London is a hub for some of the most talented, driven and intelligent lawyers in the world but there are other options available for ambitious lawyers that aspire to something different. The Middle East increasingly represents a leading legal labour market for those lawyers who want to create a name for themselves in an environment that is still in a relatively formative stage. As a burgeoning region, the environment lacks much of the ingrained politics and stagnation that can permeate life as a City lawyer making it easier for an ambitious and talented lawyer to establish their profile and credentials more freely; though, it is not without its own unique challenges. Before making such a radical move in your career, it is important to weigh up the pros and cons in terms of future career prospects and your wider aspirations.

More uncertainty but more reward?

If you have a strategy which includes moving back to London following a stint in the Middle East, you should feel reassured that a career in London will remain entirely viable whilst you build your career in the Middle East. In fact, secondment to high profile international offices can significantly bolster your CV and improve your prospects of a lateral promotion over time. The tendency for more client contact and responsibility in the Middle East, at a relatively early stage of a lawyer’s career, means that time spent working there is marketable all over the world, providing a unique selling point for your CV.

The long term career options for lawyers working in the Middle East, in particular the prospects of making partner, are still relatively undefined. Returning to the UK around the time you would expect to make partner may also be more of a gamble as you may be regarded as having been ‘out of the market’. If you are aiming to become a partner in the next few years or are planning on a long-term move to the Middle East, these factors may be something you want to consider. If you plan to stay for a limited time before returning to the UK or moving elsewhere, and partnership is on a more distant horizon, they might not be an issue for you.

With this in mind, it becomes as essential as ever to look fully into any specific offer that you have in terms of the firm and their presence in any particular jurisdiction. Those UK and US firms with stronger, more established businesses than others will often translate to a higher quality of work. Those with a lighter footprint may not have such a solid base of clients and may simply carry out work that is referred from elsewhere. This can detract from the professional experience you expect to gain while out there, which will have implications for when you next make a foray into the jobs market. It should be said, though, that there may be other merits to joining a smaller practice; not least the wealth of opportunities that exist to grow and expand business in an environment that positively fosters networking. If you are looking for empowerment in your ability to sell your credentials, this is well worth bearing in mind.

Abundant but unequal opportunity

Aerial view of property in the Middle EastThe specific localities of the Middle East can vary greatly in the quality of the wider offer they present to the budding lawyer as an emigrant worker. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in particular, are often perceived as representing tougher posts than other countries due to their more conservative stance. Meanwhile, Doha represents a burgeoning legal market with several top UK law firms resident, but the scale of development means infrastructure can be strained in Qatar. Politically, the country also represents nearly as socially conservative a set of values as Saudi Arabia, making it essential to weigh up the personal, as well as professional, challenge you may face, no matter how tempting.

Returning to the UK

Lawyers that manage to secure exciting and good quality roles at the right point in their career in the Middle East can be confident of solid career prospects ahead if they choose to return to the UK. There continues to be a wealth of opportunities as the market grows. For those looking for a more liberalised lifestyle, more akin to home, countries such as Dubai and Bahrain can often represent an experience very much like life in London or New York but with the added incentive of zero personal income tax. Long hours and hard work giving way to bars and clubs at night in a climate where there is no shortage of sunshine and where space and property are at less of a premium— leaving that behind may be more difficult than simply finding a new job in London.

For further information on legal roles in the Middle East contact Sam Obi at EJ Legal 0207 400 2000