Having recently joined Levari in association with Pitmans LLP as a partner, Mohamed Shaaban brings over 15 years of experience in litigation dispute resolutions, mergers, capital markets, public funds investigations and public prosecution to his role. He talks to Law Today about his career so far and his plans for the future.
LT: Could you give an overview of your career trajectory to date?
MS: I graduated from the Faculty of Law, Helwan University, in 2002. After graduation, I worked with a private law firm for ten months, then moved to the Egyptian United Bank, where I worked as a legal adviser for around four years. Then in 2006 I started work at the United Bank, an entity that had been created as the result of a merger between the Egyptian United Bank, the Nile Bank and the Islamic Bank. This was a great opportunity because working in a merged bank afforded me good experience in various processes related to mergers.
In 2007 I joined CIB, which obviously is a top bank in Egypt and the Middle East. The Chairman of this bank, Hisham Ezz Al-Arab, is one of the kindest, cleverest and best people anyone could work with. Under his management, the bank navigated very challenging times and emerged from them stronger and more successful than ever.
CIB was always an entity with a vision, so there was really no comparison between the experience of working there and working with any other organisation. CIB invests deeply in any employee, when it is clear that the employee is highly motivated and has potential. In fact, it is an organisation that always demands that its employees make their best efforts; you do not find mediocre people there. In 2008 I started working at CI Capital, a leading investment bank in the MENA region, as well as CIB.
These were difficult times from an economic perspective, but professionally I grew as never before. I learned new things every day; we handled cases and transactions on a scale I had not seen before.
Obviously the events of 2011 had a significant impact on this environment. A lot of large companies did not retain all their staff and many people felt unable to continue working as normal because of the situation the country was in.
During this period, Hisham Ezz Al-Arab took the decision that CIB’s approach would be to invest in its employees. During this slow period, employees would be sent to take courses to help them develop their potential while there was not much work available. This was a very smart approach because while other banks fired up to 20% of their staff, this helped us to remain fresh, to hone our skills and retain our passion for our work.
I was very lucky to have been trained in this environment, with managers who were very smart and determined that I should learn not only how to build my legal financial knowledge but also how to manage people.
The work environment at CIB was exceptionally strong. I was working as the Director of Legal, reporting directly to the Chief Legal Officer who reports directly to Hesham Ezz el Arab. My manager was always extremely supportive. The system and the broader team – including the legal, financial and operations departments – functioned so well, and we were all so attuned to one another, that in any given situation we could solve problems without needing much direct communication.
Hisham Ezz Al-Arab is really, in my view, an outstanding leader. He once wrote me an official thank you letter for a particular piece of work that I completed and for me this letter ranks among one of my greatest professional successes.
When I decided to leave, it was very difficult for me on a personal level. I recognised that I had worked with excellent people, that there was not an area of financial law that I had not made inroads into, that I had worked in a high-calibre environment and learned a lot. I felt it was time for a new challenge.
LT: So then how did the process of you joining Levari work?
MS: There were many reasons why it made sense for me to join Levari. I had been in conversations with Sherif (Hefni, Levari co-Founder and Partner) and Mohamed (Raslan, Levari co-Founder and Partner) since December 2016 about the prospect of joining as a third partner. We took our time, to be sure that we would come to an arrangement that would suit us all.
Levari is a very impressive law firm, with a rate of growth that has been faster and more significant than many bigger and older offices. There is a strong strategic plan in place that governs us all and there are good clear policies and procedures. It is this kind of structure that I really value, and that makes me feel that this is a place I can really work and grow in.
I am of course coming with particular experience and both Sherif and Mohamed have their own distinct areas of expertise as well. We complement each other and learn from each other as we pursue our shared goals and targets. I am very happy to work with Sherif and Mohamed; they are excellent lawyers. The prospect of coming somewhere where I can both grow and help to build the institution itself is something I am very enthusiastic about.
LT: How does the experience of being an in-house counsel vary from the role of a private practice lawyer?
MS: There are many ways in which the two vary. In a private practice, obviously the nature of the cases you take on varies much more than as an in-house counsel, because the nature of in-house work is fundamentally more specialised.
In a company where you are working as an in-house counsel, there are many departments that take care of operational and organisational decisions, so these are not your area of focus.
Obviously as a partner in a private practice, you are much more involved in every aspect of the business. So you communicate with your clients at an institutional level, thinking about revenue generation and the growth of your law firm.
LT: Will you be specialising in financial law now at Levari or is this an opportunity for you to expand your own areas of focus now you are in private practice?
MS: I will be working on a combination of financial and different types of law. Levari has many different kinds of international transactions that I am looking forward to getting involved with. I will of course be bringing my expertise in financial law, but then there are new things to work on and new things to learn.
LT: Where and how would you like to see Levari grow from this point on?
MS: Levari is already growing quickly. We have a second branch in Cairo, in the GrEEK Campus, and have just opened a branch in Dubai as well.
I believe that we will continue to grow and open new branches both in the region and beyond. I am excited to see what the future has in store for us.