The end of sanctions creates big opportunities for law firms with local knowledge.
On the very day that the Financial Times was splashing ‘Iran comes in from the cold with deal to end 12-year nuclear standoff’, James Griffin, managing partner of West Country-based commercial and private client firm Everys Solicitors, was in Tehran, announcing the opening of a branch office there.
Lucky timing? Perhaps, but, as ever, chance favours the prepared mind. Everys, which already has a presence in Dubai (and can trace its history in England back 200 years) has evidently been eyeing opportunities in Iran for some time. The ending of international sanctions is expected to unfreeze Iranian assets totalling at least $100bn (£0.64bn), and open the floodgates to investments in everything from transport infrastructure to luxury goods.
Everys is entering the market by acquiring the practice of a local firm with a presence in Tehran and Shiraz. This is a substantially riskier commitment than merely servicing the market from an ‘Iran desk’ in London or Dubai, but one that should pay off in a culture as distinct as Iran’s.
All in all, an impressive advertisement for the get-up-and-go spirit of the UK professional services sector. We hope the sector’s critics, and the government, take note.
This does not mean that every law firm should have a representative on the plane to Tehran tomorrow. For a start, there’s a dearth of direct flights (memo to David Cameron: we don’t need a decision on a new Heathrow runway now, we need a new Heathrow runway now) and obtaining visas is still tricky. Dealing with Iran requires cultural sensitivity, and not just that gained in a couple of years of living in an ex-pat package on the Arab side of the Gulf. A bit of historical awareness is handy, too; apparent paranoia about British power is at least partially explicable by Britain’s record of interference in Iran in the mid-twentieth century and before.
In a volatile part of the world, there is still plenty of room for things to go wrong. In its briefing on the nuclear deal, international firm Clyde & Co pointed out yesterday that a number of hurdles remain to be cleared before any sanctions are lifted. One is US Congressional approval. Iran must also begin implementing the agreed ‘roadmap’, subject to president Obama’s threat of sanctions ‘snapping back into place’.
And even if it plays by the nuclear rules, Iran should still come under fierce international scrutiny for its human rights record and habit of sponsoring terrorist activity both regionally and further afield.
Nonetheless, Iran is now the regional superpower with a population of 70 million people whose aspirations deserve to be taken seriously.
Michael Cross is Gazette news editor. He has followed events in Iran for 40 years.