in Establishing a Law Firm in Abu Dhabi.

6 April 2024 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Embarking on the journey of establishing a law firm in a new jurisdiction is an exhilarating endeavour, filled with both excitement and challenges, yet offering boundless opportunities. Within this piece, we delve into the journey of David McCoy, a seasoned legal professional, who has courageously launched a law firm in Abu Dhabi; a vibrant and rapidly expanding business hub in the heart of the Middle East. From navigating the complexities of the local legal terrain to cultivating relationships with clients and attracting top-tier talent, David generously shares his invaluable insights and personal experiences. Join us, as we delve into the dynamic fusion of law, commerce, and culture in Abu Dhabi, uncovering the indispensable strategies and considerations crucial for flourishing in establishing a thriving legal practice within this dynamic and evolving market.

Share with us a summary of your personal journey; from classroom to courtroom.

My journey is atypical in that I took a gap year to travel around Europe then studied French literature for four years before deciding to study law as a second undergraduate degree. The four-year French course included a year abroad, which I spent in France teaching primary school children. It was an incredible experience, not least because I lived in a garret at the top of an old building on the oldest street in Caen, which looked out over cobbled streets and a medieval church. A far cry from where I am today in the UAE. After my French degree, I studied law and finished top of my class. I secured a training contract with an international firm then off I went to embark upon my career as a lawyer.

Share with us a summary of your professional journey; from London to Abu Dhabi.

My professional journey began in London, where I started my career at the U.S. firm King & Spalding. Following that, I transitioned to the energy disputes team at CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang. Afterwards I moved to the Spanish firm Ontier, where I helped manage a suite of multi-billion-dollar Bitcoin cases. Then, as luck would have it, I crossed paths with Peter Gray, the co-founding partner of ADG Legal, through a mutual acquaintance. This led to my appointment as the head of ADG Legal's Abu Dhabi office, marking a significant chapter in my professional journey.

What motivated your decision to relocate from the UK to Abu Dhabi and establish a new law firm?

The decision to relocate from the UK to Abu Dhabi and establish a new office for ADG Legal was motivated by a convergence of factors aligning perfectly. First, the conclusion of the Bitcoin cases provided a natural transition point in my career. Second, my wife Shahili Gomes-McCoy’s finally got her British passport, which eased the logistics of relocation. Third, I was introduced to ADG Legal just as they were looking for a senior lawyer to spearhead their new Abu Dhabi venture and I was keen for a fresh challenge. Opening a new office and hiring a team seemed like the perfect next step in my career.

How does the legal landscape in Abu Dhabi differ from that of the UK, and what opportunities or challenges does it present for your firm?

Abu Dhabi boasts some of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds, providing access to capital facilitated by substantial private wealth and numerous catalyst partners. Moreover, it offers a tax-friendly environment and holds a strategic geographical position. Particularly noteworthy is the presence of the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), one of the world's fastest-growing financial districts. ADGM attracts a diverse array of businesses, including financial institutions, asset managers, fintech companies, and professional services firms. This dynamic ecosystem provides innovative and comprehensive business solutions, spanning various legal structures, company registration and incorporation processes, regulatory guidance and oversight, dispute resolution mechanisms, and access to an extensive network of like-minded professionals. However, navigating this complex legal landscape also presents unique challenges, requiring a nuanced understanding of local regulations, cultural dynamics, and market intricacies to capitalize on the opportunities available.

What specific areas of law will your firm specialize in, and why did you choose these areas?

ADG Legal is a full-service Emirati law firm headquartered in Dubai, offering a range of legal services. Our focus areas include corporate M&A, white-collar crime, international arbitration, family law, and bespoke legal solutions tailored for ultra-high and high net worth individuals. It is one of the only firms in the region to offer a genuine mix of international and local lawyers under one roof.  Its international team comprises lawyers from every continent in the world; reflecting the UAE’s huge diversity. Also, unlike many firms, its Emirati lawyers are client-facing and the point of contact for clients. Unlike UK firms, which typically offer only English law advice, ADG advises on UAE, English, Egyptian and other laws directly. It then draws on its network of partner firms to help clients with issues in other jurisdictions. The firm works closely with firms in the U.K., U.S., and Europe, as well as in Asia and Africa. Our firm's strong focus on Africa is well-recognized, with our partners frequently traveling to the continent to provide assistance in both contentious and non-contentious matters, showcasing our commitment to global legal excellence and client satisfaction.

Can countries in the Middle East and South Asian region consult your firm?

Absolutely! ADG Legal extends its legal expertise to clients not only within the UAE but also across the Middle East and South Asian region. Whether it's a multinational corporation seeking guidance on regional regulations, a governmental body navigating complex legal frameworks, or an individual requiring personalized legal assistance, our firm provides comprehensive solutions tailored to their specific needs. With our deep understanding of the local laws, cultural nuances, and business environments across the region, clients can rely on us to offer strategic counsel and representation. We prioritize building strong, long-term relationships with our clients, ensuring that their legal matters are handled with the utmost professionalism, integrity, and efficiency. So, whether you're based in the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, or beyond, ADG Legal is here to be your trusted legal partner.

