Why choose Morocco?
With its sustained economic growth (4.9% in 2011) and longstanding political stability, Morocco is widely regarded as the “place to be” by international investors and law firms alike. In recent years, it has become a booming regional platform, as well as one of the preferred gateways into Africa for international companies and law firms.
As the fifth African economy in terms of GDP, Morocco’s assets are numerous: industries with strong potential, tax incentives for foreign investment, attractive production costs and rising purchasing power are just some of the reasons why international investors are flocking to Casablanca and, to a lesser extent, to other Moroccan cities such as Rabat or Tangiers.
Countries such as Turkey, China and the Arabian Gulf States have taken a keen interest in Morocco in recent years. Spain, Germany and the United States have also strengthened their presence in the country. But Morocco’s leading commercial partner remains France, with trade between the two countries amounting to 8 billion euros in 2012. France currently holds 15% of Moroccan market share and receives 25% of all Moroccan exports. France also remains the top foreign investor in Morocco: there are currently 750 subsidiaries of French companies in Morocco, and an overwhelming majority of the prominent CAC 40 companies are present in the country. French President François Hollande’s visit to Morocco in late March 2013 in the context of these flourishing economic relations resulted in the signing of 15 contracts in the food, rail and water treatment sectors. As Morocco strives to become an alternative to Dubai, a steady inflow of foreign investors has caused international law firms to gain a strong interest in this thriving market.
Arrival of foreign law firms in Morocco
The first international firms to settle in Morocco were part of multidisciplinary networks, such as Ernst & Young Associated Advisers (which has been present in Morocco since 1993), as well as KPMG and Deloitte & Touche.
In recent years, when choosing a destination in Africa, international law firms have tended to opt for Morocco and Algeria, the two largest French-speaking jurisdictions on the African continent. For many international law firms, opening an office in Morocco is the first step in a wider strategy on the African continent, and replaces or complements the existing African desks often manned by Europe-based lawyers. Morocco’s sophisticated legal system (which closely resembles the French system), as well as its stable political and regulatory environment make it especially attractive to foreign firms.
French and Spanish law firms were the first to set up offices in Casablanca in the early 2000s (with the notable exception of CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre which first arrived in Casablanca in 1948). Today, no less than seven French law firms have established a presence in Casablanca (August & Debouzy, CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre CWA, Gide Loyrette Nouel, JeantetAssociés, Lefèvre Pelletier & Associés and UGGC Avocats). Among notable Spanish law firms, Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira and Garrigues opened their own Casablanca offices in 2007 and 2005 respectively, while the latter is currently one of the only international law firms in Morocco to have a second location in Tangiers. Spanish firms in Morocco attract many international clients (many from Spain) for whom they carry out mergers and acquisitions and due diligence.
These French and Spanish firms are now subject to strong competition from Anglo-Saxon law firms, as Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Norton Rose and Baker & McKenzie simultaneously opened new offices in Casablanca in 2011.
International law firms have generally chosen to maintain rather small teams locally, as the Moroccan offices of international law firms generally have 1 to 4 partners, and, on average, less than 10 associates (with a notable exception being Allen & Overy, whose Casablanca office has over 25 associates).
In spite of the importance of these international law firms in the Moroccan legal market, the services of local law firms (such as, for instance, Kettani Law Firm) remain prized by international and Moroccan clients alike for their domestic legal expertise and their high quality of service.
It should also be noted that various international law firms have chosen to partner with local firms instead of opening their own offices. French law firm Adamas has thus entered into a strategic alliance with Moroccan firm Figes, while Bird & Bird LLP has done the same with local firm El-Amari.
While this influx of international law firms might cause some observers to fear saturation of the Moroccan legal market, the actors of this market argue that this is not the case, as business keeps growing steadily, and as there are very few Moroccan business law firms. Many agree that this influx in fact allows for an improved structuration of the Moroccan legal market. Despite strong pressure on law firms’ pricing and a high level of competition between firms, new arrivals in the Moroccan legal market continue to be announced.
International law firms’ service lines and teams in Morocco
There is little variation between the service lines offered by the various international law firms in Morocco, as they generally focus on:
- Corporate law (mergers & acquisitions and private equity): for instance, many investment funds located in the Gulf States are giving corporate work to international firms in Morocco;
- tax law;
- dispute resolution;
- projects/public law.
These fields of law are directly in tune with the preoccupations of foreign investors in Morocco, who are most active in the following sectors:
- Energy, a sector which has been growing steadily and receiving large and sophisticated investments, as a steady workflow in the mining, oil and gas sectors continues to attract foreign investors to Morocco. For instance, South Africa, Australia, Canada and Brazil are becoming increasingly involved with the Moroccan mining sector;
- Real estate;
- Infrastructures: due to high oil prices, the Moroccan government is looking for foreign investors interested in attending to its infrastructure needs;
- Banking and financial services;
- Transport ;
These are therefore the sectors that international law firms have come to focus on in Morocco. However, the Moroccan government has recently identified three new sectors as high priorities: the chemical industry, the pharmaceutical industry and the mechanical and metallurgy sector. In the future, there may therefore be an increase in activity in these fields, and, accordingly, a more prominent position for these sectors within the service lines offered by international firms in Morocco.