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Overview of the legal recruitment market in Dubai

Posted by: Laurence Simons 19/04/13

In-house legal recruitment in Dubai

With unstable economies in Europe and the US, it would have been easy to surmise that the Middle East and Africa would have suffered quietly through another slow year in 2012. However, despite forecasts of an inert market, 2012 was buoyant within in-house in the UAE, with a number of newly created roles, as well as significant movement in sectors such as life sciences and TMT. Standalone legal functions still abound, although some energy and life sciences organisations have implemented larger legal teams with more complex setups. Financial services continued to struggle although there were various strong pockets of activity due to the emergence of some new private equity firms focussing on Turkey and Africa, but utilising capital (and basing themselves) in Middle Eastern countries.

With 54% of those within the MEA region indicating that their legal teams increased in size during 2012, it seems the Middle East is no longer solely dependent on forces in the West and the success of this region is now more in tune with market movements in Asia.

A common trend in the Middle East has been the requirement from multinationals to hire bilingual lawyers, particularly those fluent in Arabic. A further trend in this market, especially for firms with standalone counsel, has been the necessity of hiring a true legal all-rounder; someone equipped to deal with both legal and compliance matters. There is an increasing demand for compliance professionals within larger organisations, specifically those with headquarters in the US and UK, where anti-bribery and FCPA laws are of huge importance.

The relative immaturity of compliance as a function in the MEA region has meant that sourcing suitable candidates can prove challenging at times.

Despite the unrest in Syria, continued protests in Egypt and the ever-present tumult in Gaza, the rest of the Middle East has seen little effect. In fact, rather than a decrease in recruitment activity being the challenge, it has been more a case of convincing international candidates to consider roles in the MEA.

Salaries for in-house roles suffered perhaps their most brutal correction since 2009, as multinationals sought to appoint strong talent at competitive rates. The desire for a stable, long term role with international prospects – borne out of the fallout from the slump in 2008 – has led to candidates in some cases taking a 20% pay reduction to secure these types of positions. Large localised businesses within the Middle East continue to pay the healthiest salaries certainly at the senior level.

In 2013 we expect to see an increase in the requisition of standalone compliance roles, as well as the bolstering of existing legal teams, with a need for specific country counsel in places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Middle East is expected to once again benefit from being a central global hub, with multinationals looking to place their regional headquarters in Dubai, allowing easy access to the world’s major markets.

Private Practice legal recruitment in Dubai

Recruitment remained slow over the course of 2012 and the predicted larger scale hiring in regions including Abu Dhabi and Doha unfortunately did not transpire. However, Dubai remains the key market for local and established international law firms covering the UAE with construction and litigation becoming focal areas. There was also movement of lawyers between firms in the Middle East, especially in areas of corporate and litigation where knowledge of the UAE laws is very important.

The private practice market saw little movement in salary levels across the Gulf region. However, international firms increased salaries between 4% and 6% in 2012, with remuneration at Magic and Silver Circle firms as well as US firms being significantly higher than their local competition.

Associates at US firms often receive lockstep base compensation proportionate with associates in the US based offices, although US citizens, unlike UK citizens, are taxed on their remuneration.

Local firms’ remuneration structures vary slightly, with some firms rewarding lawyers with commissions relating to their personal billings at the end of each quarter rather than the conventional salary bandings being determined by PQE level. A common trend has been for firms to pay a premium for lawyers with an international education as well as a law firm background. Arabic language skills stood candidates in good stead in 2012 and this is likely to continue into the new year.

With tax free salaries, return flights and relocation packages often being offered in addition to base salaries, Dubai remains an attractive option for the 83% of lawyers who would consider relocating internationally.

Benefits in the UAE

Benefits remain an important part of the total remuneration package in the UAE, perhaps more so than any other location in the world. 54% of respondents indicated that they received a housing allowance in 2012, with 26% identifying it as a vital benefit when considering a new role. 35% received a schooling allowance for their children, with 80% seeing this as an important benefit to be included in their overall package. 85% receive private medical or healthcare insurance and 35% receive a car allowance, although 55% do not see this as an important benefit at all. 71% of legal professionals in the UAE receive an annual bonus, with 96% confirming this as an important benefit.

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