Working in the Middle East: a guide for NQs

There are so many reasons why a move to the Middle East could be great at the start of your career. Based on some frequently asked questions, we’ve compiled information about what it is like to live and work in the Middle East for newly qualified and junior lawyers.

The legal market

2019 has started with many firms and companies across the Gulf taking a cautiously optimistic approach, following a stable 2018. Corporate and Banking and Finance recruitment remains active with a number of the Magic Circle, Silver Circle and US firms looking to grow their associate ranks. We have also seen an increase in demand for projects and energy lawyers and investigations, white collar crime and commercial disputes lawyers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

For newly qualified lawyers, we have seen an increase in the volume of opportunities compared to 2018 and 2017 and we have a number of active mandates for March 2019 and September 2019 qualifiers.

With the Expo 2020 next year in Dubai, the World Cup 2022 in Qatar and Saudi 2030 Vision there are a number of exciting regional projects encouraging further investment in the region.

Hydrogen has placed over 120 lawyers in the Middle East over the last five years, 50% of whom are female. Although Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Riyadh are the most active markets for legal recruitment, we also place lawyers in Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait. Each location offers a different lifestyle and focus of work and my team and I are happy to talk you through the nuances in more depth.

Practicing in the Middle East

As a UK qualified lawyer, you will not need to requalify to practice in the region. Many of the deals throughout the Middle East will be governed by UK law and most of our UK qualified disputes lawyers will advise on international arbitration or DIFC litigation which is also based on UK common law.

As a junior lawyer working in the Middle East, you will have high levels of responsibility. Working in a smaller team will afford you more contact with clients and partners and you will often have a broader range of work than in a London practice. Given the emerging market nature of working in the Middle East, you will often also have greater levels of commercial involvement on matters and may have more opportunity to advise businesses strategically as well as from a technical legal perspective.

Why do lawyers work in the Middle East?

  • Cosmopolitan lifestyle

  • International expat communities

  • Outdoor living

  • Travel hub

  • Competitive tax-free salaries

  • Breadth and quality of work

  • High levels of responsibility, partner contact and client contact

  • Career progression

  • Emerging markets/Legal Frontier

What seats should I do if I want to move abroad?

The most in-demand practice areas at Newly Qualified level in the Middle East include the following:

  • Corporate (M&A, Private Equity, Joint Ventures)

  • Banking & Finance (Acquisition Finance, Project Finance, Real Estate Finance and General Lending)

  • Debt Capital Markets

  • Construction (Contentious and Non-Contentious)

  • Projects/Energy

  • Dispute Resolution (Arbitration)

Our clients are also particularly interested in candidates who have already spent time in the region on secondment, for business or have ties to the region.

Will I need Arabic language skills?

Although some of our roles do require fluent Arabic drafting ability, the majority of our junior positions do not require Arabic language skills. Firms are particularly keen to recruit UK, Australia, New Zealand and Irish qualified lawyers.

Can I come back to London?

Often when speaking with junior lawyers, we are asked if moving abroad at the NQ level will detrimentally affect their career. Although your training may be less formal than in larger London offices, you are likely to have high levels of partner supervision and hands on mentoring. We have many examples of successfully placing newly qualified lawyers in the Middle East who have returned to London after two to five years of practice to US firms, in-house companies and even moving internally to the London office of their firm.

We often find that lawyers will enjoy expat life and the environment internationally so much that they don’t want to return to the City! Or if they do decide to move out of the region, may choose a move to Asia, Offshore or Australia to continue working as an international expat.

Visa process, relocation and packages

Over 80% of the residents of the UAE are expatriate so firms and companies are very well versed in securing residency visas for their employees. Our clients will also support you throughout this process and will usually provide accommodation on arrival to the Middle East for 2-4 weeks and cover the cost of your flights and shipping of your possessions. Accommodation and education allowances are now rare for the region (except in KSA) in private practice but some in-house companies will still provide a separate basic salary and allowances for schooling, housing and travel.

In lieu of a pension contribution, your employer will provide you with a lump sum end of service gratuity payment, the amount depending on the length of your service. You will also be provided with private medical insurance and between 23-30 days annual leave.

Most of our NQ roles in the UAE will offer at least AED 30,000 per month, which is equivalent to £75,000 per annum (exchange rate at date of publication).

Want to find out more?

I’d be very happy to have a confidential discussion with any current trainee or NQ lawyers looking to make the move. Please do get in touch!

Qualifying as a lawyer might seem like the end you have been working to. But it is only the beginning! Enter your details to receive NQ updates direct to your inbox.

Sign up to receive:

  • useful tips on how to succeed as a NQ

  • latest NQ job opportunities

  • career advice from our team of industry experts

Posted almost 5 years ago
About the author:
Rowena To

Our blogs and insights help keep you up to date with market developments and regional news