Associate – International Law Firm
Once a small fishing village in the Arabian Gulf, Dubai has become one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Home to nearly 200 nationalities, this Emirate has transitioned into a truly progressive and cultured region. It offers unparalleled coastlines, beautiful desert and grand opportunities for an ambitious legal professional.
As with the rest of the world, Dubai and their legal employment market has felt the effects of the pandemic however, the city is open and without lockdown, at the time of writing. Many law firms are offering the flexibility of working remotely with limited or no time required at the office. There has been adaptation to the ‘new normal’ and although some practice areas and firms have been hit harder than others, many practices remain busy.
In Demand Practice Areas & Predictions for 2021
The market for private practice associate positions has to be looked at in the context of global hiring freezes and even if a firm is busy within the Middle East region, sign off is often available for replacement roles. The firms remain busiest in areas such as construction arbitration, front end construction / projects, Debt Capital Markets, TMT, FS litigation and investigations, project finance. The major transactional areas such as corporate, private equity, leverage / acquisition finance, whilst are potentially busy, firms remain cautious to hire in those areas, as the pipeline of work and deals for 2021 is unpredictable given a range of inteational factors. However, once the vaccine role out occurs, recruitment in Q2/3 of 2021 onwards should come back online to reflect pre-COVID levels. The rescheduled EXPO2020 should also provide a positive spotlight in Dubai, investment and raise the UAE’s profile globally.
Beyond Dubai as the major legal hub, the legal market in Middle East continues to develop. The lifting of the embargo and opening of borders and flights within the GCC to and from Qatar are examples of very positive news coming out of the region. Add to this the football World Cup on the horizon and we can expect a boost in the demand for legal work and hires in Doha. Another exciting example is the opening up and investment in mega projects by Saudi Arabia and the need to grow legal practices to cope with demand. Abu Dhabi remains a stable market with investment in technology, global partnerships and long-term enhancement of the UAE.
Lateral Partner Recruitment
The law firm partner market in Dubai in particular shows that there was still an appetite at US and UK headquartered law firms for strategic hires during 2020 and through 2021. This is with the view to firm’s looking at rounding out their existing offerings, or more opportunistic hires of those individuals (or teams) with a business case and client following, that who are perhaps outperforming their previous firm so have sought a better platform elsewhere.
Given the global economic situation there has understandably been more scrutiny around business case and client following than ever before, and packages reflecting a distribution of risk i.e., with more targeted revenue and performance payment clauses. On that basis many hires tend to be long-standing partners that are moving, however there are still a sprinkling of those Senior Associate moving for partnership moves and opportunities, perhaps based around existing relationships or plugging skills gaps.
Why Would I Relocate to Dubai at the Moment?
Even during the pandemic there are examples of lawyers making the move from London, Hong Kong, Sydney etc to Dubai to continue their careers with major inteational law firms. With its excellent weather and less onerous current restrictions it can look like add an attractive option for many lawyers. If you add in the income tax free income, on equivalent to London or higher associate packages, and it becomes very appealing!
For those lawyers relocating inteationally, employers will offer full visa support and are often very helpful with the transition. Gaining inteational experience is looked upon positively by large firms and organisations and working in Dubai offers a fantastic and exciting lifestyle. If firms have a requirement and are willing to invest the time and money to make an inteational hire, then they are looking at a medium to long term and will support that individual to have a successful career in the region.
I am an ex-lawyer with 14 years legal recruitment, and for the past 4 years’ have been heading up the Legal Recruitment Division at a reputable company here in Dubai. I have re-joined DMJ Recruitment, recognising the synergies with my experience and DMJ’s reputation and access to high calibre candidates to inform, guide and assist legal professionals looking to move in the Middle East market. DMJ Middle East here in Dubai will offer confidential, experienced and personalised support.
With an uptick in the widescale vaccine roll out in region and confidence retuing, I am certain there will be many opportunities in the private practice, in-house and partner market now and in the near future. I am keen to speak to any adventurous and ambitious legal professionals considering a move to the Arabic Peninsula.
Contact me directly at email@example.com or +971 4444 9489 to have a confidential discussion about the Dubai / Middle East legal recruitment market, opportunities and developments.
Director - DMJ Middle East