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Middle East

SOREN NIELSEN

GROUP GENERAL COUNSEL, DUBAI WORLD

From Senior Associate in the firm’s Dubai office to Group General Counsel at Dubai World, Soren has seen the region transform itself.

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When Soren joined Clifford Chance’s Dubai office in 2006, many of the Emirate’s now world-famous landmarks, such as the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world and the Palm Jumeirah island resort were yet to be built. Back then, he was part of a relatively small team where fellow lawyers quickly became friends as well as colleagues. “I think I was lawyer number 33 in the region, but within two years that number had risen to over 100. They were exciting times”.

What led Soren to Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE? “After training as a commercial projects lawyer with a London firm, I was looking for a bigger challenge”, he says. He certainly found it in Dubai as a Senior Associate, advising on major projects ranging from petrochemical, desalination and district cooling plants to the financing of the Atlantis the Palm hotel and resort. During this period, Soren’s skillset developed as he worked alongside the firm’s banking and corporate finance lawyers, sharing ideas and expertise. “We all understood the need for a commercial approach; clients don’t want to get bogged down in non-material technical legal points.”

“I think I was lawyer number 33 in the region, but within two years that number had risen to over 100. They were exciting times.”

But change brings challenges as well as opportunities. The grand 2008 opening of the Atlantis the Palm hotel and resort just off the Dubai coast was a stellar event that Soren remembers well, but it closely coincided with the collapse of Lehman’s. “Many law firms had expanded rapidly in the region and then suffered during the financial crisis. But Clifford Chance’s reputation and skills meant we continued to play a key role in helping clients – including my current employer, Dubai World – to restructure for the future,” says Soren.

In 2015, it was time for a more personal change, with Soren going in-house as Senior Legal Counsel for what became First Abu Dhabi Bank. All the banking and finance skills he had acquired at Clifford Chance were in evidence as he successfully advised his employer through a major merger.

In 2018, opportunity knocked again as Dubai World sought a new general counsel. Dubai World manages a portfolio of businesses and projects for the Government of Dubai, helping it to diversify its economy. Its multi‑billion dollar holdings range from ports and logistics companies to global real estate. As GroupGeneral Counsel, Soren’s legal responsibilities cover everything from banking and finance to M&A.

Here, Soren frequently draws on Clifford Chance’s long‑standing role as a trusted adviser. In fact, he is currently working with the firm’s offices in five separate jurisdictions and explains that, “We can rely on Clifford Chance to not only be there wherever in the world we need support, but also to provide advice that will be commercial and consistently of a high quality”.

“We can rely on Clifford Chance to not only be there wherever in the world we need support, but also to provide advice that will be commercial and consistently of a high quality.”

As for work/life balance, despite the scale of the job and the need to work across many time zones, Soren can usually enjoy supper with his family, even if – due to the global nature of Dubai World’s assets - he may need to log on or attend conference calls afterwards. His current focus is on a future refinancing, “evaluating and adjusting Dubai World’s portfolio of investments to maximise opportunities when current debt facilities mature”.

With all the developments that he has seen, what is his perspective on the future of his profession? While Soren agrees that emerging technologies will drive greater efficiencies, he chooses to focus on another key challenge: talent. “Law firms may find that unless they offer better defined, non-partner career paths and flexible working options, they risk losing experienced and
talented lawyers.” Soren has clearly put his own experience to good use by supporting projects that have helped Dubai become the exciting place it is today.