14 April 2011
I had always intended to live abroad, which is one of the reasons why I applied to train at Norton Rose as it has a network of international offices.
The Middle East seemed like the perfect place to get international work experience, particularly as it is one of the fastest developing regions in the world, has a hub of varied commercial activity (particularly as the region is diversifying by investing in sectors outside of oil and gas) and would be a new and unique cultural experience.
Having worked in Norton Rose’s London office for the past year and a half, I had quite a surprise when I arrived at the Abu Dhabi office on my first day; rather than the high rise office building which I was familiar with in London, the office is a villa in a residential area just outside the main city centre. It means that travel to work is a very quick ten minute taxi journey going against the flow of traffic (compare that to an hour each way in London). The other indicators that I was far removed from the UK, were hearing the az’aan (the call to prayer) from the local mosque at various intervals during the day, stepping outside the office and seeing lush palm trees and sand, and not to mention the 30 degree wall of heat that envelops you!
Since its opening in 2009, both the workload and team of the Abu Dhabi office have grown rapidly as the Emirate has boomed, and so the office will be re-locating in the summer of 2011 to the new business district under construction on Sowwah Island. The intention is for the majority of other international law firms with an office in Abu Dhabi to follow and so I imagine that the feel of the office location will change to being one more akin to working in the City (of course with the nicer weather!).
Within the office, I am one of two trainees and sit in the corporate finance team. The office also offers expertise in banking and Islamic finance, project finance, infrastructure, construction, real estate, technology and dispute resolution. Given the size of the office (there are approximately 23 fee earners) when times are busy, you will get stuck into whatever comes your way to get the job done. Norton Rose also has offices in Dubai and Bahrain and so as a fee earner in the region, you may be called upon to assist on matters for these offices or even be required to travel to these locations, which is a great way to see more of the region.
The business language in the Middle East is English, although a basic understanding of Arabic (even a few words - marhaba (hello),shukran (thank you), fi’amanillah (go in peace) or inshallah (God willing)) can go a long way, particularly with local clients. Reflective of the country, the clients are a mixture of sophisticated international companies, government offices and family run businesses. Many of our clients are based in the UAE, but others are based in Europe, Asia and beyond, and so our location in the Middle East means that we are in the perfect time zone to avoid having to wake up too early or be in the office too late in order to speak to them.
The locals are very welcoming, hospitable and charming. Aside from our clients, we have a lot of interaction with locals as a result of the government’s Emiratisation programme. The intention behind the initiative is to increase levels of employment and training of UAE citizens within the private sector, and so we have a number of UAE interns working in our office. There is also a huge community of expat workers and so you will find a number of home comforts in Abu Dhabi should you be missing the UK (including the usual high street favourites like Boots and M&S).
Abu Dhabi is a great city to work in and I would recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to work in the region. It has managed to escape much of the protests and troubles taking place in the rest of the region over the past month - the general feeling here is that the people in the country love their leaders and so this could not happen here. As a city to live in, Abu Dhabi has a range of places to eat from low key shwarma stands to five star restaurants, a number of malls, a heritage village, the Formula 1 Grand Prix, the corniche and gardens around the coast and easy access to travel to the rest of the region (I’ve just returned from a weekend trip to Oman) or beyond (India is just a three hour flight away). I’ve had a great time here and I’m sure you would too.