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Talking Heads - Rania Tadros at Ince & Co

Posted by: Laurence Simons 14/03/17

Talking Heads Interview

Interviewer: Clare Butler, Laurence Simons (London) (CB)
Interviewee: Rania Tadros, Ince & Co (Dubai) (RT)
Date: Wednesday 8th March 2017, 10am

 

Clare Butler (CB) : Why did you want to be a lawyer? 

Randia Tadros (RT): I didn’t start off wanting to become a lawyer, I wanted to study law because I thought it would be a good background to have before moving in to some kind of commercial trading company. When I studied law, I realised I wanted to qualify as a lawyer and subsequently got a training contract with Ince & Co in September 1998 and have not wanted to leave since then.

CB: That’s a route for a lot of people and similar to me, in that I was told to do a law degree, which I did.  Unlike you though, I realised pretty early on that being a barrister was not what I was cut out to be but I totally understand how you started and kept on going!

RT: It was never the long term plan, but 20 years later, here we are!

CB: What has been your most challenging career decision so far? Why?  

RT: That is an easy question. When you move like I have done from one jurisdiction to another and move roles from one jurisdiction to another -  that is from a career perspective, the most challenging decision I had to make.  I was in London, I had 13 years at Ince’s London office, quite happy where I was, and nothing wrong with what I was doing, my family was happy; the most challenging decision was when I was asked to move to the Dubai office, whether I would say yes or no.

CB: So why did you say yes?

RT:   I said yes because professionally it seemed like a very good opportunity, I was starting to recognise that growth internationally was an essential part of the growth and development of Ince and I really wanted to be a part of that. Also it was the right time for my family and it worked out as lots of these things do, more of a coincidence of good timing. 

CB: I have a feeling these 2 questions may be linked….And your best career decision so far? Why?


RT: Exactly the same one to be honest with you. These questions really did make me think how lucky I am that my most challenging decision turned out to be my best one. There is no doubt in my mind that from a career perspective, other than choosing to join a firm I’ve been happy at for 20 years, taking the opportunity to move in to a new country to help grow and develop our presence here was the best decision. I do really love it out here and I love being part of a vibrant team at Ince. I am very proud of how the Ince Dubai office has developed over the last 4 years whilst I’ve been here. 

CB: What is it like working in Dubai?

RT: It’s wonderful, it’s really exciting, it’s a young market, we’re close to our clients, we talk to them every day;  in the world of shipping they are literally at our doorstep and I can almost see the docks from my office. I think, also, one of the reasons I really enjoy it is because I am bilingual. I come from an Arabic cultural background but was born in the UK. Culturally I understand the English / Western mentality which is very prevalent here, and is certainly prevalent in the legal market here, and I also understand the Arabic culture so can marry the two together. I also think I’ve been very lucky (or do you create your own luck) with my timing.  I came to the Dubai office when it had been well established for 8 year and took over as managing partner just before we celebrated 10 years in Dubai;  so I was really able to pick something up and move on with it. I said when I took over as Managing Partner from Graham Crane, the previous Managing Partner,  “all I can do now is fail because it’s in such a good place “, and I don’t think that I have; on the contrary we have developed in terms of revenue growth and in terms of overall size, recognition in the market and that’s been part of the joy of working here.

CB: That’s wonderful! From your Senior Managing Partner perch if can we rewind a little bit to when you were a junior lawyer, is there any advice you could offer to them? One of the things we know that private practice lawyers have to do is develop business, and maintain those client relationships, retain clients as well as winning new clients.  Are there different skills required in London and Dubai? 

RT: I think the most helpful thing for me certainly and my advice to junior lawyers to become successful at business development is to understand their clients businesses and what challenges they face. Why are they coming to external lawyers and what value can we really add to them? Sometimes we can answer a question that we are given without  context and I think if we don’t have the context we can never talk to our clients about their business and therefore develop that relationship that I think is fundamental to getting more work both from that client but also to be seen and known in the market as someone who really knows what they’re talking about within that sector. I know I’m very lucky that I come from a firm that is very sector focussed so it allows me to focus on a few sectors, but I think that advice can apply to Junior Lawyers working anywhere.

CB: Do you feel there is any different in terms of these skills set between London and Dubai?

RT:  Yes, a huge difference. In my experience involvement in business development activity here has to and does start much earlier than it does in London. London is a bigger and much more mature market than Dubai. There are many more opportunities in Dubai for you to develop a relationship with your clients and with your counterparties, simply by virtue of the size of the market.

CB: We hear a lot in the press about what’s going on in the GCC and we’ve seen recently office closures in Abu Dhabi. What’s your view about development across the region this year and beyond?

RT: There have been a number of firms that have shut down in particular in Abu Dhabi or have bought together their offices; I think we are going to remain highly competitive. And there’s a huge amount of pressure on fees and I think that is going to continue. I think there will be opportunity for growth; I believe people will see from the sort of people we have hired in this office that there will be growth on the non- contentious /corporate side of the business. The pipeline for significant disputes is slowing down in this region but I do think it is starting to warm up for there to be more commercial and corporate work so that’s where I see areas of growth in this region over the next year or so.
  
CB: I was fortunate enough to have lunch a couple of weeks ago with Baroness Ashton, who negotiated the Iranian treaty with the EU. How do you think that the (re)opening of Iran to businesses will impact on lawyers in the region?

