Trowers & Hamlins has become the first firm to cut jobs in the Middle East as cracks begin to show in the previously booming Gulf legal market.
The firm, which has built its reputation on the back of four decades in the region, has made seven redundant, with the bulk of the cuts affecting its banking and project finance practices.
Five of the cuts were in Dubai, which until recently was seen as the booming centre of the Middle East. Over the past few months work there has dried up.
“Dubai is dead,” said the Middle East head of an international bank. “The government’s trying to pass it off as a blip, but it feels much worse than that.”
The rest of the region appears to be less affected by the global slowdown. A Gulf HR manager at an international firm said: “Dubai is worst affected. It doesn’t seem to feel like there’s a recession in Abu Dhabi, even though it’s only one hour’s drive away.”
That said, Trowers has also cut one job in Muscat and one in Riyadh.
The cuts come as UK and US firms have been piling into the Middle East, launching offices and transferring lawyers (see table).
But Taylor Root Middle East recruitment consultant Hussein El-Zein said the demand for lawyers had waned.
“Law firms are becoming more selective,” he said. “They don’t want to hire as many lawyers from Sydney or London as they used to. They’re going to focus on lateral hires from the local market, with increased demand ;for ;bilingual lawyers in jurisdictions like Riyadh, where there are less expats among the clients.”
Although lawyers who relocated ;temporarily should be protected by UK redundancy law, those who moved permanently will not receive the same rights.
Trowers international HR head Malcolm Lewis said: “They’re governed by local law – they don’t have UK benefits and haven’t been offered outplacement services.”