The largest challenge faced by law firms in hiring laterals is sourcing high calibre candidates who possess a sizeable and portable book of business. In a compact and highly competitive market, where cultural sensitivities and loyalty are important values, it is becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to lure clients away from their current firms.
Political unrest in the Middle East combined with the possibility of income taxation in the future may well make the prospect of relocating from abroad less appealing for some, although Dubai continues to be the most attractive GCC location for foreign lawyers. Law firms are increasingly attracted to hiring teams but such opportunities are seldom seen in any market.
Where individuals are concerned, law firms are prepared to wait to make that star hire rather than take on a candidate who might present a longer-term proposition. At the junior level, law firms are looking increasingly at investing in regional talent, engaging with universities and training GCC nationals, and in some cases offering them the chance to qualify in the UK before returning to develop as an associate. Such efforts will create a larger pool of candidates that have Arabic language fluency, western law experience, and strong local and family contacts: a combination of skills that is highly sought after but rarely seen.
Book of Business
The largest challenge faced by law firms in hiring laterals is sourcing high calibre candidates who possess a sizeable and portable book of business. In a compact and highly competitive market, where cultural sensitivities and loyalty are important values, it is becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to lure clients away from their current firms. These difficulties are not necessarily taken into account by hiring law firms, which frequently maintain the same recruitment criteria and standards in the GCC region as they do in their larger and more profitable home jurisdictions. In other words, locally based laterals are compared to their peers in other markets such as New York and London which often has the result that a candidate’s business case is not found attractive or compelling enough to warrant making the hire.
There remains to be a gulf between the different compensation packages seen in this market. While US law firms are often found to offer higher compensation levels than UK law firms (followed by the Magic Circle and larger International law firms), there is still a discrepancy between firms in each of their respective categories. The non-standardisation of packages on offer in the Middle East, often comprised of various allowances, bonuses and other perks, makes it increasingly challenging for law firms to attract the right individual throughout all levels of seniority. Some firms have attempted to ‘normalise’ their pay structures with that of their home jurisdictions but this does not appear to have become widespread in a region where high calibre candidates often have a number of offers to choose from.
This is an extract from our 2015 Middle East Report. To request a free copy of the full report, including a market map of legal associate and partner moves in 2015, email: email@example.com