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  • "A Day in Riyadh": An Exhibition of History, Culture, Modernization & Reformation

    During the last week of September, immediately following the opening of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York, a series of seminars, workshops and interactive displays collectively coined "A Day in Riyadh" was showcased at the UN.  This week-long "Riyadh Day" was sponsored by the High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh (Riyadh), and particularly featured the ongoing work of the Arriyadh (Riyadh) Development Authority (ADA).  As a Representative (Observer) for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) to the UN, and an attorney with an office in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Huf, Principal of JHI, was pleased and excited to attend.

    Riyadh (Saudi) Exhibition at the United Nations
    Focused on the capital city of Saudi Arabia (KSA, or the Kingdom) and the governate (province) of Riyadh, the series of presentations covered subjects relevant to the economy, culture, commerce and development of the entire Kingdom, and the Arab and Islamic worlds more generally.

    Of particular interest to those who follow this space will be the planned reformation of Riyadh's transportation system which, if fully executed, may be the single-largest public works project on earth during the period of construction. However, we will list all of the subjects covered by the panel presentations at the UN between September 27 - 30, to provide a broad look at the planned continued development of Riyadh (one of the chief purposes of the conference) which, in turn, may give us a better view of the Kingdom-wide social and economic reforms known as Saudi Arabia's "Vision 2030".

    Eng Khalid Al Hogail, CEO Saudi Public Transport Company  Saudi Nuclear Program  Arriyadh Development Authority

    9/27 "Riyadh:  Planning for People" - the overall City Plan (by 2030) moving forward, including details on Riyadh's new "Smart City" initiative.

    9/28 "Riyadh:  A Sustainable & People-Friendly City" - details concerning the Sustainable Development of Riyadh.

    9/29 "Riyadh:  On the Move" -  The King Abdulaziz Project for Riyadh Public Transport.

    9/30 "Riyadh:  Development of Civilization and Social Partnership" - Plans for the continued social, economic and intellectual development of the city's population in line with Islamic principles and the traditions of Arabia, particularly youth and especially young women, empowering them to take a more active role in the growth of the city and the future of the Kingdom as a whole.

    Dr. Sana H Alorf and Jason Huf
    (Jason Huf and Dr. Sana Alorf.  Dr. Sana is extraordinary, but not unique. She is a medical doctor working in Riyadh who also participates in many charitable and civic endeavors.  She volunteered, along with many other young Saudis, to travel to New York and talk about their culture, heritage and way of life in side bars at the exhibition.  Many ladies are taking up professions [including and increasingly fields such as law, medicine and science], starting businesses and participating in life outside their homes in the Kingdom.  Dr. Sana has a wealth of information that dispells many of the illusions concerning Saudi society and highlights the progress Saudi women have made - and continue to make.)

    The public transortation project, scheduled for completion in 2018, is a massive affair that could revolutionize life in Riyadh.  In addition to a new bus service, the project includes the construction of a commuter railway (Riyadh Metro) with six lines, dozens of stations, a main terminal for each line, and services areas at each stop, including large-scale shopping complexes at each of the main terminals.  Anticipating use by roughly 3.6 million residents daily, over 3,000 transport stands will be constructed to accomodate waiting commuters.

    With billions of Saudi Riyals being invested into the project, and given the rather brief time frame, this will generate a labor boom in the capital for qualified Saudis and expatriates.  Mr. Huf asked Eng. Hassan Al Musa, Deputy Director of the Transport Planning Department of the High Commission for the Development of Riyadh, if resources had been allocated to process what should be a substantial spike in Visa applications.  Potential contractors and subcontractors will be interested to know that the Deputy Director responded that his office is in touch with the Ministry of Labor on a regular basis as they set up for this contingency.  So long as employers comply with their filing requirements, he said, there should be no delays in the project caused by a labor shortage brought about by paperwork backlogs.

    Eng Hassan Al Musa and Jason Huf
    (Eng. Hassan Al Musa and Jason Huf.  Mr. Huf found him to be capable, earnest and modest.  Although entrusted with day-to-day management of a massive public works project, with a tight schedule, he always gives credit to others, refering to his "Army" of dedicated public servants.  "That makes you a General", responded Mr. Huf, who later added, "Eng. Hassan is a nice guy".)

