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Iran Sanctions – A Legal Recruitment Perspective

Posted by: Laurence Simons 27/01/16

With the first month of 2016 coming to a close, we begin to turn our attention to what the year ahead is likely to hold. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the key trends from a hiring perspective in the private practice market in the Middle East thus far, have been heavily focussed on the Corporate/M&A and Construction (both contentious and non-contentious) talent pools.  Whilst we expect to see this trend continue in the region, there is particular interest being given to the legal market in Iran, regarding the potential lifting of their economic sanctions.

Iran has the second largest economy in the MENA region after Saudi Arabia, largely borne from its natural gas and crude oil reserves.  This combined with a positive economic outlook granted by the World Bank means that Iran has real commercial potential since the phased lifting of the UN Security Council sanctions was announced in July 2015.  For law firms this potential is likely to resonate from both an inbound and outbound perspective, which in turn, poses interesting challenges from a legal recruitment viewpoint.

Most of the countries in the GCC have some form of presence from international law firms. This can range from firms focussing on sectors in which they are specialists through to firms providing comprehensive services across a variety of sectors for their clients. The Iranian legal market however, leans more towards a system that is founded on a higher volume of smaller/local firms and a particular bias towards litigious work.

Litigious work in Iran has benefits for those on the ground; the compensation for litigious work is more generous than other sectors, not to mention it is a buoyant market that is difficult to penetrate for those who do not speak the local dialect. Importantly, smaller law firms offer flexibility which is often appealing to candidates. This  could come in the form of a benefits package that suits the individual, often a more senior title than the candidate may receive in an international law firm and a work-life balance that is considerate to the candidate’s needs.

There is an obvious appeal to joining an international law firm but this should not be taken for granted in a market that has an already small talent pool. The finer points of an agreement with successful candidates will need handling delicately. We are seeing a premium placed on finding top-tier, Farsi speaking candidates; a premium which is held in even higher regard if the candidate has experience on the ground in Iran, giving them a market understanding and network that is extremely valuable. This will create an incredibly competitive setting for those law firms that are searching for talent.

Providing relations between Iran and the West continue to develop over the coming months, this is a demand that will undoubtedly grow.  The private practice firms likely to benefit from the most fruitful bites of legal work on the ground in Iran are likely to be those who have first mover advantage on what is an extremely small talent market but those that also appreciate the intricate values of a market such as this.