How do you plan to differentiate your firm from existing law firms in Abu Dhabi?

ADG Legal distinguishes itself from other law firms in Abu Dhabi by offering a truly unique blend of international and local legal expertise. This fusion allows us to leverage the strengths of both worlds: the global experience of our international lawyers and the deep understanding of local laws and customs provided by our Emirati lawyers. Our aim is to implement international law firm service standards within the local market, ensuring that our clients receive world-class legal representation and advice tailored to the specific nuances of the region.

What advantages do you believe your UK legal background brings to your practice in Abu Dhabi?

The UK legal background I bring to our practice in Abu Dhabi offers several distinct advantages. Firstly, the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) operates within an English common law legal framework, attracting an international clientele. Additionally, many contracts in the region are governed by English law and are subject to international arbitration. Having spent the past decade practicing law in London, I have background in English law and its application in various international contexts. Moreover, if a legal matter requires expertise beyond my own experience, our firm's diverse team ensures that someone with the necessary knowledge is readily available to provide assistance. Ultimately, our clients benefit from our strategic approach, which combines international legal expertise with a deep understanding of the relevant applicable laws, ensuring comprehensive and effective representation.

What are your thoughts on the current legal trends or developments in Abu Dhabi, and how do you envision your firm contributing to them?

The current legal landscape in Abu Dhabi is undergoing significant transformation, particularly in the area of finance and technology. With the city emerging as a hub for finance and tech industries, it has attracted major players, including some of the world's largest hedge funds, with more anticipated to follow suit. Furthermore, local sovereign wealth funds and family offices are increasingly expanding their international presence, creating a surge in demand for legal and other professional support services. This dynamic environment reflects Abu Dhabi’s status as a burgeoning economic powerhouse, poised for further growth and innovation. At ADG Legal, we envision playing a pivotal role in this evolving legal landscape by offering strategic counsel and tailored solutions to meet the evolving needs of our clients. We are committed to staying abreast of the latest legal trends and developments in Abu Dhabi, ensuring that our firm remains at the forefront of providing comprehensive and cutting-edge legal services to support our clients’ endeavours in this thriving market.

How do you plan to build and maintain relationships with clients in the Middle East and Asia, especially in a competitive market?

In the competitive market of the Middle East and Asia, we recognize the importance of personal relationships. We intend to cultivate and nurture these relationships through the principles of friendship, collaboration, and mutual respect. By fostering genuine connections with our clients, we aim to build long-lasting partnerships based on trust and understanding.

Our commitment to delivering exceptional service and consistently exceeding client expectations will be central to maintaining these relationships over time. Through effective communication, attention to client needs, and a proactive approach to problem-solving, we aspire to solidify our position as a trusted legal partner in the region.

Are there any industries or sectors in the Middle East that you see as key areas for legal services, and if so, why?

In the current landscape of the Middle East, we are seeing significant investment across various industries, making it an opportune moment to explore investment prospects. Numerous sectors are experiencing rapid growth, presenting exciting opportunities for investment. Whether it's in real estate, digital assets, banking, hospitality, retail, or healthcare, companies from around the globe are coming here to establish their presence in the region. This surge in investment activity underscores the importance of good legal advice to navigate regulatory frameworks, facilitate transactions, and mitigate risks, thereby positioning key sectors for sustainable growth and success.

Could you share any insights or experiences from your previous legal work in the UK that you believe will be beneficial in your new venture in Abu Dhabi?

Drawing from my decade-long experience working with international clients in London, which included extensive interactions with clients from the Middle East, I believe I bring valuable insights and skills to my new venture in Abu Dhabi. Having established connections and understanding the needs and expectations of clients from this region, my transition to Abu Dhabi feels like a natural extension of my previous work in London.

How do you plan to recruit and develop talent for your firm in Abu Dhabi?

As the first employee tasked with expanding our office in Abu Dhabi, I'm actively engaged in the recruitment process. I've started interviewing and have met with some exceptional candidates.

Finally, what advice would you give to other legal professionals considering a similar move or venture in a new jurisdiction like Abu Dhabi?

For legal professionals considering a move or venture in a new jurisdiction like Abu Dhabi, I would offer this advice: seize the opportunity to be part of a remarkable growth story. The UAE has evolved from humble beginnings in the 1970s into one of the most vibrant and dynamic countries in the world today. It serves not only as a prominent business hub in its own right but also as a pivotal trading centre for businesses worldwide. Major financial institutions, insurers, and now funds have made their mark here. For instance, in 2023, Abu Dhabi's non-oil economy surged by 7.7%, a stark contrast to the EU's mere 0.7% economic growth in the same period. Joining Abu Dhabi's business scene now presents a chance to immerse yourself in an exhilarating environment of growth and opportunity.

Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

Somewhere sunny spending time with my son. 


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