    In addition to the lifestyle transformation and relief of traffic congestion that will take place once this project is complete, young Saudis who are lacking in resources such as cars of their own will be able to much more easily venture beyond the confines of their own neighborhoods to look for satisfying work and important educational opportunities.  And, everyone who lives in Riyadh should enjoy the benefit of cleaner air arising from fewer cars on the highways.

    The entire program provided a window through which one could sample Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, the rapid modernization and other wide-ranging reforms ordered by King Salman and spearheaded by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with the aim of guiding a modern but authentically Islamic Saudi Arabia that remains true to its people's history and traditions into a future "Post-Oil" economy.

    These reforms include the KSA's Sustainable Development program, which closely follows the UN's Sustainable Development Goals while keeping in conformity with Kingdom's Islamic principles; increased opportunities for youth & women; and, Saudi Arabia's nuclear power program.

    At JHI, we have offered our own modest suggestions for the shaping of such sweeping reforms, with an emphasis on attracting increased Foreign Direct Investment in the Saudi market.

    With an incoming US Administration that seems keen on utilizing America's energy resources; and, (if feasible) working with Russia to defeat ISIS (which, in addition to commiting henious atrocities, has been fighting forces led directly or indirectly by the Iranians), some may see such investment from the West as slow in coming, and the KSA's reception of it to be less-than-enthusiastic.

    Seen by some as signalling potential push-back against the further development of US energy resources and other recent or possible future policy changes, Prince Alaweed bin Talal of Kingdom Holding Company (Saudi Arabia's soverign investment apparatus) suggested selling holdings previously classified "not sellable" (such as shares in Citi Group and US Treasury bonds), which would be a divorce from Saudi Arabia's long-standing policy of having "buy-ins" in important American economic institutions and, thus, the American economy - effectively giving the US a stake in the KSA's existence and continued success.

    Noises concerning such potential push-back seem unlikely to stem the increased exploitation of US energy resources (another dip in the price of oil, for example, would seem more likely to give pause to an increase in US production).  And, the US-Saudi alliance of over seven decades, while fraying a bit over the last several years, should remain rather tightly tethered:  after ISIS is destroyed, a check on Iranian ambition will have been eliminated, and the US and the KSA will more clearly and simply share strong interests in containing Iran and managing increasingly complicated relationships with Russia.

    In fact, the strong relationships the KSA enjoys with the West, the interest Western countries have in seeing the continued modernization of Arab states, and Western companies' keen eye to continue - and, possibly increase - their investments in the Gulf region were reinforced recently by UK Prime Minister Theresa May in her mid-December visit to the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Bahrain.

    Overview City Plan Riyadh 2030
    Pending changes to the Kingdom's commercial and corporate laws, which continue to be rolled out, and given at least one or two geopolitical uncertainties, JHI presently and on the whole views it likely that the environment for Foreign Investors will become even more attractive as the Vision 2030 reforms are implemented in the KSA.  As to the Great Social & Economic Reformation of the Kingdom known as "Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030", Mr. Huf doesn't think its on par with the Maji Restoration (the radical transformation experienced in Japan during the late 19th century), but he does see it as the most significant series of reforms in the history of the KSA since the reign of King Faisal (perhaps in the Kingdom's entire history - we'll see) and the most positive collection of developments to take place in the Arab world thus far in this new, turbulent 21st century - and, he certainly viewed the exhibition at the UN positively.

  • Huf Witnesses Major Changes at the UN

    During 2016, Mr. Huf had the opportunity to meet with both the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the President of the UN General Assembly for the 2015-16 term.  As a Representative (Observer) to the UN on behalf of the New York County Lawyers' Association (NYCLA), a recognized Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Mr. Huf took a keen interest in what they had to say.

