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Although the economic crisis and the Arab Spring have slowed workflow in the Middle East there is rising demand for legal expertise in a number of areas, notes Louise Wall, managing consultant at Laurence Simons.
“We’ve seen an increase since about mid-2011 in areas such as construction, litigation and, most recently, corporate,” Wall says.
“In international firms high levels of recruitment have been seen in litigation and corporate.
Most requirements are for City-trained lawyers.”
“Arbitration, project finance and projects remain popular,” adds Robert Rooney, manager at Shilton Sharpe Quarry, while according to Shane Morton at Taylor Root, there are opportunities across the Middle East.
“There are more than 50 international law firms in the region,” he points out, “as well as strong local firms, offering opportunities in practice areas, such as corporate/commercial, projects, energy and construction litigation and international arbitration. There are also roles in areas such as IP/IT, employment and banking/finance.”
And is it advantageous to speak Arabic?
“It’s beneficial to have language skills, but in most cases it isn’t required,” comments Rooney.
Stuart Greenland of First Counsel notes that knowledge of Arabic is common for in-house roles, adding: “For some private practice roles it may be advantageous or required, such as in the case of litigation or Islamic finance.”
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are still two of the top locations for recruitment, but other countries are starting to catch up, he adds.
“There are opportunities in Qatar as the country extends its reach and develops its infrastructure and economy. Energy, oil and gas lawyers are always going to find roles in Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] countries,” says Greenland.
“Qatar is an exciting up-and-coming market, while established locations such as Bahrain, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia continue to produce opportunities,” says Morton.
“We also expect to see a push for associates in Qatar and Bahrain,” notes Rooney.
However, Aaron Faith, Middle Eastern manager at Laurence Simons, comments that although countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar are becoming popular, most multinationals still see the UAE as the place for their regional HQs.
Companies are also starting to look overseas to fill in-house roles. Faith believes demand is only going to increase in 2012.
“It’s expected that budgets for new hires will be signed off in the next few months, which means we should see a rise in activity in Q2 this year,” he says.
While Rooney notes that much demand is in the energy and financial services, Greenland comments that in-house opportunities “generally require previous GCC experience either in private practice or in-house.”
Rooney adds: “[The Qatar legal market is] heavily driven by in-house opportunities at international banks and investment funds.”