The Middle East Legal Awards 2021: Who Won What and Why

The Middle East Legal Award 2021 winners were announced on Thursday, recognising the achievements of law firms and in-house teams with a Middle Eastern presence. 

This year, International introduced three major new categories targeted at the region’s developing areas of diversity and, in these testing times, crisis management. The new awards include Diversity Initiative of the Year, Crisis Management Initiative of the Year, and Diversity Champion of the Year.

Here is a run-down of all the winners and why they won.

Arbitration Team of the Year

Shortlisted firms: Baker McKenzie, BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates, Charles Russell

The Peace Palace in The Hague houses The International Court of Justice. Credit: My Eyes4u/

Speechlys, Clyde & Co, Hadef & Partners, Hage-Chahine Law Firm, Norton Rose Fulbright, Stephenson Harwood

Highly commended: Norton Rose Fulbright

Winner:  Hage-Chahine Law Firm

This winner was praised for its work on an enforcement of a $1.3 billion award in France, which it secured by way of what a judge described as “an excellent legal strategy with strong legal expertise despite complex legal challenges brought to a successful outcome”.

Banking, Finance and Restructuring Team of the Year 

Shortlisted firms: Baker McKenzie, Clyde & Co, Dechert, ElSherif Law Firm & Consultants, PwC Legal Middle East

PwC-Munich-Germany_shutterstock_176982629 Credit:

Highly commended: Baker McKenzie

Winner: PwC Legal Middle East

This year’s winning team demonstrated excellence in establishing an open banking system, and leveraging legal, technical and compliance expertise.

Championing Diversity (Private Practice)

Shortlisted firms: Adjou Ait Ben Idir, Norton Rose Fulbright, Nasser Ali Khasawneh, Eversheds

Credit: bimbim/

Sutherland, Mahmoud Fadlallah, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Kiran Scarr, Support Legal Limited, Hazel Shakur Quinn, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner

Highly commended: Hazel Shakur Quinn, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner

Winner: Kiran Scarr, Support Legal Limited

Judges said the “impressive work, leadership and inspiration in leading a disruptive business that is based on diversity and inclusion” shown by this year’s winner made their decision that bit easier.

Championing Diversity (In-House)

Shortlisted firms: Hassan Bouadar, FedEx Express, Yosr Hamza, Gartner

Winner: Hassan Bouadar, FedEx Express

Judges said that the winning individual showed clear evidence of how they contributed to driving D&I initiatives at their company and showed an understanding of the needs of the wider community. 

Compliance Innovator of the Year – sponsored by BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates

Shortlisted firms: Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Ministry of Transport and Communications / Cyber Security Division, Schindler, SEDCO Holding, TAQA

Highly commended: Schindler

Winner: TAQA

Our next winner embarked on what our judges called an “ambitious project to take an often-ignored “tick-box” compliance document to ensure it engages with its intended audience through the use of accessible yet innovative technology and planned launch for a global organisation”. 

Construction Team of the Year

Shortlisted firms: Charles Russell Speechlys, Hage-Chahine Law Firm, Khoshaim &

Image: Shutterstock

Associates, Pinsent Masons

Highly commended: Charles Russell Speechlys

Winner: Pinsent Masons

2021’s construction team of the year demonstrated cutting edge expertise on a complex, widely publicised and very high profile deal involving Doha’s new and widely lauded rapid transit system, the Doha Metro. 

Corporate Team of the Year

Shortlisted firms: Al Tamimi & Company, Ashurst, CMS, Dentons, Hadef & Partners, K&L Gates, King & Spalding, Milbank

Highly commended: Milbank

Winner: Ashurst

For its work on a more than $20 billion deal, the judges praised the winning firm for its superb work that highlighted how its teams in the UAE, combined with its global presence and expertise, saw it deliver a complex and time sensitive investment project, made even more impressive by the client coming back for more. 

Crisis Management Team of the Year

Shortlisted firms: Badri and Salim El Meouchi Law Firm, Norton Rose Fulbright

Norton Rose Fulbright signage Credit: Mike Scarcella/ALM

Highly commended: Badri and Salim El Meouchi Law Firm

Norton Rose Fulbright took the winning title for work that demonstrates the firm’s breadth of expertise in a complex field of law. The firm’s response, and creative solutions, helped a client navigate a crisis.

CSR Initiative of the Year (Private Practice)

Shortlisted firms: Badri and Salim El Meouchi Law Firm, Dentons, DLA Piper, Hage-Chahine Law Firm

Credit: Sam Ward

Highly commended: Dentons

Winner: Badri and Salim El Meouchi Law Firm

Judges said the winner boasts an impressive pro bono record dedicated to a high number of a wide range of corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Deal Team of the Year

There was no shortlist for this category this year – instead the judges felt there was one very obvious winner. This year’s Deal Team of the year winner was Gulf Marketing Group’s acquisition of Royal Sporting House.