    HE Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General; and Jason Huf (JHI)
    (Left to Right: H.E. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations; and, Jason Huf)

    Nearing the end of his second term, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been very earnest in showcasing and attempting to make effective his crowning accomplishment: the UN Sustainable Development Treaty (the Treaty), which garnered a record number of member states joining as signatories.

    In April, the Secretary-General reached out to the private sector, in particular the US Legal Community in New York City, to see what they could do to help promote and ensure the success of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are embodied in the Treaty (for more on the SDGs specifically, we invite you to peruse www.un.org).

    While the underlying purpose of the SDGs is noble (after all, who doesn't like clean air & water, equal rights, rule of law and the like), as lawyers we are limited to providing our corporate clients with legal advice, not business or public relations advice.  We can only advise our clients on how to be compliant with the laws and regulations of the relevant jurisdiction(s).  If a client were to invest in, say, Saudi Arabia (KSA) in such a manner that it promotes gender equality in that market, it may be a terrific selling point - but, that's a PR decision, not a legal requirement.

    We will discuss gender equality and other relevant issues in the KSA when providing JHI's write-up on Mr. Huf's attendance at and observations of the week-long "Riyadh Day" presentations at the UN.  As to the promotion and enforcement of the SDG's, it really is up to the signatories to pass executing legislation before attorneys can advise on how to comply with such provisions.   And let's face it, only government can concentrate the resources and power necessary to execute such sweeping and extensive changes.

    The odds of that happening really have to be measured on a state-by-state basis.  As to the Western states, Mr. Huf points out that in politics there is an ebb and flow, with a pendulum that swings right and left, and the present trend appears to be one wherein Western countries are electing more conservative, business-friendly governments.  If Mr. Huf is correct, then issues such as combating "climate change", for example, will (for the time being at least) take a back seat to pro-energy policies that are likely to be adopted by such governments.

    Irrespective of what one thinks of the feasibility of accomplishing the SDGs by the target date of 2030, no one should doubt the Secretary-General's sincerity in wanting these goals to be accomplished, or what he views as the UN's power to shepherd such change.  Mr. Huf found His Excellency's sincerity, passion and enthusiasm to be obvious in that he wears it on his sleeve.  He also thinks it obvious that the Secretary-General is highly intelligent, exceedingly accomplished, and a very nice man.

    Its a remarkable life story, really. From UN Refugee to UN Secretary-General:  finding himself to be a UN refugee at age 6 with the outbreak of the Korean War, to becoming an advocate for lasting peace as the Republic of Korea's (South Korea's) Foreign Minister, to being Secretary-General of the international body that once shielded him and his family as young refugee, he proudly says "I am a UN Boy".

    Mogens Lykketoft (Denmark) & Jason Huf (JHI)
    (Left to Right: Morgens Lykketoft (Denmark), then-President of the United Nations General Assembly; and, Jason Huf)

    On the subject of choosing his successor as Secretary-General, Mr. Huf had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Morgens Lykketoft, formerly the Finance Minister of Denmark who, until this September, served as President of the UN General Assembly.

    Mr. Lykketoft provided an overview of changes to the selection process.  Perhaps the most fundamental innovation is the vetting of candidates by member states that occurs prior to the vote taken by the Security Council members.

    Whereas in past years the entire process of selecting a Secretary-General was dominated by the "Big Five" (the permanent Security Council members: the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom & France), candidates for their consideration are now first reviewed, narrowed down and subsequently voted upon by the General Assembly. 

    The Security Council is not bound by any recommendation made or preference expressed by the General Assembly; however, to elect a candidate that was not considered favorably by the General Assembly would be to risk a divide between the Secretariat (the executive wing and permanent bureaucracy of the UN, which the Secretary-General heads) and the member states themselves (upon which the very legitimacy of the UN relies).

    On the other hand, this increased, more hands-on role by the member states and the General Assembly as a whole could provide for greater transparency in the selection process and, when heeded by the Security Council, may lead to greater consensus between the General Assemby and Secretariat.

    This year, the revised process produced the election of Antonio Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal who once served as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.  He will take over the office of Secretary-General in January of 2017.

