As one of the most dynamic, exciting and innovative places to practice law, the Middle East legal market is constantly moving and transforming. Hydrogen's own Rowena To takes an in depth look.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

The Market

As one of the most dynamic, exciting and innovative places to practice law, the Middle East legal market is constantly moving and transforming. The oil price fall has refocussed many of the economies in the region and the GCC governments have ambitious long term projects in the pipeline including the Dubai Expo in just two years’ time, the 2022 Qatar World Cup and Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.

Dubai remains a hub for accessing the Middle East region and for Asian, European and American investment in the Middle East and beyond to Africa. Equally, many practices in Dubai also focus on outbound investment to the West. 

Given the accessibility and ease of operating an international firm in Dubai, we have seen a number of new entrants to the market over the last 18 months. However, as pricing for clients remains competitive and corporate activity has been sporadic since 2016, unfortunately we have also seen a number of firms restructuring their senior associate bands and even closing offices in the same time frame. The success of many new entrants to the market has been dependent on their ability to attract and retain lateral partner talent. The lateral market remains very active with many firms seeking to bolster their existing practices or indeed add new practice streams to increase revenue. 

Following the closure of some firms’ Abu Dhabi offices, the market is now stable and the remaining firms are active in the market advising on government investments in the region. Abu Dhabi offers a peaceful environment which is well integrated into the surrounding sea and desert landscape but still providing a very multicultural lifestyle with bars, restaurants, luxury hotels and retail.

Despite the travel ban to Qatar, we have seen an increased demand for lawyers based on the ground in Doha to handle domestic work in construction, projects, finance and corporate. Doha blends more traditional Middle Eastern culture with Western modernity. 

Historically Saudi Arabia has been the most challenging location to operation as an international law firm but with progressive changes afoot, there has been an increased interest in operating in this location. We predict new international entrants to the market in 2018 and 2019 to capitalise on the level of opportunity in this growing, young and relatively untapped market.  

Both international and local companies have shown an increase in demand for in house legal counsel. This has been driven by a need to reduce overall legal spend in the region and we have seen a number of companies recruiting their first lawyers on the ground in the Middle East over the last six months. 

As we are now approaching the summer period in the Middle East, we anticipate firms to attempt to finalise their associate hiring for 2018 before August. After this point, firms and companies will be focussing on their 2019 recruitment plans. Given the level of projects and development ongoing in the region, we predict 2019 to continue on the same trajectory with firms hiring strategically at partner level, and with the corresponding demand for associates driven by the need to replace expat lawyers leaving the region or for growth. 

Why 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


In demand practice areas and levels of post qualified experience 
 

  • Real Estate/Hospitality 2-10 PQE 
  • Construction Arbitration 1-20 PQE
  • Projects and Non-Contentious Construction 1-5 PQE
  • Corporate 3-7 PQE
  • Banking and Finance 2-6 PQE
  • Debt Capital Market 2-6 PQE
  • Commercial/Intellectual Property/IT 1-6 PQE
  • FS Regulatory NQ-4 PQE


For a confidential discussion about a move to the Middle East and our current opportunities, please contact Rowena To on +442070901640 / rowenato@hydrogengroup.com 

 

About the author

 

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Rowena To

Senior Manager, Hydrogen Group

Rowena manages the Middle East and Stand Alone Private Practice teams in the Legal Practice at Hydrogen. She specialises in placing lawyers in private practice in the Middle East and in London. Her clients include top US, Magic Circle and UK firms.