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Lunch with Andrew Tarbuck

Published by Current on 2009-03-11

Andrew Tarbuck has one of those visages that don’t lend it to pinning down his age. Of course, he isn’t much older than his early 30’s, but he could jolly well pass off as a younger graduate student at Newcastle University in Britain, or the Chester College of Law, his alma maters.

One thing is for sure: Mr. Tarbuck, whose academic career was limned by vigorous rugby competitions, is very fit, which may explain the boundless energy he demonstrates in discussing the United Arab Emirates over lunch. Another thing: he is very successful. He was recently made a partner at the international legal powerhouse of Latham & Watkins LLP, which was founded in 1934, and has more than 2,100 attorneys in 28 offices around the world, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai. During 2007, Latham lawyers handled more than $182.6 billion in debt offerings and $72.7 billion in public equity offerings worldwide, including $32 billion of initial public offerings. You simply don’t get to become a partner at such a venerable legal institution at such a young age unless you are very good at what you do.

What Mr. Tarbuck does in Dubai ranges from corporate finance to personal finance to, well, most any topic that falls under the rubric of legal practice. In a rapidly developing country such as the UAE, a lawyer needs to be very versatile indeed.

“The law, in any jurisdiction, is the cornerstone by which all of our lives are governed and applies to all manner of human behavior, including personal finance,” Mr. Tarbuck said. “There are so many facets to the law that one of the key attractions is that you can commence your legal career and then follow a myriad of avenues to suit your interests and skill sets. For some, it is the environmental credentials in project finance for wind farms and for others it is pro bono work for charities or NGO's. I was seduced by the cut and thrust of law as it applied to corporate finance and so it has led me into some incredibly interesting areas of global business, including equity capital markets, mergers and acquisitions and, most pertinently, corporate restructurings.”

“Maintaining a sense of realism whilst understanding that the devil is in the detail is a difficult skill to master especially whilst keeping a smile on your face,” Mr. Tarbuck said, with a smile, of course. “One of the great elements to practicing the law is the fact that not one day is ever the same. A lawyer comes to expect the unexpected and a great lawyer know what the unexpected will be.

“So many things can happen to your clients from the good -- winning a court case you never expected to win, and ‘having your day in court’ -- to the bad – receiving an unexpected hostile bid for your company on a Friday afternoon. Deals and transactions follow everyday twists and turns and there are so many small battles to be fought and won. Clients also experience a gamut of emotions during a time of unusual and often turbulent corporate activity.”

So how much of his practice consists of matters involving personal finance? What is most asked of him concerning law and the management of personal finance?

“It is common practice for lawyers to provide informal advice by friends and family on more personal matters including personal finance,” Mr. Tarbuck said. “I could not tell you how many London cab drivers have asked me for advice relating to their mortgage or residential lease. Being a corporate lawyer, you are quite often asked for comment on the state of the markets from a personal investment perspective. Lawyers have to be careful not to give direct investment advice and also be wary of the fact that they are in possession of highly confidential price sensitive information.”

Any anecdotes he’d care to share without breaching lawyer-client confidentiality?

“One night I was nearly diverted to a police station on my journey home in a cab in the early hours having done a late-night stint at work to assist the cab driver in giving ad hoc advice in situ (in a cell) to his rather belligerent brother who had not quite adhered to the Marquis of Queensbury's rules outside a local pub,” Mr. Tarbuck said.

What's it like to practice law in the UAE, a country where nearly everyone is obsessed with personal finance – especially in these times of economic upheaval?

“Practicing law in the UAE throws up many challenges which at times can be frustrating but also very rewarding. A significant majority of corporate documents are governed by US or UK law and so it is commonplace for English law to be practiced in the UAE which has a traditional affinity with English culture and values,” Mr. Tarbuck said. “However, UAE law is based upon civil law principles rather than English law which follows a common law approach. The legal system of the UAE is relatively young because, as an independent State, the UAE came into existence in 1971.”