    In addition to achieving the SDG's, Mr. Guterres's efforts are promised to be focused on continued reform of the UN bureaucracy; continued streamlining, expansion and enhancement of refugee assistance; and, very prominently, an aggressive new "surge" in diplomacy for peace - an intensification in seeking resolution to the wide proliferation of conflicts around the world, especially those conflicts that have led to several severe refugee crises currently plaguing humankind globally.

    JHI congratulates Mr. Guterres on his election after a months-long campaign that included a rigorous review process resulting in consensus in both the General Assembly and (somewhat remarkably) the Security Council as well; and, cautions: careful what you wish for, sir - because now you've got it.

    The retiring Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, even after all of his success in his position at an institution he has loved and revered since childhood, nonetheless seems very happy to return home to Seoul after 10 rewarding - but long - years.  JHI congratulates him as well, and thanks him for his service.  We hope His Excellency enjoys a well-earned retirement after a long, but safe, journey home. 
  • N. Mandela and How the "Soprano State" Doesn't Work in Africa, Either

    On the evening of September 22, 2016, Mr. Huf attended an event featuring Ndaba Mandela, Chairman & Co-Founder of the "Africa Rising" Foundation, and grandson of late South African President Nelson Mandela.  Mr. Mandela was in New York during the Convening of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and spoke at the New York City Bar Association on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) vis-a-vis African states, particularly Goal # 16 (concerning Good Governance, Anti-Corruption and Rule of Law).


    Ndaba Mandela, Africa Rising Foundation & R. Jason Huf, Huf International (JHI, pc)
    (Left to Right: Mr. Ndaba Mandela, Chairman & Co-Founder of the "Africa Rising" Foundation; and, Jason Huf)

    Mr. Huf grew up in New Jersey, and has lived there for roughly half the sum total of his life thus far.  He knows, first-hand, the economically and socially corrosive effects of political corruption, and the crippling effect a government that serves only to facilitate corruption can have on a state and the people who live in such a place.

    That said, Mr. Huf limited himself to listening.  After all, while lawyers may be at the bottom rung of the ladder among the govering class, lawyers are still part of the governing class.  Mr. Huf thought it best to listen to - and learn from - someone who speaks for some of the people of the developing world who have been poorly served (and, often, downright exploited and oppressed) by those who govern their countries:  "Far be it from me to tell him what he should want.  He knows what he wants!", Mr. Huf later said of his interraction with Mr. Mandela.

    More judges, better educational opportunities, and the like were offered up as being helpful tools in pursuit of SDG # 16.  But, Mr. Mandela most strongly asserted that it was up to the people themselves, not judges appointed by corrupt dictators and oligarchs, to assert themselves and demand access to the clean water, medical treatment and other resources which are rightfully theirs.

    He has a point - who would simply sit there watching their child die of a perfectly preventable disease and patiently wait for a UN team to swing by and, after some years, convince the multi-millionare colonel/ President of their otherwise poor country to suddenly have a change of heart and appoint honest judges and fly in doctors, food, agriculture & water treatment specialists instead of buying that third villa in Switzerland?

    And, he makes that point with evident sincerity and passion, as one might expect given the heavy legacy he inherits from his iconic grandfather.  The SDGs are ambitious and, if only because of that ambition, useful.  But, absent people demanding responsibility for, and power over, their own futures, the progress that can be made toward the SDGs is likely somewhat limited.

    Specifically, it does not seem possible to accomplish any of the SDGs without first making serious advances on SDG # 16, given the destructive and stifling effect bad governance and political corruption consistently have on  factors necessary to achieve the other Sustainable Development Goals.  Rule of Law is, quite simply, a must for any civilzation to achieve real success, whether it be Sierra Leone, Nigeria, the Republic of South Africa, or New Jersey.  And SDG # 16 is unlikely to be accomplished without the engagement of an affected population.

    Mr. Huf expressed genuine pleasure over meeting Mr. Mandela and looks forward to similar opportunities as he tracks the progress of the SDGs at the UN as Representative (Observer) of a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), particularly as and when such may impact the "corporate responsibilities" of companies doing business internationally.

