Eastern promises

Eastern promisesWho’d want to live in the Middle East? Not quite enough of you, it would seem. On paper it should be an easy sell. Work in London is dropping off and the growth is overseas – what better protection from all those redundancies masquerading as performance reviews?

What’s more, competition for partnership in the City is intense, so making your name in a smaller but strategically crucial office would be an obvious option.

And yet law firm managers all say the same thing: persuading non-partners to move east is incredibly difficult.

Clifford Chance boss David Childs told The Lawyer last year that he wanted to introduce more mobility around the ­network, but that initiative has yet to build up the head of steam he would like. It’s not helped by turf mentality in London, where ­certain group heads in City firms balk at the idea of losing good associates to foreign parts.

There’s another problem: Dubai is a great place to do business, but Dubai still ain’t London. The infrastructure isn’t all there yet and there’s ­precious little metropolitan high culture outside a multiplex – although ­neighbouring Qatar is reportedly setting up a ­symphony orchestra.

As a gay mate of mine once said (not entirely ­facetiously), a side-benefit of firms being gay-­friendly should be a bigger pool of lawyers ­unencumbered by childcare issues – and therefore able to up sticks. But even this isn’t the case. “They’re all in civil ­partnerships with beautiful houses in Kensington,” laments one managing partner. Plus, of course, Middle Eastern attitudes to homosexuality are not quite what Stonewall would endorse.

US firms routinely offer signing-on bonuses for being relocated, but until now most UK firms have been cutting individual deals with associates, promising relatively short stays abroad and hoping they’ll love it once they get there.

Now, in a first, Denton Wilde Sapte is explicitly promising career enhancements for ­moving east. As the firm has realised, the art of ­persuasion rests on reward – a couple of years in the heat in return for partnership seems a pretty good deal. Let’s hope it doesn’t come over as desperate.

catrin.griffiths@thelawyer.com