Diversity Initiative of the Year (Private Practice)

Shortlisted firms: Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, DLA Piper, Norton Rose Fulbright

Diverse group of people in sillouette Credit: Robert Kneschke/

Highly commended: DLA Piper

Winner: Norton Rose Fulbright

One judge commented that this year’s winner is tackling racial and cultural inequities in its firm and in the legal profession by implementing such programs as Active Listening and Learning and Development to sensitize its staff, and also acceleration and mentorship for the careers of minority employees.

Diversity Initiative of the Year (In-House)

Shortlisted firms: Gartner, LOD

Highly commended: Gartner

Which means LOD is crowned winner for allowing individuals an opportunity to have flexible working arrangements on such a wide and ongoing basis, which has been beneficial to all concerned.

General Counsel of the Year – Large Team

Shortlisted: Fawaz Alawadhi – Alghanim Industries; Walid Khalil – Mezzan Holding

Bahrain (Image: Wikimedia Commons, Jayson De Leon)

Company; Vinodh Kumar – ETC Group; Noora Sulaibeekh – Bahrain Telecommunications Company

Highly commended: Fawaz Alawadhi, Alghanim Industries

Winner: Noora Sulaibeekh, Bahrain Telecommunications Company

Judges agreed that the winner is a professional, creative and motivating team leader, working in a complex and challenging sector that requires a GC with unique talents.

General Counsel of the Year – Small Team – sponsored by LexisNexis

Shortlisted: Abe Abed –; Yasser Aboismail – Schindler; Ahmed Al-Fezea – Khafji Joint Operations; Shadi Mallah – Dow Inc; Sadique Mohd – Five Holdings

Highly commended: Sadique Mohd, Five Holdings

Winner: Yasser Aboismail, Schindler

The judges said that this year’s winner demonstrates an excellent combination of team empowerment, enhancing team development and business partnering with excellence.

Infrastructure & Energy Projects Team of the Year

Shortlisted firms: Al Tamimi & Company, Ashurst, Bracewell, Milbank, Reed Smith

Power Lines
Photo by David R. Tribble via Wikimedia Commons.

Highly commended: Ashurst

Winner: Bracewell

Judges said the winner’s work on a first-of-its-kind solar energy project required getting to grips with cutting-edge technologies adjusting conventional structures to the transaction documents, as well as the application of new financing structures for the Middle East market. 

Innovation Through Technology – Private Practice

Shortlisted: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Baker McKenzie, Norton Rose Fulbright, PwC Legal Middle East, Support Legal Limited

The competition was so fierce among those listed that our judges couldn’t decide on one

Legal Tech illustration

winner and so decided to award two firms:

Our first winner showed outstanding innovation in legal services through a range of technological tools and platforms.

Judges said our second winner is “truly changing the paradigm of the delivery of legal services”, adding that “this is true innovation combined with a history of delivery”.

And so this year’s two winners were PwC Legal and Support Legal Limited.

Innovation Through Technology – In-House

Shortlisted: Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, First Abu Dhabi Bank, SEDCO Holding, TAQA

Highly commended: SEDCO Holding

Winner: First Abu Dhabi Bank

This year’s winning team’s work has been described as a great example of how to use technology to solve actual problems and deliver results. One judge said what they loved about this entry was that it “wasn’t about the “bells and whistles”, but showed a pragmatic and agile response to a global business need”.

International Law Firm of the Year – sponsored by LexisNexis

Shortlisted firms: Ashurst, Clyde & Co, CMS, Dentons, K&L Gates, PwC Legal, Shearman & Sterling, Squire Patton Boggs, Taylor Wessing

Clyde & Co, London HQ

Highly commended: Dentons

Winner: Clyde & Co

Judges said that the winner had a clear strategy which has resulted in strong financial growth across numerous jurisdictions, a strong focus on clients, offering new services and a new litigation funding offering. The firm has also demonstrated an impressive commitment to pro bono work alongside its focus on its own lawyers, resulting in a strong round of partner promotions last year, and development opportunities for junior staff locally in the Middle East.

Legal Department of the Year – Large Team

Shortlisted: ACWA Power, Dubai Municipality, ETC Group, Gulf Marketing Group, Investment & Development Office, Government of Ras Al Khaimah, SEDCO Holding

Winner: ACWA Power

The winner of this year’s prestigious legal department of the year, large team, fought off stiff competition by demonstrating legal expertise in innovative projects. Judges were impressed with a particularly strong reference mentioning “building a culture of trust and collaboration”, calling the team “a strategic partner and integral to our business”. Judges also described the team as exciting to be a part of for junior team members, with a key focus on development. 

