Arabian gulf

More options for female lawyers in Saudi, but gender gap persists

Saudi Arabia has no written laws banning women from driving, but the rules do state that all drivers must have locally issued licences – which women cannot get.

Given the situation for women wanting to drive, you might well imagine how tough it is for women who want to practise law in Saudi – and you’d be right. Women can be representatives and give legal advice, but they cannot argue in court. In fact, they can’t even enter a court without a male guardian. But progress is being made.

Five years ago Riyadh’s Prince Sultan University introduced Saudi’s first law degree for women. Before that, women could study abroad, but there was no infrastructure to nurture talent at home. Today there are seven colleges and universities in Saudi that offer women the chance to study law and, as the country’s second batch of graduates emerges, international firms in the country are taking notice, with a number, such as DLA Piper and King & Spalding, accepting female students for six-month placements.

Partners at Baker Botts and Squire Sanders also told The Lawyer that their firms had taken extra office space so they could begin hiring female associates – men and women must be segregated at work according to Saudi law.

But as one managing partner of an international firm in Saudi says, it’s not all in the name of equality.

“Half the wealth in Saudi is controlled by women […] It would be great to have senior Saudi lawyers because that would grant us access to [those] clients.”