When speaking to candidates who are considering a relocation to the Middle East, I get asked similar questions on what the lifestyle is like over there, how well they'll be able to adjust, and what the recruitment process is like. I've spoken with a UK-qualified corporate lawyer who trained with a top-US firm in order to get some helpful insights into what life is like for an expat lawyer.
Q. What attracted you to Dubai initially?
A. From a personal point of view, the amazing weather throughout the year was a priority for me. The fact that you're so close to worldwide locations was another big factor, you can take weekend trips to exotic locations such as Oman, India, or Lebanon. I like the mix of nationalities and cultures that make up Dubai. I've heard there's over 80 different nationalities here which really appeals to me. My salary now is much higher than I'd be getting back in the UK and there's obviously the tax-free aspect. From a professional point of view it is a developing market, the DIFC is all modelled on English law so you can rely on your knowledge of this to deliver solutions to clients.
Q. Has it been everything you thought it would be?
A. Yes, definitely. Sometimes the weather can be slightly too unbearable but having the sunshine all year round is definitely worth it. Professionally, the market is much more laid-back, so things aren't as straight forward as back in the UK. Governmental bodies, for example, take a lot longer to provide you with information which can be really time-consuming.
Q. How have you found meeting new people?
A. Working in the DIFC makes it very easy to make friends. There are so many different social places and groups where you can meet people, such as the pro-bono clinic where you can meet other ex-pat lawyers. Settling in isn't hard at all, people have the impression that Dubai is really strict but that's absolutely not the case, everyone has a good time here. It doesn't take much to adjust and you can see a lot of the positives from the UK here.
Q. What are the main differences in lifestyle between the UK and Dubai?
A. Speaking from a lawyer's point of view, you earn a lot more than in the UK so you do spend a lot more. Professionals including lawyers in the region tend to have a really good lifestyle and they rarely work on the weekends, although this can be the case sometimes. It's always hot so as soon as you get home, you're going to the bar or out for dinner. Brunches on Fridays are a common occurrence and a fabulous place to meet new people. Everywhere is open until really late as well, even the malls are open until around midnight. The range of services you can get are amazing; you can order coffee or a Twix to your house, or can leave your laundry outside your door to be picked up. If you want a ticket booking you can just text the travel services and they'll come back to you with quotes. One thing you do need to be careful about is your spending when you come back to the UK. Because you're so used to spending so much you do silly things like buying a £100 candle and think nothing of it. Buying luxury products in Dubai is much more feasible than in the UK.
Q. How did you find the recruitment process in the Middle East compared to the UK?
A. The cultural norms vary a lot in the recruitment process. The whole process takes a lot longer; getting feedback and going through numerous interview stages can sometimes take months whereas back home you can apply for a job and receive an offer within a couple of weeks.
Q. What's the best piece of advice you would give someone who's considering relocating?
A. Pick your recruiters carefully and build up a good relationship with them. Make sure you do your due diligence about every role that they're presenting you with. Ask about the partner and the other team members. If you have friends already out there, check the firm's reputation in the market with them. I would recommend securing a role before you relocate because trying to find one once you've already relocated is really stressful. Relocation costs are huge so it's important to have a firm helping you cover these. It's definitely not an easy game but the lifestyle is definitely worth it.
Q. What are the main difference between the scope of your work in the UK and the Middle East?
A. The technical side is the same as everything I work on is modelled on English law which is perfect for my experience. One of the main benefits for me is that my scope of work is much broader now. Especially as I'm in a lean practice, I work across M&A, joint ventures, regulatory, capital markets, commercial contracts, Islamic finance etc. Back in the UK I was only doing acquisition financing whereras in Dubai you can expect to cover a broader spectrum of work.
Q. What is the most interesting transaction you've worked on since being out there?
A. During my training contract I represented an East African state on corruption allegations made against a public official. We dealt with all the work for that case in the Dubai office and I got the opportunity to travel to Africa so that was really interesting. Most recently I've been acting as lead associate for an international high-end fashion brand in their acquisition of a sports and leisure-wear company based in the UAE. I've also recently represented a Singapore-based online media platform's acquisition of another MENA entity.
Q. How long do you plan on staying in Dubai?
A. I do miss the UK but I just love the lifestyle and earning potential here. The education system is also amazing here. Your kids definitely wouldn't be at any kind of disadvantage with the UAE education system but it is expensive as you don't get free education. Kids don't really work here either but the DIFC are introducing short-term and part-time contracts under new employment laws which might start to change this.
I hope this has been useful for any lawyers considering a relocation to the Middle East. If you've got any further questions i'd be more than happy to help - firstname.lastname@example.org.