Life in Dubai
Dubai has a well-deserved reputation as the commercial and tourism hub of the Middle East, and life as an expat lawyer here can be highly rewarding, both personally and professionally. It is a cosmopolitan city that offers a high standard of living, a great climate (for sun worshippers at least), and a safe and secure environment.
You probably know all you need to about the attractions of life in this corner of the Emirates. In your time off you might choose to visit the world’s tallest building, largest fountain or biggest flower garden; take a desert safari, a cruise along the creek, or a tour of the Palm Jumeirah island; indulge your love of sport, watching or participating, in some of the world’s best facilities; or just enjoy an afternoon with friends, overlooking the Arabian Gulf from one of the many beach clubs.
You can expect to earn an excellent tax-free income doing high quality international work, while enjoying world-class amenities and leisure facilities. There are certainly differences for an ex-pat adjusting to life in Dubai, and it is naturally important to understand the local culture, but feedback consistently points to this being a welcoming place for lawyers to live and work.
“Life as an expat lawyer here can be highly rewarding, both personally and professionally”
The Dubai Market
As a ‘must-have’ location for any outfit with truly global ambitions, Dubai plays host to offices of many of the leading UK, US, and international law firms as well as several strong regional practices. While most of the names will be familiar to those with a background in London, it is noteworthy that some firms who are more mid-ranking in their domestic markets will punch above their weight in the Middle East (and vice versa), often as a result of their longevity and perceived commitment to the region.
The Anglo-Saxon firms are typically based in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), a free zone, operating under its own legal system, based on England & Wales common law. This provides a predictable and transparent legal framework and offers a level of consistency that has enabled Dubai to cement its place as a global financial (and legal) centre. The DIFC Court has jurisdiction over disputes that arise within the zone and the power to enforce its own judgments, making it a popular venue for international arbitration and dispute resolution.
After years of sustained growth, the Covid pandemic impacted the Dubai economy to the tune of a 6.1% decline in 2020. It returned to healthy levels of growth by 2022, driven by increased tourist arrivals and a boost in construction activity, as well as a general increase in trade post-pandemic. Activity (and recruitment) in the law firms has begun to rise accordingly and signs are positive that this trend will continue. Ambition in the Emirate remains undiminished. Dubai is embarking on an $8.7 trillion economic plan aimed at doubling the size of its economy and positioning it as one of the top four financial centres in the world.
“Aiming to become one of the top four financial centres in the world”
Legal Recruitment in Dubai
Recently we have seen a notable increase in legal opportunities in Dubai and this looks set to continue in a similar vein. There is no sign of a return to the frenzied hiring of some previous years (or that seen in post-pandemic London), but rather a move to careful, sustainable growth in headcounts. In keeping with this market, expectations are relatively high as firms look for candidates with high-quality relevant training and/or experience, typically gained with leading international law firms in the region or one of the world’s other major financial centres. In demand practice areas include:
- Corporate (M&A, Private Equity, Funds)
- Banking, Finance and Capital Markets
- Infrastructure and Projects (including Energy and Resources)
- Construction (contentious and non-contentious)
- TMT/Intellectual Property
- Dispute resolution and insolvency
Although clearly an asset, it is rare for a firm to insist on Arabic language skills, but commonplace for hiring Partners to quiz applicants on their reasons for targeting a move to Dubai. Prior experience in the region is useful but not essential, and for those relocating for the first time, it is important that you have done your research and are ready to demonstrate that this is a well thought out, at least medium-term, move.
Legal Salaries in Dubai
Dubai is home to offices of many overseas law firms ranging from White Shoe US to ambitious UK nationals and this variety is reflected in a broad range of salaries. Even within firms, there is a less rigid set of pay scales than we see in London.
As a guideline, NQ’s can expect a starting salary in the region of £90k to £110k p/a (AUD 155k to AUD 190k), and typically rising by up to £10k (AUD 17k) per additional year of PQE. Senior Associates with 7 years’ PQE could be earning closer to £200k p/a (AUD 346k). Critically these salaries are entirely tax-free, and so the net values are likely to dwarf those seen even in the London market. As an example, someone earning £130k in Dubai would need to earn roughly £225k in England or AUD 370k in Australia, to take home the same amount (based on standard tax and exchange rates in Feb 2023).
Packages include the usual benefits; private healthcare, insurance, gym membership, pension contributions and bonus schemes, whilst your relocation allowance will invariably cover flights out and shipping of belongings, and often some temporary accommodation on arrival.
Dubai has a plentiful (and ever growing) supply of apartments and condominiums that are suitable for many newly arriving lawyers. Houses/villas are also popular but tend to be expensive, at least in the most desirable parts of the city. Location is important – consider your commute (rush hour traffic can be a problem) as well as accessibility to friends, schools, sports clubs, or the beach. Like any major city, prices vary wildly but the cost, for a place of similar size and profile, is likely to compare favourably for anyone used to finding accommodation in London or Sydney.
“Someone earning £130k in Dubai would need to earn roughly £225k in England or AUD 370k in Australia, to take home the same amount”.
Dubai has an excellent range of international schools, typically following either the British, American, or International Baccalaureate (IB) systems. They offer a curriculum that is recognised worldwide as well as an impressive range of extracurricular activities, including sports, music, art, and community service, which are designed to develop the whole child. Schools tend to be staffed by highly qualified and experienced teachers, who are often from the same countries as the students they teach.
Dubai International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world and serves as a major hub for several international airlines, making it easy for ex-pat lawyers to fly directly to destinations across the globe, for example Sydney (13.5hrs), Cape Town (9hrs), London (8hrs), Hong Kong (7hrs) or Mumbai (3hrs). Within the city, Dubai has a well-developed road network and public transportation system, including buses, metro trains, and taxis, making it easy to get around. Abu Dhabi is just over an hour away by car.
Your new employer will sponsor your residency visa and your work permit. While you will need to collate documents, complete a medical and fill in some forms, the application itself (and the fees) will be handled by the firm. It is typically a quick process once the application is made and can be granted in as little as a week or two.
Working in Dubai is a good career move. Its status as a major financial centre and its exposure to high-value international work, makes experience gained here, marketable globally. Lots of lawyers settle and have no desire to move anywhere but if you do decide to move on, chances are you will find no shortage of opportunities whichever direction you are heading in.
“Exposure to high-value international work, makes experience gained here, marketable globally”
If you would like to find out more about the market, discuss potential opportunities or just ask a few questions about working or living in Dubai, please get in touch. If you would like to send us a CV you can be rest assured that it will be treated confidentially and never released without your advance approval.
ddi. +44 (0)1206 233 514
ddi. +44 (0)1206 233 515
Resources you may like
Dubai has a well-deserved reputation as the commercial and tourism hub of the Middle East, and life as an expat lawyer here can be highly rewarding, both personally and professionally.
Are you thinking about moving internationally? Read on for our essential guide for lawyers embarking on an international career move.
Hong Kong is one of the most sought after destinations in the world for lawyers seeking an international move but is it for you? Find out more about life as a lawyer