Dubai offers fantastic opportunities for Lawyers looking to gain some international experience, plus more than a little sunshine, which is a nice bonus. As the legal hub for the Middle East, Dubai boasts a wide choice of top UK and US law firms including established offices from leading Magic Circle and White Shoe firms.
If you’re considering a move to Dubai, you’ve come to the right place. As a former legal recruiter in Dubai, I placed lawyers across top international and local law firms as well as into in-house legal positions in Dubai.
In this blog, I’m going to share everything that you need to know about embarking on a legal career in Dubai, including where to apply for legal roles in Dubai, how to find legal recruiters in Dubai, and what lawyers get paid in Dubai.
What types of Law Jobs are available in Dubai?
Private Practice - private practice law firms in Dubai generally fall into 3 categories:
1. International Firms
UK- and US-based international firms such as Allen & Overy, Clyde & Co, Linklaters, White & Case and Latham & Watkins have long held offices in the UAE and you’ll find a full range of Legal 500 firms in the region covering all practice areas. These firms work predominantly with corporate clients covering M&A, real estate, DCM, oil & gas, disputes, projects, construction, finance law and more.
In order to be considered for roles at these types of firms, you will need to have direct experience in a similar law firm in another jurisdiction and ideally you should hold a legal qualification in the UK or the US (or equivalent). You should also have relevant experience in the practice area you are applying to.
These top-ranking firms are always looking to hire top talent (even when they don’t have roles advertised) and will quite often be open to speculative applications. This high demand is because of a number of factors:
Firstly, trainees rarely qualify in Dubai, resulting in a lack of suitably qualified candidates at the junior end of the market. Secondly, Dubai is a transient place, meaning lawyers move more frequently and sometimes out of the country. Firms consistently need to attract lawyers from other markets in order to fill these gaps.
If you are a newly qualified lawyer, associate or senior associate working in a top international law firm, then Dubai offers plenty of opportunity to relocate. I’ll discuss later the best ways to do this.
If you are looking for partnership opportunities in Dubai, then this is a bit trickier. Firms will look for you to have contacts in the region and a book of business (ideally $1m+) and will rarely consider senior hires who don’t have regional experience.
It's worth remembering that the business language in Dubai is English. Therefore English will be the main language spoken in most international law firms in the city.
2. Local Law Firms
There is a wealth of locally-headquartered firms that specialise in advising clients on Middle East matters. Some of these have offices spanning the Middle East region and others have a more boutique offering. The most well-established regional firms include Al Tamimi & Co, Hadef & Partners and Afridi & Angell.
Unlike the international firms, there are wider-ranging opportunities at these regional firms and lawyers with more diverse backgrounds will be considered. Typically, you will need to have strong experience within the relevant practice area, but the region you qualified in holds less importance. You’ll find lawyers working at these firms from across the world, including Indian Lawyers, Egyptian Lawyers, Lebanese Lawyers, European Lawyers and more.
It is worth noting that many roles advertised at such firms require Arabic, especially if you will be dealing with the local courts or involved in local company set-up. Where Arabic is a requirement, you will need to be able to draft legal documents in Arabic to a high standard.
3. Private Client Firms
The majority of lawyers in Dubai work for corporate clients, however, there are a growing number of firms that handle private client work (including family law, wills and probate). This work is generally governed either by local shariah law or by the DIFC courts (based on UK law). Depending on the requirements of the role, you will need to have relevant experience.
It’s worth noting that only UAE nationals have right of audience before the courts and as such the opportunities for in-court litigators or UK barristers are very small to non-existent.
In-House Legal Counsel
If you are currently working as an in-house lawyer or if your experience is highly corporate and commercial, then there are plenty of companies in the UAE that have Dubai-based legal teams.
The largest legal teams are at local companies, where their headquarters are in Dubai. This includes regional banks, media companies, free zones, oil & gas companies and diversified local groups.
Some international companies also have Dubai legal teams, but these tend to be smaller and report into a Head of Legal or General Counsel in another country.
The majority of in-house roles are generalist in nature and candidates with broad experience in commercial contracts and corporate law are in highest demand. However, there are occasionally opportunities for more specialised lawyers to find in-house work, even if the positions become available less frequently.
Generally, the demand for Arabic skills is greater for in-house roles compared to private practice, although it’s certainly not essential that you speak Arabic to land an in-house legal role in Dubai.
Where are Legal Roles advertised in Dubai?
One of the best places to find all legal roles being advertised in Dubai is indeed.ae. Indeed is a web-scraping tool and will collate roles being advertised by recruiters, law firms and other companies. You can also refine your search criteria and set up alerts for new positions.
It’s also very worthwhile registering with 2 – 3 recruitment agencies. Often external recruitment agencies will have access to unadvertised positions and they will also be able to advise you on overall market trends. Some of the best legal recruiters in Dubai are:
When reaching out, make sure you are specific about what role you are looking for as this will greatly help the recruiter to discuss suitable opportunities. As recruiters are paid by the companies hiring, they will not be able to help you unless they are working on suitable assignments.
What is the best CV format for a legal job in Dubai?
Law is a very traditional profession and generally a simple CV format is best. It’s important to consider what type of role you are targeting and make this as clear as possible. It can be helpful to include a header with your target job title and also a ‘key skills’ section that highlights your relevant skills.
A two-page CV is typical in Dubai. However, if you have a long transaction list then this can be included as an addendum (this is often expected for senior transactional roles).
You do not need to include a photo on your CV for a legal role in Dubai. You might have seen advice to the contrary, but in all my years as a legal recruiter, I never needed to see a photo on a CV and found that candidates that included one appeared to be out of touch with the Dubai market.
You also don’t need to include all your personal information. However, it can be helpful to include language skills and your nationality (for visa purposes).
My Grey Classic and Elegant Template is ideal for private practice roles:
My Blue Professional CV template would be a great fit for in-house applications:
What do Lawyers get paid in Dubai?
Lawyers can earn very good money in Dubai with the benefit of paying zero income tax. At a Magic Circle or top UK firm, salaries start at around 30,000 AED per month for a newly-qualified lawyer, rising incrementally to 60,000+ AED per month for senior and managing associates. US firms typically pay around 10% more (but expect longer hours) and local firms typically pay around 10% less (but offer better work/life balance).