Sunday, August 3, 2008

law firms moving to Abu Dhabi

... the "latest emirate to become fashionable." (Wasn't it only Dubai that preceded Abu Dhabi in terms of 'fashionable emirates?' I would be curious to know how much this reporter knows of Umm al Quwain, for example.) The Times (of London) reports that many reputable London law firms are opening offices in Abu Dhabi, including Clifford Chance, the world's biggest (by revenue). It's certainly not front page news that oil prices are rising and OPEC countries are enjoying considerable economic growth, and law firms are following the money; also, the contemporaneous slowdown in business that London offices are experiencing makes it logical for these firms to send some of their junior members to the Gulf so that those individuals have some work. (Illustrative anecdote: a friend of mine works at a law firm in New York City as a first-year associate, and during one week in May he read two novels in his office).

However, there is some prejudice against working in these offices, apparently:

Matthew Rhodes, editor of RollonFriday, a popular website for young City lawyers, said that it made commercial sense for law firms to move unoccupied staff to busier offices and that such a policy was preferable to slashing jobs.

(jobs like my friend's, I would think).

However, he said that some would be reluctant to make the move: “Not everyone's happy to leave family behind. But there are professional issues, too, particularly for more junior lawyers.

Firms may deny it, but many of the deals being done in the Middle East are on the back of an envelope. They are not of the same quality as deals being put together in London.”

Once New Yorkers move on from the shock of hearing another place referred to as 'the City' they can join the rest of us in considering the 'back of an envelope' bit. The cultural relativist will probably roll her eyes (which is to say, I am rolling my eyes) at the Orientalist undertones of the quote - Rhodes makes a pretty clear judgment on which deals he thinks are of a higher 'quality'. Of course, I am sure that he isn't wrong - the Middle East isn't known for its reliable legal systems and entrenched respect for the rule of law, or its litigiousness. The reason why deals are of such a high 'quality' in the US and London has no small amount to do with the fact that legal agreements, and most importantly legal agreements in a standardized form that has not changed, have been a necessary component of those deals for decades. Abu Dhabi is rapidly growing and changing, and the lawyers working there will necessarily have to adapt to the less predictable conditions in that [legal and elsewhere] environment in their practices.

I, for one, am interested to see how this trend progresses. More to come on this blog.

And, for your edification (and mine), a map of the UAE is at the top. Click to enlarge. (Thanks to wikipedia).

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