    The evening with Mr. Mandela was organized by the New York City Bar Association's UN Committee, which invited the New York County Lawyers' Association's (NYCLA) Foreign & International Law Committee to co-sponsor the event.  As Co-Chairman of NYCLA's Foreign & International Law Committee, Mr. Huf hopes the success of this event provides the basis for establishing a model of cooperation between committees of different bar associations on synergetic issues of importance to the legal community and society more broadly.
  • Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 & "Riyadh Day" at the UN

    You are about to see a rapid-fire (for this space, anyway) succession of as yet unpublished updates covering a period from Spring 2016 to present.  We will start with an initial discussion of Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030”, touted as the most sweeping series of reforms in the Kingdom’s history.
     
    In a nutshell, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is a collection of planned economic and social reforms designed to construct a “Post-Oil” Saudi Arabia, in line with globally-held concepts of Sustainable Development. King Salman has invested his son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with broad, sweeping powers to enable him, his advisors and other subordinates to design and execute these reforms between now and the target date of 2030.
     
    Within the stated goals of weaning the Kingdom (KSA) off of being an Oil-based economy and becoming an industrialized state, with greater Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), full employment for working-aged males, improved access to high-quality education, greater rights for women and a more liberal social structure generally, two items are immediately obvious:  we are seeing Riyadh’s intent to finalize the end the era wherein OPEC, the powerful cartel of oil-producing states, has been the world’s definitive maker of oil policy; and, a rapid and intense military build-up intended to strengthen a block of states that includes the KSA, Egypt and the smaller Gulf States determined to withstand growing Iranian and Russian influence in the Gulf region following continued declining US influence and interest there and in the greater Middle East.
     
    While JHI is not a policy think tank, we feel it is important to know the backdrop and overall purpose of any upcoming reforms.
     
    Our principle concern is FDI, and the impact any reforms may have on the attractiveness of FDI in the KSA. This program is still young, so specific laws and regulations impacting FDI are not yet in effect. For the time being, there is nothing set in concrete that a law firm can dissect for the benefit of its clients.
     
    Therefore, in our typical less-than-modest fashion, JHI offers some suggestions on how to make FDI in the KSA more attractive to potential investors:
     
    1.  The Corporate Income Tax should continue to be (gradually) lowered, and personal income tax should remain zero.  Although declining oil revenues and their impact on the national government’s budget needs to be addressed, increasing the number of companies investing in the KSA, rather than increasing the tax existing companies pay, seems the best way to address the current budget shortfalls giving rise to the KSA’s national debt.
     
    2.  Saudization is seen, by and large, as a form of tax by potential foreign investors. The best way to address the employment crisis in the KSA is not by compelling investors to hire Saudi nationals, but by making the hiring of them more attractive.  Foreign investors ordinarily love to avail themselves of a local workforce – after all, importing staff and finding housing for them is pretty darned expensive!  Many such imported workers do not know the language or withstand the culture shock very well.  Unfortunately, fairly or unfairly, the idea of hiring Saudis is generally considered unattractive, thus the current Saudization requirements.  Rather than increase these requirements, education should be improved and made more accessible, and a sense of work ethic (rather than entitlement) needs to be instilled in the Kingdom’s youth.  And, the world needs to actually KNOW of the existence of such an educated, hard-working labor pool – numbering in the millions, and proud of real accomplishment at the workplace.  Do this, and Saudization will no longer be necessary at all.
     
    3.  Make the process of obtaining a business license less burdensome and more efficient.  Telling clients that it could take a minimum of six (6) months to obtain the necessary documentation before proceeding with business activity tends to be something of a turn-off for them.  Additional agencies designed to steer and otherwise regulate foreign investment eases nothing and are simply additional "layers” of bureaucracy.  Streamlining, rather than adding to, the process of licensing incoming businesses would be a productive step.
     