Legal Department of the Year – Small Team

Shortlisted: Dragon Oil, Flash Entertainment,, The ENTERTAINER, TikTok

Highly commended:

Winner: TikTok

Judges said that the winner’s strong performance was evident in the glowing testimonials from business divisional heads, and from their structured and holistic approach to their work.

Litigation Team of the Year

Shortlisted firms: Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla, Clyde & Co, Eversheds Sutherland, Hage-Chahine Law Firm

Highly commended: Charles Russell Speechlys 

globe with books Credit:

Winner: Hage-Chahine Law Firm

This year’s winner “successfully navigated the minefields of sovereign immunity and the rules and regulations of the Middle East, as well as the laws of France, Libya, Kuwait, Egypt and the Arab Investment Treaty to obtain a $1.3 billion judgment for its client. Judges said this required great skill in project management and seamless legal excellence over many jurisdictions.

Most Promising Newcomer Award – Private Practice

Shortlisted: Sahar Abas – Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Mohammed Abbas – Hadef & Partners, Mustafa Khalid – Galadari Advocates & Legal Consultants, Shayan Najib – Bracewell, Jas Shoker – Pinsent Masons, Ruslan Sulaimanov – King & Spalding

Highly commended: Sahar Abas, Associate at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld

Winner: Shayan Najib, associate at Bracewell

Judges said the winner of this individual award demonstrated energy and dynamism, and concluded that this person “is very dedicated and enjoys the trust of those with whom they work”. Their work on some critical deals and major clients has been commended by their employer and in spite of being a newcomer, they are working at a very high level.

Real Estate Team of the Year

Shortlisted firms: Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla, Charles Russell Speechlys, Pinsent Masons

Baker McKenzie offices in Washington, D.C. Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

Highly commended: Pinsent Masons

Winner: Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla

Judges were impressed by the winning firm’s leadership on a $5.5 billion long-term lease agreement between an oil company and a major private equity firm. One judge added that the winning submission presented “a complex deal that was well managed and clearly laid out how the various challenges were dealt with”.

Regional Law Firm of the Year

Shortlisted firms: BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates, Cedar White Bradley, Hage-Chahine Law Firm, Kılınc Law & Consulting, The Bench

Highly commended: The Bench

Winner: BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates

Judges said that the winner has an impressive regional footprint in the Middle East, which offers a full service to it’s clients, delivering excellence each time.

Regulatory & Investigations Team of the Year

Shortlisted firms: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Al Tamimi & Company, Eversheds

Al Tamimi’s head office is situated in the Dubai International Financial Centre

Sutherland, Norton Rose Fulbright, Simmons & Simmons

Highly commended: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld

Winner: Al Tamimi & Company

Judges praised the winning firm for its innovative and expertly plotted COVID-19 implementation projects.

Rising Star Award –  In-House

Shortlisted: Sibel Almobideen – Simatech Shipping; Fivos Athos Sarelis – SEDCO Holding; Kate Birkin – TikTok; Priscila Mielli Abrahao – Vivo Smartphones; Akshay Narula – Flash Entertainment; Oleksandra Storozhuk – Five Holdings

Highly commended: Kate Birkin – TikTok

Winner: Fivos Athos Sarelis, senior legal counsel at SEDCO Holdings

Judges said this winning individual showed “fabulous experience” in their work and was a more than deserving winner of the top prize. 

Rising Star Award – Private Practice

Shortlisted: Yousif Ahmed – Richmond Sterling Law; Alexandra Aikman – Pinsent Masons; Reem Al Mahroos – Charles Russell Speechlys; Parnika Chaturvedi – King & Wood Mallesons; Charles Dolphin – CMS; Sadaff Habib – Beale & Co; Raka Roy – Galadari Advocates & Legal Consultants; Joanna Stewart – Davidson & Co; Johann Strauss – Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld

Highly commended: Joanna Stewart, senior associate at Davidson & Co

Winner: Parnika Chaturvedi, counsel at King & Wood Mallesons

Our next individual award goes to a person who, judges said, made important contributions to their firm, demonstrated excellent legal skills, and a strategic vision, as well as making contributions to the wider community.

TMT Team of the Year

Shortlisted firms: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates, Charles Russell Speechlys, Clyde & Co, CMS, DLA Piper, KARM Legal Consultant, Simmons & Simmons, The Bench

DLA Piper offices, Washington, D.C.

Highly commended: Simmons & Simmons

Winner: DLA Piper

This year’s winning team delivered an impressive performance in what the judges called a highly technical deal to support the UAE Government. One judge said: “They are to be congratulated on their grasp of the legal aspects, as well as the innovative use of technology for the management of the project.”

Zubair Q Britania

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