Saudi legal market takes step towards equality

It was just five years ago that Prince Sultan University in Riyadh introduced Saudi Arabia’s first law degree for women, but since then progress has been minimal. Women who wanted to practise law in Saudi Arabia faced numerous hurdles, not least that they were not permitted to argue a case in court.

The observant reader will note the past tense in the above paragraph. As of this week, women lawyers are allowed to appear in the country’s courts as well as open their own law firms. Four female lawyers in Saudi are the first to have been granted the licence to operate independently, and no longer work only as ‘legal consultants’ with limited client contact.

It is a welcome move, and will be applauded by the growing number of western firms operating in Saudi Arabia. But let’s not forget that the Saudi move is just the first step on a long ladder to equal rights across the Gulf region, where life can be difficult not just for women but also for gay and lesbian lawyers and staff.

Firms are naturally wanting to expand into one of the few regions in the world that is actually growing right now, and that means finding the right people for the job. At least the Saudi recruitment hunt can now look at some of the country’s capable female lawyers too – but true equality remains a long way off.

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