Legal jurisdiction and applicability of the law is therefore of special consequence when it comes to issues relating to personal finance. This can make for a complicated situation in adjudicating disputes.

“Subject always to the constitution of the UAE, each Emirate is subject to the Federal Law of the UAE but retains the right to administer its own internal affairs and enjoys certain other exclusive rights. The UAE legal system is founded upon Civil Law principles and Islamic Shari'a Law, the latter constituting the guiding principle and source of law,” Mr. Tarbuck said. “English law is based upon the Common Law legal system but the UAE legal system is a member of the
Civil Law family of legal systems whereby legislation tends to be formulated into a number of major codes providing for general principles of law with a significant amount of subsidiary legislation which is promulgated by a number of means such as decisions, resolutions and instructions.”

Does that mean that as an English qualified lawyer in the UAE it can be difficult to interpret such prescriptive laws and to understand the principles of Shari'a law?

“Continual learning and adding to one's skill set can be very satisfying,” Mr. Tarbuck said. “Frequent questions that arise concern the enforcement by the UAE courts of court judgments obtained in foreign courts and the ability to initiate court proceedings against government organizations. The adherence to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in 2006 by the UAE has given the region a great deal of credibility and has provided increased comfort to those foreign entities looking to invest in the UAE. Although yet to be tested, there is a willingness for the UAE to recognize that to hide behind ‘sovereign immunity’ has a material adverse affect on foreign investors desire to do business in the region and hinders economic growth accordingly.”

Still, there is also an altruistic element to the law whereby the lawyer acts as a conduit between the law itself and the end user, whether in businesses or among individuals, Mr. Tarbuck said.

“It is our job to know the law and then interpret it and advise accordingly so that our clients can make informed decisions and minimize their risk accordingly. Knowing and understanding your clients’ objectives and empathizing are critical skills for a lawyer. These are developed with experience. Experience also provides the lawyer with a reliable ‘nose’ for whether something is legally wrong or right. The accurate execution of the ‘sniff test’ and calm under pressure are key attributes to being a successful lawyer.”

There are, of course, always surprises in the game, even for an accomplished lawyer like Mr. Tarbuck.

“Corporate lawyers conduct transactions as their force of habit but large transactions requiring lawyers are an infrequent event for many company directors who can react and behave in any manner of mysterious and surprising ways,” Mr. Tarbuck said. “There is always the possibility that your client will suddenly fold on a plethora of points in a negotiation when you had steadfastly agreed behind closed doors to protect the ‘crown jewels’ at any cost. This can sometimes be frustrating for the lawyer but it must always be remembered that the client does not have to take your advice no matter how good it is.”

Clients, to be sure, often look at their lawyers to be able to resolve all their problems, whether in personal finance or in corporate matters. 8. How does Mr. Tarbuck deal with general sentiment of clients that he will be their savior?

“I am fortunate that I am a partner at a full-service international law firm with a very collegiate culture and so I know that if very specific questions arise, whether it be in relation to an industry or geographic sector or type of transaction, I know that I can always contact someone within the organization with the requisite know how. Knowing when to ask for back-up -- and being humble enough to ask and be prepared to listen -- is also a crucial part of being a lawyer and ensuring that you obtain the best advice for your client.

“It would be quite simply negligent to think that one lawyer alone can answer every question that a client may have,” Mr. Tarbuck continued. “In some cases there really may not be a clear answer in which case a good lawyer will apply common sense and logic with a degree of commercial wit. Also, in circumstances that are not yet covered by a particular law, a lawyer can pioneer and develop the law and also build market practice. On occasion, private practice lawyers are asked by governments to write new laws or develop existing ones. This is particularly innovative and rewarding.”

Not many days ago, Andrew Tarbuck received a particularly gratifying validation of his skills and status.

“I was honored to be invited to participate in an economic development forum hosted by the Syrian Government and civil service to provide my experience as an international legal practitioner from private practice.”

As his rugby coach in Britain would have said, Well done, sir!

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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