    4.  Women’s rights, and human rights generally, should be broadened – and, can be without offending the Kingdom’s religious sensibilities or its historical traditions.  It is much easier, on multiple levels, for a company to invest in a country whose culture is not the focus of controversial discussions centered around notions of equality and individual human dignity.  Additionally, it is essential that people throughout the Kingdom feel some sense of “ownership” in their country and their respective futures (see, 2. above).  They need to feel that their rights are being protected by their government, not denied.  This isn’t a call for the overnight imposition of Jeffersonian democracy.  Quite the contrary:  JHI asserts that the keys to unlocking a more liberal social structure (without rocking the stability of the KSA) lay within the old tribal and other cultural traditions of the modern Kingdom.
     
    5.  The labor market, and the regulation of such, should be loosened, and greater rights should be provided to foreign “unskilled” laborers and household staff.  As above (see, 4.), this is a matter of conscious for many potential investors, as well as foreign professional staff who visit the KSA.
     
    6.  Banking reform is a must.  The KSA is one of the most – if not the most – “underbanked” markets on the face of the earth.  While new banks and fresh capital and competition need to be allowed in, stronger regulation and monitoring needs to be in place, giving rise to stronger internal compliance programs.  While banking needs to be more readily available in the KSA, companies and governments around the world also need to have more confidence in the country’s banks.
     
    7.  For local and foreign companies alike, receivables can be something of a headache in the KSA.  Its no secret that debt, and the collection of debt, can be problematic there.  As the Kingdom undertakes judicial reform, it should continue to consider the importance of the confidence a company can have in the investment it makes in Saudi Arabia.
     
    8.  One of the most crucial assets in play when investing in any country is a company’s intellectual property. Intellectual property protections and anti-piracy measures need to be greatly strengthened, and quickly.  It is important for any company (say, you sell shampoo and find yourself competing with a counterfeit knock-off of your product – that’s not good), but when looking to attract high-tech industries, especially, it is absolutely fundamental that such companies have confidence that intellectual property worth hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of US dollars will not be stolen from them and effectively rendered next to worthless overnight.
     
    These are eight basic principle points upon which JHI would like to see the building of any reform package affecting FDI in the KSA.
     
    JHI will track any concrete steps within this subject, and Mr. Huf hopes to learn more when “Riyadh Day” (its actually a week of symposiums, workshops and other such meetings), sponsored by the KSA’s High Commission for the Development of Riyadh, is held at the United Nations in New York at the end of September.
  • April Showers Bring May Flowers

    By R. Jason Huf

    Its been quite some time since JHI's last Note or Comment, but that doesn't mean that there hasn't been anything to write about.  And, its certainly too much to write about all at once.

    With Ramadan just around the corner, should the usual business cycle associated with the Holy Month and High Summer come about, I will make maximum use of the time and write more often:


    April was a pretty busy month, inside the office and out.  Saudi Arabia's "Vision 2030" was unveiled by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on April 25.  JHI will provide analysis of the KSA's plan for a "post-Oil" economy, and any changes to the laws of the Kingdom resulting therefrom.  We will also continue to track legal developments elsewhere in the Gulf region.

    Also, as UN Representative for an NGO, I enjoyed the opportunity of hearing United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speak about the UN's Sustainable Development Treaty, the Sustainable Development Goals, and what the private sector (including the Legal Community) can do to help achieve those goals.  This was followed by attending several open forums at the UN, and hosting a talk on 'Conflict Minerals' with an expert on the subject.

    I also moderated two very successful Continuing Legal Education panels, one on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the other an Ethics course on Attorney "Branding" for international practitioners.

    Almost forgot! In March, I had the pleasure of hosting a New York State judge who discussed the Qatari Commercial Courts after returning from his experience teaching new, young Qatari lawyers in Doha.

    More recently, after months of deliberations and conversations with colleagues and others I respect, I have come to a decision on JHI's future in the Middle East - and, beyond.

    [ for some of the backstory, click here ---> 
    JHI - The Law Firm of Jason Huf International   ].


    Further details concerning our expansion of capabilities and services, as well as the other topics outlined above, will be distributed in due course.

    In the meantime, Happy Memorial Day -- enjoy the start of summer!



     - Jason Huf
    Wednesday, May 25, 2016
    New York, NY