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Mohamed Gabr is group general counsel at Egyptian financial company EFG Holding. In this interview, he talks about his decision to shift from private practice to in-house, the sophistication and growth of the in-house role in the Middle East and the qualities he looks for in external counsel. 

 

ALB: Tell us about your career so far, and what led to the shift to in-house after several years.

MOHAMED GABR: I studied Economics as an undergraduate and was pursuing an MA in International Relations and an LLB while preparing for a career in diplomacy. During that phase, I started working as a paralegal, and was fascinated by corporate and commercial law, especially M&As and capital market transactions. I decided to pursue a career in law instead and spent more than 15 years in private practice between three firms (Zaki Hashem & Partners, Matouk Bassiouny and Al Tamimi & Co).

Throughout this period, I was working closely with EFG Holding either as a client or a co-advisor on numerous transactions and was always impressed by the unrivalled quality of this investment bank in Egypt and the MENA region. When I had the opportunity to join the EFG Holding in-house team, I made up my mind to start this new chapter of my career, especially since the group was transitioning to a universal bank by simultaneously acquiring a commercial bank and expanding its NBFI activities.

In the past four years since I joined EFG Holding, the legal department has gradually expanded and evolved in tandem with this transition. We currently comfortably handle and oversee all legal tasks related to the various business lines, providing quality legal support to the business efficiently and consistently.

ALB: What are the ways in which the role of a general counsel and of in-house teams have evolved in the Middle East during the course of your career? What factors have driven this evolution?

GABR: General counsel and in-house teams in the Middle East have seen their roles evolve in the past few years. Nowadays, the reliance on external law firms is typically confined to highly specialized advice on specific matters. Accordingly, in-house teams have grown in size and scope.

This is partly due to the evolution of the legal industry, with more and more talents choosing to pursue in-house careers, and partly due to the need to have more control over the legal budget.

ALB: What are the most important qualities you look for in outside counsel, and how do you evaluate law firms? What are some ways you feel firms in the region could do better?

GABR: In line with regional trends, the legal department in EFG Holding has,

during the past four years, expanded in terms of headcount, capabilities and scope of work. We only resort to outside counsel to receive high-quality advice on matters that require their specialised know-how. Therefore, our emphasis is on quality. We also seek clarity in terms of timing and costs to be able to manage expectations internally. Firms in the region are relatively behind in terms of using technology and innovation to manage costs more efficiently.

ALB: How do you see the role of technology and innovation impacting the legal industry in the Middle East, and what steps are you taking to stay ahead of these changes? What standards do you set for the law firms you are instructing?

GABR: The Middle East will definitely witness a growing reliance on technology and innovation in the legal industry. As a first step, we have been using technology to manage our financial and human resources more efficiently. Currently, we are working towards rely-ing more on technological innovations in performing our various tasks. In our dealings with law firms, we stress on the importance of efficiency, which rewards more innovative law firms.

ALB: What are some of the ways you feel the legal industry is expected to change over the coming years?

GABR: Technology and innovation (especially artificial intelligence) will change the legal industry over time. Innovations will be resorted to by in-house teams and law firms to enhance efficiency (both in terms of costs and time).

Lawyers and non-lawyers working in the legal industry will be required to keep up with the pace of this technological change. In the meantime, high-quality, specialized legal expertise will remain in high demand. In the future, specialized lawyers with more in-depth knowledge and more advanced techni-cal skills in specific issue areas will have more opportunities.

 

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