RT: We’ve looked at it from 2 perspectives. From the perspective for non-Iranians looking at going into Iran, and also the perspective for Iranians wanting to trade out. In terms of international clients wanting to invest in Iran or explore business opportunities in Iran we’ve seen a lots of interest and have been helping clients who are exploring what they can do and what they can’t do with the existing US sanctions and practical restrictions that remain. The hardest part that we’ve been dealing with are practical issues about the difficulties of payments and the position that banks have taken. In all honesty we haven’t seen much of that translating into actual engagement. I’m not aware of any major inward investment in Iran in our sectors apart from the well-known ones on the aviation side. From an inward perspective there is a lot of talk about what can be done but not a huge amount that is happening yet which I think is all down to the banking situation and also the Trump impact and the concern that it might all unwind.

CB: Laurence Simons has been busy across Africa and the region in the recent past placing lawyers. Do you think this is another bubble and if so, will lawyers benefit from that?

RT: I do think there are going to be opportunities for Western lawyers in particular to make use of the bubble of emerging markets. I had a think about where I think that will be and I think it will be Africa and probably Eastern Europe. There may be a hurdle in that because of the slight anti-globalisation approach as a result of countries coming out of the EU and the US foreign policy. I do think overall though, if a lawyer has a slight entrepreneurial spin that you need to be a lawyer in a new-ish jurisdiction, there will be opportunities. Like I said, what I like is that it’s a fairly young market, it’s literally where it’s happening and where clients are being based so if our clients are moving to these new locations then I think lawyers have to move with them.

CB: Great point, and I think leads on very nicely to the next question. In many companies, the role of an in-house lawyer has evolved into a business partner with internal clients, how has the role of an external lawyer changed, if at all?

RT: It’s definitely changed, one major change is the change in modern technology and the ability / obligation to be responsive and available all of the time. At Ince Dubai we have recently upgraded our IT hardware (and software and it has made life so much easier in terms of being available. I think one of the traits of a good external lawyer is that they’re available for their clients when they need them and that expectation has certainly changed. When I started I didn’t even have a PC and I had to dictate everything (makes me sound old) ,  after only 3 months of the training contract it then all changed. But that’s how different that aspect has become. In terms of the need to give practical advice and to be responsive whatever the time frame, I’m not sure that’s changed hugely but I think there’s an expectation that we are more commercial.

CB:  What do you think are the key attributes for being a successful private practice    lawyer which sets you apart from your competition?

RT: Understanding what our clients are doing, both in terms of the market they operate in but actually what they are doing on this particular transaction and this particular dispute. Operationally how do they fit in with other players? If we take that one step further - understanding the individuals you are dealing with, who do they report to, what are the pressures they are under, both as individuals and their companies in general? If I’m going to blow our trumpet, one of the things that work really well is the fact that the lawyers in Dubai have a fantastic relationship with 300 lawyers across 12 countries and that helps. If I go to sleep or if I don’t have the particular expertise that is needed at any given point, there are people in my network who are very able and willing happily to pick up and go with a matter. I think that adds value from the clients’ perspective.

CB: It’s nice to hear  about a collegiate approach here which is something I think Ince is well known for in the marketplace. You mentioned to me when we met in Dubai last month that in a training contract interview with a leading City law firm, you were questioned as to how you felt about coming from a minority background and whether that had disadvantaged you (you said to me that you had never even considered that until you were asked the question). Why is diversity a hot topic? How does it impact hiring?

RT: This is quite a personal issue because I have never forgotten that moment. I think diversity is important, but it’s important by not being important. It shouldn’t be an issue that I’m a woman or I’m from a minority background or I’m lighter or darker or whatever it is that someone is looking at. Personally I don’t believe in positive discrimination. I believe diversity gives business an exposure to different perspectives. There is no doubt in my mind that women from different backgrounds and men from different backgrounds come with different perspectives and that’s why it’s important and if you are hiring people who look and sound and feel exactly the way you do, as someone in a position no matter who you are, then you don’t get that potential for different perspective which is important for a culture in a place, but also for its success.

CB: I couldn’t agree more. Quite fortuitous that we are having this conversation on International Women’s Day of all days!

RT: We’ve all just eaten cupcakes to celebrate!

CB: What career advice would you give to a new qualified lawyer?

RT: I think the most important thing that newly qualified lawyers need to be clear about is their objectives. Sometimes when we’re younger or when we’re interviewing for firms - I do think this has changed but certainly in my day -  we were just keen on getting in to the firm and so keen on impressing the firm that we didn’t perhaps focus on whether that firm was the right firm for us; does that firm match the aspirations we have for what we want to achieve in our lives as young / older lawyers?  Being happy at the firm and a firm that matches your culture, expectation is very important. My first advice to a newly qualified lawyer at a firm is to make sure that they are at one where they are happy and at one that does match their expectations. I’d encourage young lawyers to stretch themselves, to challenge themselves, to take constructive criticism, listen to feedback, to say if they have issues that bother them, speak out. Certainly here, we are in an environment that is quite tolerant to listening and learning. If young lawyers did that, then I feel everyone would be happier in the workplace.

CB: What career advice would you give to YOURSELF as a newly qualified lawyer?

RT: My guess is that this wouldn’t be too dissimilar to a lot of peoples answer to the question. Don’t worry so much, don’t be so cautious, enjoy being a pure lawyer and not being a lawyer with management responsibilities for as long as that lasts. It all comes down to enjoying the moment; enjoy the quieter as much as the busier periods. And in my case, I would have moved to Dubai earlier as it’s been such a great experience.

CB: It only remains for me to thank you so much for your time this morning, Rania. I have very much enjoyed hearing you speak about some topics that I know will be of interest to the LS readership, thanks so much.

 

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