What the UAE has to offer legal job seekers

Ben heads up the LSI (Laurence Simons International) In-House Search Practice across META, and has eight years’ experience in Executive Search. Based in Dubai, Ben specialises in exclusive and retained searches across all levels. His client base encompasses many Fortune 500 businesses, as well as prominent local entities, and he works cross-industry. Ben also helps to direct the Business Development strategy of the META business.

Over the past eight years the UAE – and specifically Dubai and Abu Dhabi – has seen a meteoric rise, a crushing fall, and is now in a period of successful, measured revival. As one would expect from an economy that has changed so erratically, the hiring market for lawyers has undergone significant shifts, with trends emerging which have made international hiring less prevalent than before. The watchword nowadays is ‘local exposure’, with both In-house and Private Practice firms keen to look at lawyers with pre-existing experience on the ground in the Middle East.

This is especially true of in-House Regional Counsel Positions where people often find themselves in single-contributor roles. In these instances it makes little sense for companies to look at International hires as they would require a 3-6 month ‘bedding-in’ period before they were able to get to grips with the many peccadilloes of the Middle Eastern markets. This isn’t to say that we don’t still see International Hires in In-house, but they tend to be for highly specific positions, where the local market does not offer a plethora of talent options.

Examples of this would include Aircraft Financing lawyers, derivatives lawyers in Financial Services, and Compliance professionals with a background in legal. 

A positive knock-on effect of Sole Counsel roles in the UAE is that lawyers quickly find themselves exposed to all facets of the legal profession, creating an enviable skill set which would be looked upon kindly in more established markets in the UK, Europe, and US, where In-house lawyers often find themselves isolated into one particular discipline. 

Salary levels have stagnated somewhat over the past few years, in what has been a strongly employer-dictated market. Candidates in In-house positions with over 5 years PQE can expect to earn anywhere between 40-70,000 AED per month (comprised of Base, Housing, and Transport allowances) depending on the company and the role. Candidates who are bi-lingual (English/Arabic) are in extremely high demand and can of course expect to command a premium, especially if they possess international qualifications and experience. 

As the market becomes more competitive, we are beginning to see a turn from employer-driven to employee-driven hiring. As a consequence there will be a need for employers to offer more competitive packages for the best candidates. This is a positive move, and will allow and opportunity for the market to refresh itself over the next 12-18 months.


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