Lawyer dearth sees GCs bag top dollar in UAE

In-house lawyers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are being paid more than ever because of a lack of suitable candidates.

Lawyer dearth sees GCs bag top dollar in UAEIn-house lawyers in the United ;Arab ;Emirates (UAE) are being paid more than ever because of a lack of suitable candidates.

The shortage has prevailed despite the credit crunch causing some expats to look east. A quarter of all in-house lawyers have seen salaries shoot up by at least 20 per cent since their previous pay reviews, and heads of ­department in the banking sector now earn £150,000 tax free on average.

The figures come from a survey carried out by Dubai-based Tessera Executive Search among 194 in-house lawyers. UAE employers often throw in extras such medical insurance, flights home, school fees or life insurance, which further boosts the take-home pay of the in-house lawyers.

Elizabeth ;Williams, ­senior partner and legal practice head at search company Tessera, said: “How much lawyers are paid is dominated by two main factors – where you qualified and, increasingly, how much an organisation is prepared to pay to secure you.”

Average pay among England and Wales-qualified heads of department is £168,000, compared with £156,000 for US/Canada-qualified ;lawyers ;and £144,000 for those who are Australia, New Zealand and Middle East and North Africa-qualified.

Mark Craig, a legal director at investment vehicle Meraas, argued that the steep salaries are justified by the difficulty of the work. “A lot of entities don’t have a history of having in-house counsel, so you’ve got to create procedures and win over the organisation to use you as a resource,” he explained.

In-house lawyers based in the UAE point to the high level of inflation as pushing up salaries, but the cost of living in Dubai is still lower than in London or New York.

Two-bedroom, two-­bathroom apartments in the upscale beach development of Dubai Marina, for example, rent for around £1,800 per month excluding bills, or can be bought for £250,000, according to agent The First Group.

But despite such attractive packages, 90 per cent of heads of department continue to find it “reasonably ­difficult” or “very difficult” to recruit lawyers.

Khalid Khan, general counsel at GEMS Education, said: “I need a good three to four year-qualified lawyer and at the moment I’m not seeing any – I’m quite ready to profit from the situation in London.”

Despite the hunger for in-house lawyers, Khan argued that the salary increases could not go on forever. “Unless you believe the Gulf is strangely immune, it will probably level off in about 12 months,” he said.

Part of the reason may be because of misconceptions among candidates about the UAE, said Williams, adding: “Some people think of the UAE and equate it to war-torn Beirut circa 1984, or have images of Iraq, as that’s what they see on CNN and in the newspapers.

“That’s the furthest thing from the truth. It’s a very politically stable country with high liquidity and a growing economy, and it offers huge opportunity
for lawyers who want to move here”.