Postcard from ... Dubai
11 December 2009
It was approximately 20 months ago to the day that my pregnant wife and I, along with our two-year-old son, departed for Dubai. What awaited us was a spacious, 3 bedroom apartment overlooking the Arabian Gulf on Palm Jumeirah and a new life in the much hyped land of hope, opportunity, glamour and adventure.
After a seven-and-a-half hour flight from Manchester, we arrived at Dubai International Airport at 1am and the temperature outside was a surprising but distinctly unpleasant 39 degrees! We then embarked on a 35 minute journey along the Sheikh Zayed Road - a journey I take frequently to work - to our new home on Palm Jumeirah and not a single word was uttered as we all stared (well okay my son was fast asleep) in amazement at the morass of skyscrapers and cranes that lined the route. I was excited!
As a projects and construction lawyer, the timing of my move to Dubai seemed perfect. The winds of recession were already stirring in the United Kingdom (and indeed elsewhere), but the Middle East and Dubai in particular was still grappling with rampant inflation fuelled by the construction boom. If you were looking for career enhancement and exposure to some truly magnificent projects, as I was, then Dubai was the place to be. Or so I thought.
As we all know, the economic landscape in Dubai has changed dramatically over the last 20 months. Many projects have been put on hold or cancelled (some estimates have put the combined value of projects on hold/cancelled at $300bn) and the Dubai government is struggling to meet its liabilities as it asks its creditors to delay debt repayments. Large scale redundancies are therefore commonplace and many organisations are struggling with crippling debts. This has made the business environment challenging but very rewarding when mandates are secured.
As for me, I consider myself to be fortunate in that I am part of a firm that has been based in the region for over 50 years. This means I have access to long established relationships and opportunities that some new entries into the market don’t have. In the 20 months I have been here, my work has taken me to some far flung places such as Beijing, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Riyadh and Oman.
Abu Dhabi, which is only one hour down the road from Dubai, remains economically active (but over lawyered) and I am spending more and more time working with my colleagues and the firm’s clients in the Emirate. I work for government bodies, private developers, contractors, consultants, banks and auditors on a wide range of projects. This includes transport infrastructure, airport developments, new build hospitals, desalination plant schemes and power plant projects. I am also involved in a number of large scale disputes, which makes for an interesting and varied work life.
On the social front, Dubai is vibrant and benefits from a large and supportive ex-pat community, which understands the pressures and challenges facing new families to the region. My wife (who has put her own legal career on hold to support me in this venture) has cultivated a large, diverse group of friends, whereas my two-year-old son - who has a better social life than me - mixes with children from Lebanon, the Netherlands, Germany, Mexico, Portugal, Honduras, Australia and Glasgow. In my view, this is priceless in his and our development.
As for me, well I like playing golf (badly) at some of the region’s excellent if not extortionately priced courses and watching my beloved Liverpool FC at the Liverpool Supporters Club in the Habtoor Grand Hotel. My wife and I also attend charity functions, such as the CNCF and Abu Dhabi Chequered Flag Balls, and sporting events such as the Race to Dubai Golf event and the recently held three-day music bonanza in Dubai, which hosted acts such as Echo & The Bunnymen, the Doves, the Happy Mondays and Ocean Colour Scene.
All in all, the experience to date has been fantastic, if not a little challenging from a business point of view.
Andrew Greaves is a partner in Trowers & Hamlins Dubai office.