Saudi Arabia’s Revolving Door of Opportunity

I can’t think of many markets a recruiter would face the same challenges one would face in headhunting lawyers in Saudi Arabia. Over the past decade we have seen changes of association / partnerships (in some instances multiple), we have seen “smaller” domestic firms rally to chambers recognition as band two or three firms, and we have seen international heavyweights depart - for reasons pertaining to; sub-par agreements over retainer payments, breakdown of relationships with single partner local firms and in some cases breach of clause pertaining to investment both financially and attribution of manpower…to name a few. So, it’s really not as easy as securing a mandate and head hunting from the competition – “the competition” as it were, is somewhat of a fluid concept.

A trial and error approach seems to have worked for a number of the internationals invested in this Middle Eastern powerhouse, equally has it benefited the talented Saudi lawyers who have managed to progress into managing partner capacities very quickly. Let’s face it, no relationship is perfect – some work and some don’t. Some are amicable splits, others aren’t, fruitful…not, ideological differences, qualitative performance indicators etc etc. Addressing these challenges prior to working with a new firm or delivering an offer to a candidate I find is therefore critical in managing expectations amongst all parties.  

Saudi; in the throes of progressive cultural evolution, recovering from an oil crisis and substantial change in economic policy pertaining to foreign investment has created a lot of opportunity in the legal space. With oil recovering and other “fringe” sectors booming – sports, entertainment / media, telecoms and real estate.

Of course as a lawyer (assuming you are, and aren’t reading this to pass some time on your lunch break) – you already know this, so whats the point of this article…as enjoyable as recruitment itself is - finding the right firm for the right candidate (and vice versa), what I’ve started to become more involved in is partnering some of my local friends in KSA with International Firms…like Cupid…I’m currently working with a number of teams, partners (both local and expat) who are looking at establishing Saudis next key player - another AS&H?  We already have ZS&R partnered with Hogan Lovell’s which under the guidance of Dr Najem can only go one way, or perhaps a team with the international depth and expertise of W&C with AlSalloum and AlToaimi. Either way, opportunity is to be had. Whilst decision will fundamentally be based on risk reward calculation, I hope to reduce the risk element for anyone looking at a classic partnership, association or cooperation agreement.    

A few FAQs…

Why use a remotely based recruiter to partner me with the right law firm?

Well, the same reason you would use me to find you a candidate or a job. I’d like to think I know this market pretty well and therefore take away as much as possible the “trial and error” aspect. I know which associates are looking at an affiliation, and I have an idea as to who can back up any claims on delivery. Ill also be out in KSA this year at some point – feel free to recommend a few places to visit!

What if it doesn’t work out?

I’ve worked on retained agreements as short as 6 months. If this is a genuine question however, I would suggest Saudi is not for you. Without a strong relationship in country, those looking to dip a toe in will not succeed – there are too many strong independents and the core of International partnerships have the public sector and energy sector near enough tied up.

Why should I invest in Saudi with a local affiliation?

This isn’t right for everyone as per the above. The chances are that if you have business, clients or completed deals in KSA, there will be someone in the Saudi market worth speaking with to capitalize on this and have a presence in the largest Middle Eastern economy.  

How much is it going to cost?

As nebulous and deflective as this sounds – let me know what you’re looking for, let’s have a chat. Retainers with some partners will be different to others…for obvious reasons. Happy to speak with anyone regarding agreements or alternatively to simply make the introduction if details don’t want to go beyond the two parties. 


Posted by Ricci Sethi

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